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Building brands and driving sales during a war for attention

From creative to provocative, to improved storytelling, authentic influencers, engaging video content, immersive experiences, short-form videos, brands are trying and testing every tool in the kit to capture attention, but what's working?

War for attention building brands sales

Here’s what we all know: There is a war raging for the most finite (and therefore, most valuable) commodities of all – people’s attention and time. Now, let’s get into the rules of engagement.

Every business or brand that believes it has solved a problem or added value to the world has partnered with marketers, media, and agencies to try and get their message out to the masses. However, are people paying attention to their message?

The “goldfish” myth that attention spans are decreasing was debunked months ago, because the truth is somewhat more nuanced.

In a world where consumers spend hours on their phones, laptops, tablets or looking at larger screens, they are getting increasingly aware of being “influenced” and “sold” products and services. This has caused them to get correspondingly selective about where they spend their time, what deserves their attention, and how they react to even the most tempting offers and innovative products.

However, it’s not all bad news. Despite “selective” attention spans, driving brand and offer awareness, aided and prompted recall, as well as purchase intent now requires less time than a few years ago.

A recent study by attention intelligence platform Playground xyz revealed that it takes approximately 1.4 seconds of consumer attention to raise brand awareness by 10 per cent lift at the top of the engagement funnel, on average, but a longer attention threshold of 1.6 seconds is required for consideration and 3.9 seconds for prompted recall. The real question is: “How”?

Playground xyz study on attention spans

Marketers are trying and testing every tool in their kit from the creative to the provocative; improved storytelling and partnering with authentic influencers; engaging video content and immersive experiences; staying abreast of the latest social media platforms, trends, algorithm changes; as well as pivoting across a score of integrated marketing tactics based on social listening and AI-fed data to optimise real-time campaigns, among others.

Speaking to Campaign Middle East editor, Nay Riachy, social content director at GroupM MENA, said, “The main issue now is that attention is fragmented across multiple platforms and profiles, each one flooded with content of varying value. Unlike millennials, who were hooked to social media by emotional connections with peers and families, these connections are often lacking today.

“Amid all the noise and creative content online, eye-catching visuals alone are no longer enough. Brands need to focus on providing value and strengthening brand resonance. This means creating content that not only looks good but also offers meaningful experiences, useful information, or emotional connections,” Riachy added.

This approach brings back time-honoured marketing practices that emphasise meeting the deeper needs and desires of the audience to build lasting relationships and brand loyalty.

For instance, Coca-Cola’s recent marketing campaigns, including “Spills” in the US, have brought human relationships, families, and togetherness back to the forefront, while also focusing on short video content that captures audiences attention without taking too much of their time.

Mary Smiddy, business lead at MSL Group Middle East, said, “The rapid rise in the popularity of short-form ‘snackable’ content has been prevalent over the last couple of years. In the UAE and Saudi in particular, platforms like TikTok – that bridge the gap between an entertainment platform and a social media platform – offer huge reach.”

TikTok’s annual ‘What’s Next’ report said that users in Saudi Arabia are 1.3 times more likely to acknowledge that the platform introduces them to new topics and expands their interests across popular culture, trends and brands.

With 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, the Middle East and Africa hold the second highest share of active users on the platform with 22 per cent.

“As such, our approach to content needs to be agile as we see a stronger appetite for short-form entertainment and user generated content over more traditional informative marketing content to build engagement, and importantly, trust amongst consumers,” Smiddy added.

Experts also pointed to the fact that attention spans are only going to get even more selective with a new generation of consumers entering the workforce.

Mohammad El Tayech, strategic planner at TBWA\RAAD, said, “Attention spans are low. Now double that, and you have Gen Z. With them, there is absolutely no room for boring, un-engaging, or ‘not aesthetically-pleasing’ content. We’re thankfully moving away from such formats, with more brands putting out entertaining, but more importantly, Gen Z relevant content, campaigns, and experiences.”

This viewpoint is echoed in the Playground xyz study as well, which points to creative and provocative as the way forward. It reveals how neuroscience and brain activity data proves that creative content directly correlates to memory encoding, which is linked to brand building and sales – the key marketing goals of the 21st century.

Will the war for attention be won through creative effectiveness? Only time will tell.