The Goldfish Conundrum

The fact that Google has introduced ‘skippable pre-roll’ ads on YouTube is nothing new.  In fact nearly an year ago, it has also started to enable the same for mobile users.


Three obvious things that stand out for me from these ‘skippable, pre-roll ads’ are:

(1) Permission Marketing: By placing these ads right at the beginning of the actual video and enabling the viewer full freedom to skip if necessary, YouTube has acknowledged the importance of gaining viewer permission (a.k.a a commitment of her attention span) before bombarding her with any message. This disincentives attention abuse by advertisers.  [Seth Godin must have said – I Told You So” 😉 ]

(2) Soft Wired: Understandably these ‘pre-roll ads’ are not ‘hard wired’ to the video ; meaning, YouTube can dynamically mix and match an ad to a video based on algorithms / user preferences / browsing history / relevance and advertiser criteria, with an objective to maximise advertiser revenues.  This disincentives lack of relevance of the spots to the viewer/ viewer context.

(3) The 5s litmus test: This is the most interesting implication for me. Irrespective of the length of the pre-roll ads (which typically are 15s or 30s), any ad is given a golden period of 5s within which it can either capture the attention of the viewer or fail at it (for various reasons) resulting in the ad getting skipped. This disincentives lack of the grip factor in the ad – by way of production values/ story / narrative etc. 

Not surprisingly, as a result, we now see many of these ads desperately trying to shock / awe / seduce  or lure us into seeing the full spot during the first few seconds of the roll. The fascinating thing for me however is this 5s mark that YouTube has set for itself and advertisers.  But why 5s?

Well,  as it turns out, we human beings are currently rated as a species with one of the lowest levels of attention spans. For eg., see the following table that compares the worsening of our attention spans and contrasts it with that of the Goldfish’s! (source of data)

The average attention span in 2012 8 seconds
The average attention span in 2000 12 seconds
The average attention span of a gold fish 9 seconds

Call it ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or Information Overload or Infobesity, it’s almost an intuitive thinking now that our attention spans are plummeting. As a result, today:

  • Movie trailers are getting insanely faster.
  • We now have movie tweasers: (A tweaser is a six-second teaser for a 20-second teaser for a two-minute teaser for a 2:32-length theatrical trailer for a feature-length movie. source)
  • Vine from twitter is capped at 6s (tweasers are hosted on vine)
  • And then we have delightful ‘marketoons’ like the one below:


(source and inspiration for this blog: Tom Fishburne)

Obviously, this only reinforces the fact that we are living in an Attention Economy – where attention has become a scarce commodity.

On a related note, you should read this amazing post titled – The Scarcest Resource You Don’t Even Know You Are Spendinghere. And do check out this though provoking video.

From the above two observations viz.,

  • We tend to be ruthless in our attention spans when it comes to consumption of entertainment /information.
  • We are given only a limited number of ‘attention bits’ to spend in our life time. …

…the insight for me here is that.,,

whilst proving ourselves to be (penny) wise in terms of how we exercise our ‘attention spans’ for certain tasks like say – media consumption, we sometimes tend to be (pound) foolish when it comes to expending this very resource for things that have far reaching implications in our lives like learning, decision making, productivity, interpersonal interaction etc.

Something for us to ponder and reflect upon?


(Image Source)  

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