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LastWe know that the speed of mobile is fast, but recent evidence reinforces just how quickly it moves when it comes to obtaining and maintaining viewers’ attention to marketing messages. In a study sponsored by a trade group of mobile marketers, the results suggest that people see and react to mobile advertising within 400 milliseconds, or less than half a second.

The study used eye-tracking tools and measures of viewers’ reflexive responses, gauged with EEG trackers. In addition to mobile advertising, it offered comparative analyses of advertisements viewed on desktop devices, for which reaction times were much longer—approximately 3 seconds.

These differences may seem small, but for advertisers, they have massive implications. They have very little time to evoke a positive emotional reaction, meaning that they need to optimize their advertising for mobile channels. A complex picture or graphic that takes several seconds to load probably is never going to be seen by mobile users who just click away if the message is not immediately visible. These findings also appear informative for social media marketing, in which channels viewers similarly move quickly, on to other pages, if an image does not catch their attention immediately.

In turn, advertisers might adopt some proven methods for evoking rapid responses. For example, advertisements that highlight human faces, looking straight at the viewer, tend to arrest people scrolling through multiple messages. In addition, marketers can increase the use of color and contrasting tones to arrest visual attention. Finding a way to signal complex emotions in a split second is likely to evoke greater attention too. Finally, advertisers need to insist on the viewability of their messages, a criterion that usually means a static advertisement should appear at least halfway on the screen for at least one second.

Ultimately, this evidence suggests that rather than worrying about whether to prefer a 30-second or 15-second advertisement, mobile and social marketers might need to figure out how to develop 0-second advertising.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What challenges do such short timespans for gaining people’s attention pose for brand marketers?
  2. Can you think of any other tactics marketers could use to attract immediate attention to their mobile advertising?


Source: Nat Ives, “Mobile Ads Do More Work in One Second than You Might Think,” The Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2019