Field Marketing

The Average Millennial's Attention Span—Shorter Than Your Goldfish's

The Average Millennial's Attention Span—Shorter Than Your Goldfish's

Today, attention has become a commodity for marketers. It’s scarce. And like anything in economics, scarcity means higher demand, higher value, and ultimately higher costs. To put it in numbers, since 1966 the average cost per thousand impressions (CPMs) of prime-time ads has risen from approximately $1.50 to $22 in 2010. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a two-fold increase. This rising cost of attention is problematic for marketers who strive to capture and hold consumers’ attention within a strict budget. 

average attention span; millennial advertising

Courtesy of Betta Fish Tank Bank (

In a 2014 study, HBS assistant professor, Thales Texiera, tackles this problem of capturing attention through what he calls an Attention‐Contingent Advertising Strategy (ACAS): a method of “tailoring the right advertising strategy to the appropriate level of attention available” to maximize returns on investment while minimizing costs.

Texiera discusses attention regarding the general population, but this could be problematic in a society where generations are constantly evolving. For instance, last summer my dad and I were watching a recording of Nadal and Djokovic duke it out in the French Open. When they finished the second set, Nadal in the lead, the program went to a commercial break. Bless the functions of DVR, I thought, and I hit the fast forward button three times to zoom through the commercials. To my surprise, my dad reacted with great frustration; “Why do you do that? Just let them run!” It’s something I still don’t understand to this day, but perhaps to him the ads give some inherent value to the TV watching experience.

Different people have different demands. That being said, it may be useful to focus on a subpopulation when studying the economics of attention. Today, perhaps the most impactful population of consumers, coming in at 80 million in population in the United States with $20 billion of buying power, is Generation Y, also known as the millennials. Because of the great impact of technology, the minds of millennials work very differently than those of past generations. Their interests and lifestyles are not the same as say those of baby boomers or Xers. As such, catching the attention of these young ones can be difficult. According to Forbes, of the millennials who were surveyed, a mere 1% said that a compelling advertisement positively affected their image of a brand. What is it that really matters to these trendsetters? How do marketers effectively capture and retain the attention of millennials? As a member of this dynamic generation myself, l will try my best to explain this mentality in three points, and more specifically, the factors that impact our decisions.

1. We have the information already

Once upon a time, the goal of TV ads was to be informative, but today, top ad agencies are demanding entertainment rather than information from their creatives. Why? Because otherwise we hit fast forward if we DVR-ed it, skip to a different channel if we didn’t, and click “Skip Ad,” immediately after the option becomes available if it’s something online. Even the most entertaining ads struggle to get the smallest bit of love, and advertisers have the internet to thank for that. Ads don’t mean much to us because we have all of the information we need online. If we’re looking for a particular item, we just type it in Google and in 0.42 seconds we get over 74.8 million results. The most relevant and popular items appear at the top, which then makes SEO the major challenge for marketers.

2. We are social

This is not to say that other generations are not, but millennials are social in a more proliferating way thanks to the combination of smartphones and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. An infographic on AdWeek shows that over 56% of millennials use social media apps, 90% of millennials can be found on Facebook, and 66% follow brands on social media. For marketers, this means that shareability of content is vital, as noted by Texiera.  “When marketers stop asking ‘What do I want to achieve from the advertisement?’ and begin asking ‘What can my consumers achieve if they share the advertisement?’ they then start the process of creating truly consumer‐centered advertising, that which benefits the consumer's social needs,” he says.

3. We value authenticity

Social media and readily available information have simply become a part of everyday life for the average millennial. Checking Facebook or posting a tweet is now as routine as brushing teeth or locking the apartment door. Unfortunately, this has come with consequences. Technology and social media have allowed us to create an entirely different persona online that seldom aligns with our actual, physical lives. Striving to match our flawless virtual selves has led to a loss in a sense of authenticity. The feeling of comfort that comes with authenticity is one of those things that you don’t realize you have until you lose. Well it has been lost, and now millennials seek it in all relationships, from friendships to work relations and to relationships with brands. A brand’s authenticity breeds trust, and when you have a customer’s trust, it’s easier to grab his or her attention.

Technology surrounds us with an overwhelming amount of stimuli, and our attention spans are so short to begin with. Perhaps today, the goal of marketers is no longer to grab our attentions with a single ad, but rather to build them up through consistency and authenticity.

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Aya Tsuruta

Aya Tsuruta is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly where she covers sales and marketing content through a creative lens. In addition to writing for Repsly, she is a frequent contributor to the music blog, Indie Music Filter, and BC magazine, the Gavel.

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