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Ways for marketers to uncover opportunities within shorter attention spans

To say that television played a role in creating strong family values back in the 1980s and '90s would sound absolutely absurd. But the one thing that television did back then was keep all family members together on a single couch, creating a wholesome nightly experience after a hard day's work, with all eyes on one screen. That's because back then, there was only one screen.

Things are different nowadays. With technological advancement permeating our lives more dominantly, touching us in almost every occasion of our limited time each day, I ask myself, has television lost its perennial title of "King of the Living Room"? With so many more devices becoming a 33rd, 34th and even a 35th limb of our body, do we even need a TV any more?

Technology's sole purpose is to simplify life, but paradoxically, it has made life just a little but more complicated.

Welcome to the world of multi-screening.

The average human attention span used to be 12 seconds, according to a US study back in 2000. Last year a similar study was conducted and scientists reduced that span to just 8 seconds, apparently equal to that of a goldfish.

To bring matters closer to home, the latest study from the strategy and innovation team of IPG Mediabrands Thailand unveiled some very interesting facts about Thai screening behaviour. According to the study, Thais aged 12 years or older now own an average of 5.1 devices. This is not too far from the global average of 5.6 devices, with smartphones and tablets being the main contributors to the growth. This study shows that average Thais now have televisions, desktops, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and gaming devices in their possession.

Where does this leave television? Is obsolescence on the horizon?

Some 94 per cent of Thais still watch TV for their primary source of content but 70 per cent will use some form of device simultaneously while watching, or just not bother with the television. Most Thais have admitted to using at least two of these devices at the same time. What used to be multitasking has evolved over time to become multi-screening - a new behaviour witnessed across the globe.

This phenomenon, along with the imminent arrival of digital television, has heated things up for advertisers and ad agencies alike. Every wind of change brings opportunities, and marketers should embrace this ever-changing digital landscape.

Will TV still work? Absolutely. But changes need to be made.

Traditionally, advertisers have been heavily reliant on the tube just to capture attention. This is the time to use multi-screening behaviour to adopt new methods to engage the consumer on two screens simultaneously, hence making the second screen interplay with the "main" screen to bring about a totality in viewing experience never seen before.

If they are on Facebook, as statistically suggested from our report, then engage the users' experience through social media and interplay with the television. If they're playing games on their smartphones, create a game that interacts with the on-air content.

Make simple observations on your timeline when soap operas come on the air. Friends alike will be ranting about which villain slapped her arch-rival's face and who the protagonist ended up sleeping with.

This kind of behaviour is unavoidable. Don't deny it, embrace the chance.

First, all involved parties will have to work together and recapture the lost attention from the consumers, especially with our shortening attention span. Second, we have to find one single way to integrate brands, campaign, content, or whatever you are trying to get consumers to see and spread it across all the devices they are using simultaneously.

TV will continue to be the big dog in the house, but you will need to put a leash on the little "puppies" to make sure they don't go astray - all this to recapture the lost attention that television once monopolised.

On a final note, once we all are able to work together to recapture the consumers' attention, I foresee a glimmer of hope that one day, our lives will become simpler once again, just as technology was made to achieve. And maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to sit around as a family watching something together on television once again.

Maas Virajoti is group head of strategy and innovation, IPG Mediabrands Thailand.


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