By Greg Stuart

Nike’s incredible and epic two-minute commercial starring Colin Kaepernick won the 2019 Creative EMMY in September, marking another accolade this year for a high-profile commercial running more than a minute. It’s evidence that while scurrying for answers to short attention spans, many marketers are also relying on longer ads to introduce compelling narratives.

The logic is that a fuller narrative cements a complex brand proposition. At Cannes this year, the research chief for one of the world’s biggest advertisers told me that he believes that “people need to watch the full commercial as it was created, period!”  

My response: The full story is worthless if people turn away in the first second.

I say this because the world’s first research on how the human brain responds to digital advertising, particularly mobile, finds that the majority (67%) of ads are seen and registered in just 4/10th of a second. What’s more, people experience initial attraction and repulsion impulses within the same amount of time and they reject ads faster than they embrace them during these initial milliseconds. This is particularly true of video ads, which generate a stronger emotional response, earlier.

To determine how soon an ad registers in the brain, Neurons Inc. and MediaScience (commissioned by the Mobile Marketing Association in conjunction with the Advertising Research Foundation under AAF’s Radical Transparency Program) measured the brain activity of nearly 1,000 people. They gauged brain activity at 20 millisecond (2/10ths of a second) intervals, tracking both attention and cognition (processing of information and approach or avoidance). Then they measured participants’ responses to the first three seconds of ads that had proven effective or ineffective (via other brand research measurement methods). They found that the overwhelming majority of ads that failed started alienating viewers well before the first second had elapsed.

As a result, advertisers need to change there orientation toward attention – standards don’t dictate it, consumers award or deny it instinctively. That’s why one of the worst (research-proven) media buying strageies is to pay only for a full completed video view. (hint: effectiveness doesn’t go up commensurately with time viewed, so the premium paid for it actually reduces ROI.)

To win attention, we must turn the brand story arc on its head. Marketers need a first-second strategy. And we probably need it across all media. 

With a first-second strategy, media becomes a creative and scientific exercise more than ever. It turns out that thousands of years of human evolution have created a number of predictable shortcuts in the human brain and as a result, a common response to certain stimuli.

For example, we react to colors and shapes before we register an image (a person, animal, or object) as a concept; so, an ad’s stopping power happens in the initial blur. We react emotionally to a moving image faster than we do to a static one; and a hint of motion (e.g., light trails) will speed up recognition of a static ad.

And images of people – faces, body parts, or icons shaped like bodies – get our attention immediately. Even incomplete faces pique our instinctive curiosity. Our brains have developed the ability to detect eyes more easily, a mechanism that scientists call the Eye Direction Detector (EDD). The implication for creative is that when eyes are visible, the direction of the gaze sends a message, either demanding attention or directing attention to another visual element.

After seeing this research, Hilton CMO Kellyn Kelly (and MMA Board member) rounded up her marketing team to rethink how they shoot the first second of video ads. “We have to create content differently because people are bombarded with it,” she told the audience at The Mobile Growth New York summit in July.

At a granular level, the 30 frames that comprise a second of video now create the most critical communication in a campaign. For the audiences that brands depend on, that communication doesn’t happen in an agency screening room or the jury room at Cannes. It happens wherever, whenever people are glancing at their screens during the myriad experiences and emotions that fill their days.

This calls for a different approach to focus groups and creative testing – one based in the science of how our brains process visual imagery. It also calls for a change in mindset – from buying ad exposure time and hoping for attention to designing creative to earn that attention in the first second.

We need to rethink our precepts of how time matters according to the way our brains react to advertising. We have far less time than we thought, and we sure as hell can’t “standards” our way to success. Don’t get me wrong, standards are important (I lead the writing of many of them), but they are not about effectiveness.  Increasingly, how we start determines whether we finish.

Greg Stuart is CEO of the MMA.

Every couple of weeks, in 30 seconds, I’ll give you a look into the collective thinking of some of the most progressive marketing leaders around.

Marketing Org decisions are often made on ‘politics’ rather than ‘performance.’  Dr. Omar Rodriguez (Emory U.) and team, working with MMA’s Marketing Org Think Tank, have mapped out 72 marketing capabilities and quantitative measurements to assess “fit” against marketing strategy.

