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Question of the Week

The Attention Revival: New Strategies For Audience Engagement

How can brands beat the media clutter to capture consumer attention this year?

By Dani Gibson

In a saturated media world, words like swipe/zap/flick/snack have become common tags for our media behaviour.

But despite the prevailing belief, studies reveal that attention is not's just rather unevenly distributed. Yes we might all be racing through feeds of trivial content, but the success of binge-watching, gaming, and streaming marathons demonstrates the potential to capture and sustain attention with the right content, formats, and channels.And the same goes for brand communications of course.

So as we move into 2024 and an even more heated media environment, how can brands best capture and sustain audience attention and lasting engagement?

Kate Nettleton, Head of Planning, VML

Creating culture is hard. But let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to create something that people wanted to spend time with, talk about, share. The holy grail of ‘stuff your (insert appropriate close relation here) would talk about down the pub’ is the pinnacle for so many because it reflects this aspiration.

It was once achievable…tag lines made it into song lyrics, ad character merch was desirable, ads went ‘viral’. But that was a different time.

Let’s consider for a moment our current cultural content opponents: in one corner we have streaming platforms, who are packing heavyweight production budgets ($7 biliion for Netflix), and enviable time lengths; and in the other you have cats looking despondent, influencers doing dance routines, kids falling off chairs, authentically punching out the laughs.

Standing a fighting chance now is less about creating culture, or retaining attention, and more about having the creative firepower to distract from it, even for a second.

And we can do that by doing the following: fracking culture, hacking culture & challenging culture.

Foreseeing the trends and getting ahead of them (like Wendy’s has with gaming), finding behaviours and boosting them (McDonalds eyebrows) taking the tropes & twisting them (like Yorkshire Tea Pack It), or even challenging cultural norms (like Bodyform smashing through period taboos).

To succeed today, you need to aim to be the first brand at the party. And don’t just wear the same clothes as everyone else, wear them in new ways. Don’t just play their favourite track, remix it, start an argument. If you’re lucky, they might just look up at you and nod for a second.

Nick Lewis, Head of Social and Content Strategy, VCCP

When it comes to making purchase decisions a brand's involvement in culture is surprisingly important to consumers. According to an IPG Media Lab study cultural involvement (25 per cent) is nearly as important as having a positive brand perception (31 per cent). So it follows that the more brands invest in creating culture (content, experiences, entertainment), the more differentiated and memorable they become. Content in today's world is more about building brand than just delivering views. It’s time to stop generating impressions, and time to start making a lasting impression. Feeding imaginations with strategically led entertainment experiences adds value to your consumers' feeds. The best way to do this is by unifying online life with IRL.

Fashion brands are king when it comes to content. Last year Burberry transported the world to North London's 'Norman's café’ with a series of unique real world experiences.

But entertaining content isn’t just the elite preserve of fashion brands. It’s just as good if you’re FMCG. Our most recent Müller Rice campaign with England footballer Declan Rice started as a community initiative at the sports club where his footballing began - giving young fans the chance to connect and meet their hero, but expanded into entertaining TikTok’s and Instagram Reels.

The more we bring our specialisms together for our clients, the more memorable experiences we can create for their audiences. So let's creatively collide social, CRM and RX into community led content for audiences who want to spend more time with and be rewarded by the brands they love.

Justin Cox, CSO, MSQ

In my experience, the brands that capture consumer attention do not look at it as an objective of a single campaign. They view it as an inherent part of the brand’s ethos. Since attention is a fleeting thing, you have to build an internal culture that consistently keeps this imperative right alongside key business objectives. So what’s one to do?

Eliminate fear. Fear is the killer of all good things. Especially in marketing. No marketer can sustainably produce attention grabbing work if people are afraid to develop and discuss ideas that are different, unproven, or “not like what we’ve done before.” Same goes for the relationship between agencies and clients. I’m not advocating for blind risks. However, the companies that spend time finding excuses for why something can’t be done are the ones that produce the most ignorable work.

Think of marketing as an event. All too often marketing is seen as a means to an end. Just get it out there. At a high volume. We’ll see what sticks and do more of it. This works, but it can’t be the only approach if you’re trying to build a reputation for grabbing people’s attention. The best brands think of marketing as the means and the end itself – they create moments people tune into, and in time, expect to tune into. Spotify Wrapped, Nike Shoe Drops, American Express Small Business Saturday – whether it’s an interesting use of data, having a finger on the pulse of culture, or dreaming up new ways to support business partners, these brands did more than advertise. They turned their marketing into an event.

Meanwhile, as the business world’s obsession with the latest data and martech tools looks to reduce costs, increase speed, and commodify most of the marketing funnel, there are still brands out there who aren’t relying on algorithms to tell them what to do. Arby’s and Liquid Death continue to impress with how they treat every product launch or promotion as a chance to surprise and entertain customers. Their irreverence, honesty, and humour make their marketing something I look forward to.

The important take away is that no matter the category or a brand’s market position, maintaining a willingness to experiment, a desire to learn vs predict, and a commitment to having a bit fun makes for the most attention-grabbing marketing.


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