What’s the next battleground in the fight for consumers’ attention

Our attention is valuable, but it’s limited, and it is being depleted. Everyone from advertisers to politicians to newspapers to social media giants wants our attention. For a long time, it was social media, but social media, except TikTok, is losing the attention span battle. Advertisers are also losing patience with online advertising as there is too much fraud. So what’s the next battleground?

Fierce competition has led to more sensationalism, more outrageous or infuriating content, algorithmic tricks, and anything that might give a brand, platform, or politician an edge, even as it leaves us harried, irritable and distracted. However, as the word is getting out about online ad fraud and declining ROI when ad budgets are likely to be cut, online advertising may be in for a considerable downturn.

The media is trying to get more attention with negative headlines. One telling study recruited participants across 17 countries and six continents and measured skin conductivity — a signal of emotional response — when participants saw positive, negative and neutral news. Negative news was consistently the most engaging. If you’ve ever wondered why the news is so focused on tragedy and conflict or why social media furnishes more outrage than inspiration, that’s why. Negativity captures our attention better than positivity or neutrality. People are, however, getting tired of negative stories, so it’s time to move on.

Streaming services are already talking about adding commercials to content, and the NFL is on pace for record advertising revenue. The up-front had record activity earlier this year; a sign advertisers are returning to TV.

The first place consumers find out about new products is…TV. While a big percentage of people fo multitask during TV commercials, the need to be constantly online is declining. New research reinforces that nagging, logical suspicion that permanent online connectedness—actively being online and even just thinking about being online—can do the exact opposite, exacerbating our stress in an already stressful world.

According to Wired, “TO BE ONLINE is to be constantly exposed. While it may seem normal, it’s a level of exposure we’ve never dealt with before. We’re posting on Twitter, and people we’ve never met are responding with their thoughts and criticisms. People are looking at your latest Instagram selfie. They’re swiping on your face. Messages are piling up. It can sometimes feel like the whole world has its eyes on you.”

Studies have found that high levels of social media use are connected with an increased risk of symptoms of anxiety and depression. There appears to be substantial evidence connecting people’s mental health and their online habits. Furthermore, many psychologists believe people may be dealing with psychological effects that are pervasive but not always obvious.


What I’ve started to notice is that people are posting less on social media and learning that there is a world that there without your iPhone. Advertisers are also noticing this trend, at least the smart ones are.

Brands still need to advertise, and they are returning to TV. That presents a challenge, though. Increased frequency leads to a lower ROI and, in some cases, a negative ROI. It’s up to advertisers to refresh commercials to ensure they capture that attention span. Humor is one way, but advertising executives I talked to said, “simply put, “brands have to produce more spots.”

If economists are right and we’re headed into a recession, brands will cut advertising, and when that happens, TV will still be the first choice.

About richmeyer

Rich is a passionate marketer who is able to quickly understand what turns a prospect into a customer. He challenges the status quo and always asks "what can we do better"? He knows how to take analytics and turn them into opportunities and he is a great communicator.

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