Financial app Honey spent over $3.1 million USD on this 2022 YouTube ad:
In this article you are going to learn...
Why this ad works right now...
And how you can apply it to your own ads...
..And we're going to explain it all with the help of this 80 year old film classic:
...And Nicholas Cage:
(image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gone_in_60_Seconds_(2000_film)#/media/File:Gone_in_sixty_seconds.jpg):
(...And we'll get to all that in just a moment.)
But first, one important thing to remember:
As advertisers, if we can’t attract and hold our audience’s attention?
And when it comes to human attention, maybe you’ve heard this:
“The average human’s attention span has declined to 8 seconds - which is less than the attention span of a goldfish (9 seconds).”
Let’s talk about this…
Attention Span "Decay" ...Fact or Fiction?
The idea of attention span “decay” seems to make sense.
(Especially in this day & age of instant gratification, Candy Crush games and 15 second TikToks…)
But it’s actually a myth.
There is no science that supports this claim.
(And here’s an interesting breakdown on how this particular “human vs. goldfish attention span” myth developed from a fringe pseudoscience website to mainstream acceptance in Time Magazine, New York Times, USA Today and others: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-38896790 )
So if attention span isn’t “decaying”, what exactly is going on when it comes to human attention right now?
Something definitely seems to be going on.
And what does it mean for creating video ads that drive results?
Let’s take a closer look...
From Gone With The Wind… to Gone In 60 Seconds
Watch an old film, like 1940’s Gone With the Wind:
And then compare it with a more recent film, like Nicholas Cage’s 2000 masterpiece, Gone in 60 Seconds:
See how slow that Gone With the Wind “action” scene is?
And notice how much faster & high impact the scene is from Gone in 60 Seconds?
It switches more quickly between different shots
Uses more interesting angles
Pans in and out with perspective
Let’s get specific:
Notice one difference in particular between these two films:
“shot length” = the time between editing “cuts.”
And looking at shot length alone - a very interesting pattern emerges over the decades.
Cinema researcher James Cutting and his team analyzed the average shot length in US films from the 1930s to the 2010s.
Here is what they found:
(source: https://www.wired.com/2014/09/cinema-is-evolving/ & Cutting’s excellent book “Movies on Our Minds - the evolution of cinematic engagement”)
Shot length for films has decreased by 80% since the early 1930s.
Back in 1930, average shot length was 12 seconds.
Now? It’s just 2.5 seconds.
What’s going on here?
Let’s step into the DeLorean and do a bit of time travel to find out…
Time Travel - With the “Period Eye”
Let’s step back in time to the 1500s.
Imagine seeing the Mona Lisa, not as someone from the 21st century, where we spend most of our day staring into screens consuming information…
…But as a typical 15th century person:
- You have never travelled 5 miles outside your village
- You live in darkness at night, unless you have a candle or torch nearby
- You probably can’t read and rarely encounter paper (let alone an image on canvas realistically depicting another human)
Even though we’re working with the same “equipment” now in 2022 vs. 1500…
(Our eyes and brain are basically the same as they were 500+ years ago.)
…We’re looking at the same painting, having a completely different experience.
“It is difficult for us to recapture in the 21st century what it would have been like to look at, contemporaneously, any painting in the 15th century.”
(Cutting, James E.. Movies on Our Minds (p. 133))
What drives this difference?
How our visual processing “equipment” - our eyes and brain - have been shaped and trained by processing the ceaseless stream of visual media: images, print, film, video, etc., all day every day.
“...the common 15th-century viewer of a Renaissance painting is simply not the same kind of individual as the 21st century viewer of the same painting. The reason for this concerns every aspect of cultural change, much of which began to accelerate in the 19th century and continues today—transportation, allowing people to travel to see things; electrification, allowing people 24-hour visual access to their environments; printing and photography, allowing the recording and reproduction of images; and, critically in this context, moving images.”
Cutting, James E.. Movies on Our Minds (p. 133). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Art historians use a framework called the “Period Eye” to take this difference in viewer capabilities & circumstances - due to the culture in which the viewer lives - into account.