They’re now working toward a model that can predict financial outcomes based on org changes, supporting how to set priorities.  This has never been done before – we’re excited.

The MMA’s Global Board kicked off this project 3 years ago, and is proud to have it featured in the Harvard Business Review recently (mmaglobal.com/hbr). More on this work from MMA is here https://www.mmaglobal.com/think-tanks/mostt

Thanks (first name), comments or questions are always welcome.  I’ll send the map of 72 marketing capabilities later.

The meaning of Man Saves Dog, that’s another story.



Overheard at the Global Board: “With this map of 72 capabilities I can finally explain to my board why marketing is so hard.”

Keynote from 2016

chief_digital_officer_logo_header1Reprinted from Chief Digital Officer

Question 1: How do you define ‘digital strategy’?

“The best digital strategists have two approaches. First, they identify which current business or marketing strategies could be approached more efficiently or effectively using digital. Then, they identify the unique things that can be done with digital that can’t be done otherwise, and this is where the real opportunity lies and where a brand can find real gold. Within the Mobile Marketing Association board discussions, we continually discuss mobile as a means of ‘business transformation.’”

More here

In the hit TV show Seinfeld George Costanza explains that his whole dating strategy comes down to getting the second date. When Jerry asks why, George says, assuming the role of a commercial jingle: “First it’s a little irritating, then you hear it a few times, you hum it in the shower, by the third date it’s ‘By Mennen!’”

While George was speaking metaphorically, is there a better way to explain how marketers have approached media channels like TV and radio? The assumption was always that the advertisement itself, no matter how good, was going to be irritating, and not just because it interrupted the consumer’s entertainment. As a blatant sales pitch, Continue Reading »

Given that Cannes Lions is just around the corner, I wanted to explore the topic of innovation and wealth creation.  Basically, the age we are in.

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At a conference for marketers in Tel Aviv recently I asked the audience how many of their parents had encouraged them to become entrepreneurs. In a room of roughly 250 people, fewer than five hands went up. I then asked how many encourage their children to become entrepreneurs. I looked out over a sea of raised hands, probably 95 percent of the audience. It was as if I heard the death knell for the big corporation – the 20th Century’s symbol of gainful employment – right then and there.

Welcome to the Age of Innovation. This is an era when technological advances are expected; when new markets spring up over night; and when the rate at which our society transforms itself means that we cannot predict what life will be like in 3 years, let alone 5 years.  For me, innovation perfectly captures what that room of Israeli business leaders represents: The innumerable variety of creation – and destruction – going on all around us.

There are seismic shifts occurring in both the economic and societal realms Continue Reading »

What marketer wants to be closer to their consumer?Image

This is a question I ask in my conference keynotes, and unsurprisingly 95 percent of the audience raises their hands. What marketer doesn’t want to be closer to their consumers? (I just assume that the 5 percent just aren’t paying attention likely because they are checking Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, or tweeting, texting, or shopping on their phone, looking for a Dunkin Donut’s nearby, etc, etc, etc.)

Even if the answer is obvious Continue Reading »

This is a reprint of an article interview at Forbes as conducted by @kimwhitlerImage

This was the simple question posed at the recent CMO Exchange Conference in Miami, Florida. Just 20 years ago, CMOs were just getting adept at computers and the internet, online shopping was a new concept, and social media, digital media, podcasts, and mobile marketing weren’t even on anybody’s radar. Most CMOs were focused on the next big advertising campaign and worrying about just a few channels to place their media on.  Those days are gone and a technological revolution has heralded in a host of vehicles that CMOs are trying to quickly get up to speed on.

To figure out why CMOs and marketers should start caring about mobile marketing, I went to the source – Greg Stuart is the CEO of the Mobile Marketing Association  Continue Reading »

Back in 2004, late into the dawn of the (legit) Internet Advertising age, Ford kicked off a marketing campaign for a major relaunch of the F-150 truck, which Bill Ford called the most important launch for Ford ever.  You’re probably aware of the iconic F-150 if only because between 1991 and 2008 it was the best-selling vehicle in the United States[1] and remains America’s best-selling truck. In any event, Ford had a marketing budget of around $200 million, but it wanted to test that budget against a variety of media combinations.

Continue Reading »