How to Create Ads that Grab Attention—But Not at the Cost of Relevance

Blog Post
December 23, 2016

Attention has become more than simply an ingredient of advertising–it’s become the currency of success. In today’s digital age, marketers look to create ‘thumb-stopping moments’; unique periods of time where consumers see enough value in what they’re being shown to pause and fully absorb. Moments that deliver empathy-sparking cues; resonate with an individual’s humour or hit deep, emotional triggers hidden away in the brain’s hippocampus for years.

Understanding how these moments actually work, however, is a complex affair. Not least because they tend to be situation‐specific; with communication channel, messaging, sender, receiver, context all defining sometimes unique situations. What does it take to capture an audience and drive them towards a desired behaviour? Three key components, according to advertising psychology: content, persuasion and attention. The first two are relatively simple to achieve. It often isn’t until we get to attention, that we often discover the proverbial spanner in the works.

As advertisers, we approach getting ‘eyes on’ our content by either paying for an audience (e.g. through media purchases) or by earning it through organic activity (such as well architected websites, or sought-after video content). But getting an ad in front of someone is only the beginning. Duration is easy to track, but it’s a poor measure of true engagement. It’s the intensity with which someone views an advert that shows how interested they are as a viewer. We may drive an hour to work every day, but how engaged we are with what’s happening around us will vary greatly from day to day.

So with interest being the key to gaining attention, here are my top three areas to focus on:

1. ‘Reach’ on its own isn’t enough, relevance matters

With newsfeeds becoming increasingly cluttered, honing in on what an audience is looking for has never been more important. Paid media is now the norm so ads can be put in front of consumers with ease. But ensuring they resonate and are meaningful is what adds true value.

2. Minimum interaction for the maximum relevance

Repetitive. Forceful. Annoying. When the t-shirt you looked at once starts following you around every site you visit, you can quickly move from disengaged to outraged. Finding the triggers that sit in the key intersect between the interaction-relevance Venn diagram can be the difference between a browser and a buyer.

3. Respect what your audiences want

Actually getting someone’s attention is becoming increasingly rare, so when you do: respect it. A sales-focused message isn’t always right. Consumers don’t always want to be sold to – they want to be listened and engaged with. Creating a valuable message is just as important as defining the relevant channel to say it through. Get both right, and you’re on to a winner.