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The Age-Old Battle for Attention Has Been Reduced to a Thumb War

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Neil Davidson, Managing Director and Partner, Heyhuman

How did it come to this?

Mobile and social have transformed our communications and, as a result, our brand interactions.

When we login to our virtual worlds, we’re like children walking into a candy store. Limitless excitement, pleasure and connection right at our finger tips and on our terms. Apple recently reported that the average iPhone user unlocks their phone 80 times a day, 20 of which are unprompted. With every like, message and share, we get a dollop of dopamine, which keeps us coming back for more. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin coined this as empty-caloried brain candy. This compulsive behaviour means that we are overloading ourselves with information, and too much sugar is never a good thing. Ofcom’s latest report showed that 30% of UK adults have sought some form of digital detox.

To understand how brand messages are being consumed in this highly competitive environment, we commissioned a research piece with Neuroscience partners. We tested people’s brand recall whilst multi-screening and found that it decreased from 92% to 31% when people were engaged with more than one screen at a time. The reality is that people are mainly in a state of continuous partial attention and the best way to engage in this cluttered environment is by triggering the subconscious – going back to our primal roots and keeping it simple.

We have spent the last 2 years focusing on this as an agency, delving into neuroscience and psychology research to create ‘Brain-Friendly Creative’ – our 3 step guide to thumb-stopping communications. The first step is ensuring the work is Recognised, which the following considerations can help achieve.

Use Distinctive Key Brand Assets

The overloaded brain is attracted to simplicity and, therefore, to messages which are easy to digest. Establishing distinctive key brand assets and using them consistently allows for low processing and easier brand recall. On social, this means using your KBA’s in a clever way that both attracts the eye and communicates a simple message. The aim is for people to be able to ‘get it in glance’ – but be intrigued enough to linger. Guinness’ activity on social does this brilliantly. They replace elements of the black and white pint (one of Guinness’ KBAs) with cultural references such as the Japanese team huddling together in white shirts after their victory. The brain immediately recognises the outline of the pint glass in the frame and the slight mental challenge rewards us with a hit of dopamine.

Make Design Primal

No matter how advanced we think we are, we are still innately animalistic. For example, we are biologically pre-disposed to see movement – an indicator of potential danger from the time of our ancestors. This is why moving images catch our eye more so than their static counterparts, especially on social. It is also requires less effort for us to process visual imagery than text (50% of the brain is involved in visual processing). This would explain why video’s growth is skyrocketing as media outlets clamour for our headspace. It isn’t just a question of banging out any video, however. Again it’s about creating a video that is easy to process, but also novel enough to pique our interest. Ericsson’s Mobility Report this year reported that the level of stress we experience by mobile delays (such as waiting for a video to load) is comparable to watching a horror movie. Video on social needs to be punchy and to the point. Converse’s tapping shoe design is a good example of this.

Not only is thumb-stopping creative Recognised, the next steps are to make sure it is Resonant and Relevant, which we will be elaborating on further during our Social Media Week session on 14 September.

If squeezed attention spans is one of biggest challenges facing marketers today, we believe that Brain-Friendly Creative isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a must have.

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