22 March 2019
Keep it short and sweet because consumers have a very short attention span like goldfish. Photos: Facebook,
Keep it short and sweet because consumers have a very short attention span like goldfish. Photos: Facebook,

Selling to goldfish: the key to successful mobile marketing

“You have the attention span of a goldfish.”

Remember saying this to a friend who couldn’t pay attention to what you were saying for more than a few seconds?

Well, research has now shown that it’s true for most of us when we’re on our mobile phone, which means it’s likely to be true most of the time!

According to data from the Statistic Brain Research Institute, goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds, while the average human attention span has gone down by 33 percent since the year 2000 to just 8.25 seconds in 2015.

So these days, a goldfish could be telling an inattentive mate: “You have the attention span of a human!”

Why this matters to marketers

This matters to marketers because smartphones and social media have given rise to mobile-first consumers who now spend more time interacting with their handsets than watching television.

Millward Brown’s AdReaction study shows that Hong Kong consumers spend 107 minutes per day on their mobiles compared with 42 minutes watching TV.

So as far as marketers in Hong Kong are concerned, we might as well be advertising to goldfish!

We need to unlearn the habits of both 30-second ads designed for TV screens as well as two-minute-plus video ads designed for desktop computers to get the attention of our goldfish audience.

Advertising rules meet human-computer interaction

The good news is that there are new strategies and tools available to create effective mobile-first content.

The current best practices in advertising and brand storytelling often don’t work on mobile because they are based on decades of research into the passive medium of television.

Successful mobile-first marketing requires the combination of classic, media-agnostic advertising rules with insights from the field of human-computer interaction.

Combining the two, we get the ABCD rules of mobile-first advertising:

• Attention. Grab it through low interaction-cost tools like auto-play, which requires no user action, or hyperlapse, which leverages the human survival instinct of focusing on rapid movement.
• Branding from the first second. This signals importance and relevance. Also, people may not watch long enough to notice logos/branding that appear late on the video.
• Communicate without sound. Use subtitles as many mobile ads are viewed with the sound off. Zoom in on key frames for the smaller screen.
• Deliver the message instantly, within the first few seconds – 10 seconds at most. The Goldfish Rule!

Is 10 seconds the right length for video ads on mobile?

While researching human attention spans online, the consumer insights group at Microsoft Canada has found that long-term focus erodes with increased digital consumption, social media usage, and tech savviness with 19 percent of online viewers losing interest in the first 10 seconds.

The latest meta-analysis of 173 Brand Effect Studies by The Nielsen Company has found that 10 seconds is the sweet spot for brand impact created by video ads on Facebook.

Commuting time is mobile prime time

Forty-three minutes – that’s the average commuting time for Hong Kongers, according to a Transport Department survey announced two years ago.

A quick glance inside the buses and MTR show that most people pass the time scanning social media on their mobile phones.

For these people, the morning and evening commuting times are the new prime time.

This is a great opportunity for marketers to reach them with relevant content, including both short and long-form content.

Many people do last-minute shopping on their way home, so advertising during mobile prime time is more likely to stimulate purchase than traditional TV advertising.

Although your audience has time to kill, remember they are scrolling quickly looking for a content fix to keep them entertained.

Microsoft’s research shows that the thrill of finding something new often makes connected consumers jump off one experience into another. It’s up to you to grab their attention and hold it.

Shorter attention spans, swifter path to purchase

Shorter attention spans are impacting the path to purchase on mobile.

More than 60 percent of those who begin the journey towards an e-commerce website fail to arrive at the destination.

That’s because people don’t have the patience to follow the digital trail of breadcrumbs all over the internet.

Research by Telmetrics and xAd shows that mobile ads have the potential for immediate action, with 47 percent of people taking some action and 25 percent of them making a purchase. At least 20 percent search for more information after seeing ads.

The challenge for marketers is to bring that information to people within the ad itself and to maximize the number of people making a purchase after seeing the ad.

To do this, marketers should collect and bring all the relevant information to consumers in one place.

For example, a typical Carousel ad on Facebook has five frames, which can be used for photo or video content.


These could include an attention-grabbing visual of the camera, the tech site’s comparison, a video of an actual user review, a price-comparison image and a call to action “Buy Now” button with a promotional offer in the final frame.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Head of Creative Shop, Facebook Greater China

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