And it’s important to keep this Period Eye perspective in mind as context when looking at media from a time different than our own. (More on that in just a little bit…)
Because here’s the thing:
Over the last 100 years, the amount of visual media and data we process has skyrocketed.
When it comes to films alone:
- We now watch on average over 80 movies per year, whereas before the TV was introduced in the 1950s, we watched around 10.
(Cutting, James E.. Movies on Our Minds (p. 131). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.)
And when you add in the additional 4 hours + per day we consume on our phones, watching FB / IG / TikTok / YouTube? (source)
Today, the amount of visual information we process all day every day is staggering.
Our hypothetical 1500s Italian, dropped into this chaotic mess, wouldn’t know which way was up.
But for us, raised in this rapid-fire chaos?
Anything less would be boring.
And as a result, instead of “Decaying” our attention span…
…What if all this visual input is actually turning our brains into visual processing supercomputers?
(image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-string-lights-photo-818563/)
The Flynn Effect:
A Curious Rise in IQ Scores
This is exactly what American researcher Dr. James Flynn found.
As he analyzed global IQ trends over the past 100 years, he saw that average overall IQ scores rose significantly and consistently over this time frame.
Here is a graph of his findings:
(image source: https://theatlas.com/charts/BkbWZ3ODg )
But here’s what was really interesting:
IQ scores did not improve for all aspects of the test. Just one area in particular.
What drove these IQ gains was an improvement in a specific set of questions: IQ questions that evaluated visual processing.
We are talking about questions that look at the ability to process visual information, like Raven's matrices below:
(image source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Two-examples-of-matrices-like-those-in-the-Ravens-test-A-Example-of-an-item_fig1_261445434 )
The Flynn Effect makes one thing clear:
Thanks to the growth of visual media over the past 100 years, you have unknowingly developed your very own visual processing supercomputer:
(image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/technology-computer-head-health-7089020/ )
But as a marketer, you might be wondering…
“Ok, that’s interesting…But how can I apply this to my ads?”
3 Ways to Leverage Changing Brain Behavior for Better Ads
Here are 3 big takeaways you can apply to your video ads right now:
#1 - Respect the Period Eye: Format Matters
The Period Eye doesn’t just apply to modern humans versus those from 1500s Italy.
Boomers born in 1955 who grew up watching the nightly news on a TV with 5 channels have a completely different visual processing abilities than someone born in 2005 who had a smartphone by age 5.
Your documentary style 45 minute Video Salesletter (VSL) that converts boomers into buyers?
It might not work as well when trying to reach a Generation Z audience.
Let’s take a quick look at a couple high spending ads in VidTao to illustrate this.
Here’s a 1:09 long ad from The Independent Investor, with an estimated adspend of over $3M usd:
(here's a quick screenshot from the VidTao YouTube Ad Library showing a traffic cost estimate)
Compare this Boomer-focused video (keep in mind that this market typically skews towards the 50+ age bracket) with one of financial app Honey’s many successful YouTube ads.
Not only is shot length shorter.
Watching Honey’s ad is like playing a casual video game: your brain gets a little dopamine “reward” for each millisecond of attention:
Each and every:
- fast, interesting cut
- sound effect
- visual gag
...Glues your attention to the screen and primes you for receiving the ad’s message again and again: Honey saves you money.
Honey is mostly going after the under 34 age bracket (according to Similarweb), so this format choice makes sense. And it’s clearly working.
#2 - Respect the Flynn Effect: Don’t Be Boring
Remember the Flynn Effect - that IQ jump in the past 50 years:
Now more than ever, your viewers are visual processing super-savants.
So respect their superpower.
Get to the point, stay interesting, and above all don't be boring.
Create content that respects grab their attention and grab it fast. On YouTube especially, you need to grab attention:
- In the first 5 seconds (to get viewers to stick around past the “skip” button…)
- In the first 10 seconds (to register a higher % of what Google defines as an "engagement" - a 10 second view or click) - which will drive down your traffic costs overall.
