Attention grabbing advertising
53% of pre-teen kids skip TV ads as soon as they appear on screen.
YouTube has exacerbated the trend in the UK with 60% of kids skipping ads (68% have access to YouTube).
Even preschool kids now know how to skip the ads as they burn through their favourite entertainment, thanks to YouTube.
Return on advertising investment is not solely dependent on the scale and shape of a media campaign, or on how well it’s been negotiated. It’s essential that ads grab kids’ attention within the smallest window of opportunity, those split seconds before kids reach for the remote or swipe to skip the ads.
For the past decade (and a bit longer), I’ve been conducting research for the leading brands and global entertainment corporations, studying the elements of advertising campaigns, animated shows, movie sequences, apps, video games and digital platforms, which engage kids and work effectively with their ability to process and retain information. I’ve observed the attentiveness and emotional responses of thousands of kids with the human eye and analysed them using heat maps and electronically coded facial expressions, captured in micro-seconds with the aid of Eye Tracking and Face Reader technology.
It’s essential to understand what happens in the moments leading up to an ad break, as much as the moments within the ad break itself. As soon as the plot of a cartoon or show’s story reaches its resolution, kids’ attention plummets. The villain’s identity is uncovered (it was the caretaker). The peril is over. The rescue has been done. Kids visibly relax, get restless, plan what to do next. They might start to daydream, or to resume a game they were playing, or hunt for a snack, go to the toilet, check their social media (tweens+) or … fast forward to the next episode.
Here are my top 5 tips on how to grab and retain kids’ attention, in the split seconds before a child decides to skip your ad.
1. Sound connects faster than light.
Even before the music and credits begin to roll, kids invariably look away from the screen when a show comes to an end. However, they don’t “switch off” their auditory senses. To draw their attention back to screen, use the power of sound. Make sure that the sound is distinctive, discordant or readily associable with an experience which kids are familiar with and keen to rekindle or are curious about. The first sound in the first second of your ad is crucial, whether it’s the first notes of a jingle or a standalone noise, but always laden with purpose and meaning for the child.
2. Here’s looking at you, kid.
We are primed to look at faces first. All eye tracking evidence demonstrates that the fastest speed to first fixation is generated by faces, be they on packaging, on a web page, cartoon, movie, app or digital game. We even have a special section of our brain dedicated to interpreting the meaning of facial expressions and it is the first visual element which infants learn to focus on. Friend or foe? Faces reveal all. And faces, looking directly back at us, draw us in to a story about to unfold. A friendly face creates trust and intimacy. An unfriendly face engenders excitement and trepidation. Both will grab and hold our attention.
3. Pause and take a breath.
Have you ever picked up a cold call only to have the salesperson at the other end of the phone launch into their sales pitch without pausing to take a breath? Many TV ads do exactly the same thing, launching into a rapid-fire sales pitch before kids are even ready to listen. Kids need pause and space in which to process meaning, from the second it takes for them to locate the source of a noise, to the next second it takes for the storytelling to begin. Miss that pause and kids will simply tune out too soon to re-engage. A pause isn’t an empty space. It can be full of evocative imagery and sounds, but it’s a moment free of cognitive effort.
4. Quick to entertain and immerse.
It’s great when we see and hear the uninhibited laughter of a kid who gets a joke or enjoys slapstick humour. Advertisers often use child actors to demonstrate their product and act out the emotions of pleasure or surprise in using it. Kids need to experience some of that same pleasure and surprise for themselves. The most popular attribute in advertising is humour. Humour forms a bridge between the actor and the audience, and it is as applicable to live action as it is to animation.
5. Inspiring, empowering, enacting.
We want kids to respond to our ads by requesting our products. In the time it takes between seeing an ad and asking their parents for the product, we need kids to retain as much information as possible. We store the information in our memory which we’re most likely to retrieve. Advertising’s call to action can encourage kids to do just that, to store and retrieve information for a practicable purpose immediately after the ad has been seen. That purpose could be to perform the jingle; to re-enact the story telling (no props required); to learn a joke which can be retold to friends or family; to learn a trivia fact to test on their parents.
I’ve worked with plenty of toy companies who consider media advertising as the default plan, the only plan in fact, to drive sales of new brands and innovation. If that’s the case, we need our advertising to work with every fraction of a second, from the moment entertainment content comes to an end to the within the first second of the ad break itself.