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Can We Have Your Attention Please? Shrinking Attention Spans and the Effect on Marketing

How long can you concentrate on a particular task without becoming distracted or bored? Do you think smartphones and social media have reduced your attention span?

When you want to learn how to hang that shelf, you watch a tutorial on Youtube. When you explore that gallery, an AI screen and narrator tells you where to go and what you’re looking at. When you want to be entertained? That’s right, you watch a funny clip on TikTok, and then a few more, before falling down a wormhole of bitesize social media content for hours on end. Or is that just me?

The average attention span has decreased over the years due to our increasingly fast-paced society and the prevalence of technologies that provide a constant source of stimuli. So much so, that digital marketers are having to change their approach to meet the needs of the next generation of consumers, Gen A.

In advertising, attention span is critically important and affects the optimal length of adverts and videos. There are several factors that have led to a change in attention span so let’s pay attention and find out what those are.

The Attention Span of a Goldfish and Other Misconceptions

Ever heard people say that adult’s attention spans are now just 8 seconds long? Although this stat originally comes from a study by Microsoft in 2015, it has since been debunked.

According to further research, our ability to sustain attention for any given length of time depends on the task at hand, whether it’s listening to a lecture, reading a book, or driving.

Like with anything, if it’s interesting or exciting, we’re more likely to pay attention for longer. Something to bear in mind for those ads!

What Factors Affect Attention Span?

‘It’s not our fault our generation has short attention spans, Dad. We watch an appalling amount of TV’ – Yeardley Smith


The younger a person is, the shorter their attention span tends to be. On average, a five-year-old can concentrate for about ten to 20 minutes, while a fifteen-year-old can focus for about 40 to 50 minutes.


The latest generation, people born between 2010 and 2025, known as Gen A are brought up on technology. They’ve never had to wait for information or answers to something the way to know. A digitally literate generation has high expectations and shorter attention spans.

Ask a boomer if their attention span is smaller than it used to be and only 38% will agree, compared to 58% of millennials.

Task Complexity

The more complex the task, the less time a person can focus on it without becoming fatigued. Tasks that require a high level of concentration, such as studying for exams, may only be manageable for 30 to 45 minutes at a time.

Mental State

An individual’s mental state plays a crucial role in their attention span. If we are tired, hungry or anxious, our ability to concentrate will be significantly reduced. Conversely, if we are well rested, hydrated and focused, we can concentrate for more prolonged periods.

Why Is Attention Span So Important in Advertising?

In today’s world of constant stimuli, it’s increasingly difficult to capture someone’s attention. It’s especially challenging in advertising, where there are millions of messages competing for attention. Advertisers need to understand their target audience and craft messages that break through the clutter and capture the audience’s attention within just the first few seconds – not an easy ask!

Optimal Ad Length

Ad TypeOptimal Ad Length
TV Commercials15-30 seconds
YouTube Ads6 seconds
Facebook Ads10-15 seconds
Instagram Ads30 seconds or less

Yet, in many cases, it’s better to aim for memorability rather than length. As Jerry Seinfeld says, ‘There is no such thing as attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing… People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them’.

Here’s another contradiction for you. We’re also seeing that the consumption of long-form content is growing. When people are interested in something, they won’t be easily diverted. Long-form content is also effectivel as long as it’s valuable and engaging.

For example, in 2006, the average length of a YouTube video was about 2.4 minutes. By 2018 this had increased to 15.1 minutes

Why are short TikTok videos so successful then?

Entertaining people on TikTok is one thing while explaining complex subjects like the latest tech developments on YouTube is quite another! So really, you can do both, a long, information (and don’t forget interesting!) video on YouTube and a minus 60 second demo video on TikTok. This way you can smartly tailor your content to each platform and engage with each audience in the right way for them.

Examples of Successful Ad Lengths

So, what does a successful attention grabbing ad look like? Let’s see how these big brands did it in 30 seconds or less.

Old Spice (30 seconds)

The Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign is a perfect example of creative storytelling and effective messaging. The ad was 30 seconds long and managed to capture and maintain viewers’ attention by keeping things fresh and interesting throughout.

Audi (6 seconds)

Audi’s short six-second ad, ‘The Accountant’, focusses on a compelling story and stunning visuals. The ad quickly communicates the brand’s message, leaving a lasting impression on viewers in a short amount of time.

Apple (10 seconds)

Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” campaign is an excellent example of using user-generated content to create a compelling message. The ad format is short and sweet and encourages engagement within the target audience.

Now that We Have Your Attention…

Attention span plays a fundamental role in advertising, where capturing and maintaining attention helps drive brand engagement and conversions. Understanding attention span and the optimal ad lengths is useful for any brand looking to deliver effective advertising.

Looking to create that ultimate online ad? Here at Electric Sheep we are the experts in all things digital marketing and we’re ready and raring to grow your business!

We have all the insights and all the know-how to define your audience and reach them with the right content for them. Whether that’s via social media, automated emails or Google ads, leave the complexities to us.

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