And if your ad is slow and boring? This won’t happen.
So take another look at that Honey ad above and use it as inspiration. Think of how you can do things like:
- Trim the fat out of the edit: shorter, tighter cuts,
- Use sound effects to create mini dopamine hits
- Use visual gags
- Test getting to the point faster - or even leading with the offer
“Buy” yourself a few milliseconds more attention, especially in the first 10 seconds of your ad
Also - get qualitative feedback to identify any particularly boring moments:
Have people watch your ad and ask them to apply Michael Masterson & Mike Palmer’s Copy Logic! "CUB" feedback formula:
Is any part in your ad:
- (and especially) Boring?
This kind of qualitative feedback can help you identify problems and solve them, before you spend a cent on the ad.
(There are excellent tools for getting this kind of feedback. But you can also simply upload the video on frame.io and ask people to watch and call out any offending moments in the timestamped comments)
#3 - Respect the Power of STORY
Even though we seem to be in the age of the short form, 15 sec TikTok video...
There is no denying the power of long form content.
Think about it:
- How many 1hr+ podcasts did you consume this past year?
- How many long form Netflix series?
Whether we were sitting around the campfire in caveman times, or sitting around a 98 inch flatscreen TV now…
…Our brains are hard-wired to respond to STORIES.
When brain scientists look at a MRI visualizations of how the brain responds to the exact same content, delivered in factual vs. storytelling format, they see something interesting:
Our brains literally "light up" and are fully engaged when we consume stories.
Delivering the same information in story format causes dramatically more brain involvement.
Which is why now more than ever, a good story can shape what we pay attention to and what we end up doing.
(image source: https://feber.se/film/formula-1-drive-to-survive-far-en-andra-sasong-pa-netflix/400131/?p=1)
Just think about Formula 1 Racing’s massive popularity increase (new record sales in the US among many other indicators) after investing in creating what might be the ultimate long form ad: an entire Netflix series to tell the STORY behind the sport. (source)
Want to learn more about the power of story in particular to build video ads that drive results?
Join us at VidTao Live this August 17th & 18th at Oxford Union, Oxford University UK.
You'll get to learn directly from people like storytelling video advertising legend Chris Haddad:
You'll also hear from people like these:
Rory Sutherland, VP of Ogilvy @roderickhenrysutherland
Peter Kell @zippi101 , Video Salesletter Innovator + @mindvalley
Chris Haddad, VSL Pioneer with $750+ M in sales @chrismoneyfingershaddad
Parris Lampropoulos #parrislampropoulos - Direct Response Legend
Johnson Li - @hotty_johnson - Former Partner, CMO & Phone Sales Team Creator of Six Pack Shortcuts
Joseph Wilkins - founder of @funnysalesvideos
Olly hudson - @olly_hudson - Founder of D2C TikTok specialist agency @soarwithus.co
John Belcher - @_sluicebox - Former Googler & Founder of SluiceBox Marketing
Amin Siala (pending) @aminsiala - ex Apple + Google Engineer / Marketing expert
Lili Marocsik - Hello Fresh + Revolut YouTube ads lead - expert in Branding + Performance hybrid marketing
Richard Shotton - Founder of Astroten, behavioural science marketing consultancy & Author of The Choice Factory.
Alex Micol - @alexmicol - Underground video marketing juggernaut & Entrepreneur founder of @divergentskey
Will Hughes - Former CMO of Organifi
...And more speakers added soon!
VidTao Live is where you'll:
LEARN from the best in Video Advertising
NETWORK with top experts & business owners in Oxford's historic pubs
APPLY what you learn, at the event with 1-on-1 help from our speakers & experts in our open-laptop BUILD sessions.
Important! VidTao Live is a closed door event.
Which means what's shared at the event, stays at the event.
So if you want to learn from the best?
You need to be there in person.
Early Bird tickets are sold out, and price goes up this Friday...
So go here to claim your tickets while they're still available: live.vidtao.com
See you at the event!
Have a great week!
The VidTao Team
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