The shortest ads I was exposed to last year were 10 seconds long and they were all referred to as thumb stoppers. Then, I attended a meeting with Facebook representatives who shared unbelievable numbers, including the fact that the average attention span is now under three seconds. That’s right, don’t rub your eyes: three seconds.
In brand language this is “make sure your brand makes its mark in the first three seconds of your communication and does not last more than 10 seconds”. (By the way, the previous benchmark in terms of attention span was nine seconds; roughly that of a perfectly healthy gold fish. Just saying).
So how does Pakistani marketing and advertising respond to such developments? Shorter ads, better creative and crisp communication? On the contrary. We make longer and longer ads. Cases in point: Ahmed and Shan recipe mix, Mezan Ultra Rich, Cake Up, Sooper (to an extent) and so on. We make ads more emotional, bring the brand in later and later, sometimes 75% into the video - all of which goes against the overwhelming data. Why do we continue to do so?
Let’s come back to that in a bit.
I had the opportunity to hear Sir Martin Sorrell speak at AdAsia 2019 and I couldn’t help feeling a bit amiss. He basically spent the best part of his inquisition by Richard Quest disowning everything he had helped create in the world of advertising, media and marketing at WPP. What then, was the solution? His new venture, S4 Capital obviously, which deals exclusively in digital and doesn’t touch anything conventional at all.
What made me uncomfortable was the irrelevance of what he was saying to markets like Pakistan, simply because the tech infrastructure and penetration has not yet caught up. Therefore it seemed a pointless discussion in Lahore. Yes, we were exposed to an outside perspective and got an insight into what is going on in the rest of the world, but what about us?
A couple of years ago I wrote an article called What about all the offline consumers? because I was getting a bit frustrated by all the glitz and glamour around digital advertising. My premise was simple. It is great to be up to speed on the latest targeting techniques on digital and use them to their full potential, but there is still a sizeable chunk of our target consumers in Pakistan who are not online. Who will talk to them? The primary users of digital media and multi-screens tend to be younger audiences, so we have to be extremely careful in ensuring that we capture some, if not all, of our target audience with our messaging on this medium. That’s just basic. Therefore, for Pakistanis who are an extremely emotional bunch, longer content still works albeit sparingly - and you need to keep a balance between online and offline.
I am a purist, which means I prefer test cricket to T20s (yes, again no need to rub your eyes), which also means that as a marketer I fall back on the brand funnel to figure out growth opportunities for my brand. The brand funnel is a logical tool, which retains its relevance on digital as much as it does offline. The only difference is that on digital you can populate the funnel more readily due to the ease of measurability. That is how Facebook tells you to run reach-based campaigns versus conversion-based campaigns. Run A/B testing on different sets of target groups and conduct brand lift studies to gauge whether your campaign was successful or not. However, at the same time, there are increasing voices against Google search and Facebook targeting, which say that you are not really making a difference. In an explosive article which appeared in The Correspondent in November last year, Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn explain via irrefutable research that increasing spends on digital are not as effective as we would like to think.
Their main contention was that when as a market leader you pay for your link to appear at the top, the people who click it were going to do that anyway, whether you spent those dollars or not. Although I feel this doesn’t hold true for smaller brands, it does resonate with the theory purported by Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk in their book How Brands Grow, where they challenge the need to build brand loyalty and the fact that big brands have an over reliance on a small group of heavy users. They prove through data that all you need to do as a brand is to ensure a steady flow of a large number of users as they come and go, rather than focusing on building heavy usage among a small number of users.
In the age of start-ups where growth marketing is an actual job title and user acquisition is paramount, the ability to measure on digital is throwing us off course. The number of clicks and views we generate is seen as a measure of success whereas the age-old principle of making a profit at the end of the year is becoming more and more irrelevant. The focus is at the top of the funnel where building awareness via clicks and views is great. However, the battle has shifted to building and retaining Top of Mind versus overall Awareness.
What was the last ad campaign you remember; I mean genuinely remember?
The ability to churn out content that will keep getting liked and shared rather than retained in our minds is apparently the new way to go. No matter how creative the work is, it will be applauded (read clicks and shares) - and will fade away fast.
What was the last ad campaign you remember; I mean genuinely remember? Which one did you like yesterday or this morning and share on your Facebook profile? We are able to recall the classics with relative ease; jingle based Pakistani ads for State Life, Naurus, Lipton, Diamond Supreme Foam, Moltyfoam, Dentonic, Macleans and so on, yet we are not able to build bonds with the current ones.
Recall is another measure that is mistaken for effectiveness. People remember irritating ads due to their sheer media weight (Surf Excel Bilyani for example) but that does not equate to brand love. As marketers we are all into the Burger King versus McDonald’s battle and we keep waiting for the next creative thing they are going to pull off, without pausing to think whether we actually associate with those brands or not.
Even in this age of digital, having a purpose behind your brand and standing behind it will win the day. But you need to be careful; it needs to be something that the entire brand and company lives, day in day out, and is not just another campaign, otherwise it is just hogwash.
In conclusion, we are an emotional nation (we prefer longer storytelling formats which debunks short videos on digital theory); the brand funnel lives on; brand loyalty is being challenged and only those brands which truly stand for something will survive.
Sheikh Adil Hussain is GM Marketing, Shan Foods.