Hopefully, today's post is a welcome respite from the coronavirus crisis. Sending my positive wishes and vibes to all. – FJ
It's become a cliche to discuss eroding attention spans, complete with those stories comparing us to goldfish (the goldfish have longer attention spans).
VO and creative copywriting savant, Jim Culter, tackled this issue in a spirited talk a few weeks back at Jason Barrett's Sports Radio Summit in New York City. Chances are you've not met Jim, but you're heard him – thousands of times – voicing some of the finest radio and TV stations, networks, shows, and other content. Aside from some of the most prominent stations in radio, you've heard Jim on CBS, Jimmy Kimmel, Animal Planet, the CW, and countless documentaries.
But Jim is no mindless copy reader. He prides himself on not just his voice art and writing, but his recognition of what will work and what very likely is pure crap. After all, the guy does something like 24,000 sessions a year (yeah, do the math). And he's done it at that crazy rate – for decades.
Every piece of copy imaginable ends up in his in-box. The good, the bad, and well, the shit. And while many stations spend a lot of money on facilities and talent like him, the writing often takes a back seat.
In his talk at Jason's Summit, Jim focused on time, timing, and yes, attention spans. Most of us have old airchecks where we routinely hear :60 (or longer) pieces of production and imaging. And in the filter of PPM, the Internet, and our phones, we know how focused content has had to become in order to be heard.
Jim spent considerable time convincing a room of Sports Radio mavens about how 6 seconds is more than enough time to get the point across, make a joke, and deliver a message that sticks.
As virtually everything we consume becomes more compressed, it puts accompanying pressure on everyone in the process – writers, producers, and talent – to find ways to deliver in shorter time limits.
That's why when I ran across this story in The Drum – “How short can you go? Inside the question for the two-second ad” – I thought back to Jim's prescient talk.
Katie Deighton talks about “blinks,” a concept first introduced in 2009 by Miller High Life beer as stealthy, pre-game Super Bowl ads. By the way, they worked.
Radio pros, however, might recall this concept appeared five years earlier, thanks to Clear Channel (as the company was known as back then) and John Hogan, its former CEO.
“Blinks” were part of an umbrella “Less Is More” campaign that was a bold reduced inventory campaign. Notably, it was launched years earlier than Arbitron made PPM the ratings “currency” in the biggest radio markets.
The effort didn't work out well for Clear Channel. Less than four years later, Hogan pronounced it “yesterday's news.” I even blogged about its demise in September 2008 – “Less Is Less.'
Sadly, “blinks” were thrown out with the “Less Is More” bath water, if you'll excuse the analogy. And yet, creators have been looking for ways to make these mini-ads work.
Deighton quotes P&G's Marc Pritchard who made this point three years ago:
“For too long, we flooded digital media with 30-second ads, treating it like another form of TV. But now that we have the data, it shows that the average ad viewing time can be as low as 1.7 seconds. We stopped wasting money on 30-second ads, and we’re now designing ads to work in two seconds.”
While it's unclear whether P&G is still going down this creative rabbit hole, other creatives are pursuing the two second ad. But other agencies are, aggressively testing the limits of advertising time, in search of both attention and retention.
IPG Mediabrands is all over this idea of front-loading the first two seconds of spots with brand, logo, and CTA (call to action). While this may crimp the style of the creative group, it ensures more consumers will get the message.
Deighton quotes Becky Bringerhoff, an Arnold Worldwide copywriter who believes humor can work especially well in short messages “since absurdity lives well in bursts.”
Perhaps your cluster's production director or your sales team won't have much success selling and creating two-second ads. But for station promos, events, cross-promotion, appointment setting, and personality reinforcement, this short-short-form could be a perfect creative vehicle. Instead of playing that “best bit” from your morning show (that rambles on for :45 or more), think about how to sum up their show with a “blink.” Challenging? Yes. Effective? Definitely.
I have a client (not a former Clear Channel station) that sold (OK, probably bonused) “blinks” when they first changed formats. I believe they called them “flashes,” but they were the same thing, marketed to advertisers who wanted to take a flyer on something new.
In the early months of this station's fresh start, I conducted a number of Listener Advisory Groups to help guide its progress. And in every session – without prompting – respondents remembered these staccato messages – including naming the advertisers. In fact, these mini-ads which ran between songs became topics of conversations in the groups, standing happily apart from Kars-For-Kids and Shane Company ads.
This trend is being driven less by the advertising community and more by the way our brains are being reconfigured by technology.
We should be paying attention to these trends, and people like Jim Cutler who are watching the effectiveness of 30 and 60-second ads lose their potency.
As Jim reminded me, “I see EVERYTHING every week from the whole country. I'm in a unique place to see the great, and the people who are in trouble.”
Let's make sure we're aligned with the former.
Thanks to Jim and Dawn Cutler for their help with this post. You can connect with Jim here.
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