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Are You Paying Attention? Creative Techniques to Get Your Audience to Notice You


Google’s Lara Woods shares a few creative tips on how to stop people skipping ads – and the best creative ways to make sure audiences engage

Are You Paying Attention? Creative Techniques to Get Your Audience to Notice You
You made it! Beyond the headline and into the first paragraph. Dear reader, I’ve captured your attention. Or have I? Right now an abundance of other articles, ads, apps, messages, memes, inboxes and screens are vying for your attention. Not to mention your grumbling stomach, impending deadline or the kids screaming in the background. 

There is a myth that our attention span has shrivelled to the size of a goldfish’s, rendering us incapable of focusing on anything for more than eight seconds at a time. It’s really a miracle that you’ve made it this far.

Thankfully for advertisers it’s not quite as bleak as all that. I don’t buy the goldfish theory. Anybody who has spent a Netflixian weekend greedily binging on boxsets will agree that when we want to engage with something we’re perfectly capable of doing so. Mainstream forms of culture and entertainment, like books, films and plays, are all getting longer, not shorter. 

The problem isn’t that we can’t focus, it’s that there’s so much choice about what to focus on. Rather than drown under a sea of online content we’ve done what we humans have always done. We’ve adapted. We’re better than ever at scanning, sorting and filtering, able to discard anything that isn’t instantly useful or interesting. So when it comes to making online video, advertisers must adapt too. 

Here are a few creative techniques to capture an audience’s attention, and your imagination:

What’s the hook? It’s not just about clickbait headlines, but you need something to reel your audience in. A famous face, a strong point of view or just a teeny tiny kitten. Maybe you ask a question? One of the best ways to get attention from your audience is by giving it. 

Cut the context: You might be really proud of that beautiful establishing shot, but spending valuable seconds ‘setting the scene’ is time wasted online. By the time you’re ready to tell your story most of your audience will be gone, so you must be ruthless. If a scene isn’t giving critical context or moving the story on, be prepared to cut it. 

Make it personal: One of the benefits of online video is the opportunity to personalise at scale. Start with your audience. Segment them. Identify what they like (yoga), what they need (a credit card) and where they are (browsing dating websites). Tailor what you want to say and how you say it with these factors in mind. This will produce ads that are more contextually or personally relevant and thus grab the attention.

Be less addy: Yes we might like watching ads, but most people don’t. As soon as they see something that looks obviously ad-like - a car driving around a winding mountain road, a bunch of mates sharing some beers - they switch off. Polished films with high production values still pull a punch in cinemas and on TV, but online much of the content that people value has a much more raw, immediate and authentic feel. Mirror that approach - try new camera angles, use quicker cuts, be less formal and more playful.

Break the fourth wall: Another way to grab an audience’s attention is to have the characters in your ad interact directly with them. 20th Century Fox did this with their campaign for Deadpool 2, using the humorous Deadpool character to speak directly to viewers in an ‘industry first’. Not only is this arresting but it draws an audience in, priming them for what you have to say.

Don’t save the best till last: Unless your ad is genuinely edge-of-seat captivating (and very few are), leaving the payoff to the end is rarely a recipe for success. Imagine you are somebody with particularly bad body odour, and your audience is constantly trying to edge away from you. This means if you have a ‘money shot’, get it in early. 

Phew, you’ve made it to end! Not only is this proof that the techniques work, but you can get on with your day safe in the knowledge that you are definitely smarter than a goldfish.

Lara Woods is industry manager for creative at Google UK.
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