Three Seconds or Less: Effective Advertising In the Shorter Span

Shorter attention spans challenges effective advertising.

According to neuroscientific studies, the average human attention span has shrunk from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds now (still better than a goldfish). Whether that number is precise or not is up for debate. But the undeniable truth is that our attention span or patience for irrelevant details is lower than ever.

And that’s a challenge for your advertising efforts. In this day and age, effective advertising has to present a captivating message that does the heavy lifting of resonating with an audience in just a few seconds. It’s not impossible, but it does take a particular skill and a familiarity with what effective advertising is in the 21st century.

How Advertising & Content Looks Today Versus Yesterday

There was a time when reading the columns in a newspaper, a 500-page novel or a long copy ad was not intimidating. You did this on the train to work, in the bathroom or at the beach.

Fast forward to now, and you’re more likely to see people snapping pics for Instagram or Snapchatting their friends. Or if they’re reading anything, it’s a tweet from celebrities, a meme that’s gone viral or a Buzzfeed listicle.

Speaking of which, traditional journalism has been labelled “dead” for years, because even the major publishing outlets are reducing their content length. Gone are the long chunks of a paragraph in the gothic font – now the standard is the one or two sentence paragraph written in a breezy, grade school reading level.

The same goes for ads (print ads are now almost entirely visual) and even entertaining. Few people want to watch a three-hour movie or listen to a 22-song album (unless it’s from Drake).


Old school NYTimes paper - big, blocky text.


Buzzfeed has challenged effective advertising due to its pithy listicle format.


Effective advertising no longer involves paragraphs of copy.


Effective advertising is often very short, if not, skippable.

As you can see, the changes are significant (or in terms of reading length, much less).

What the Change In Format & Style Means For You
Some of you feel that reaching newer or younger audiences (even older ones) might seem hopeless now. It may look like you have to restrict yourself to three-word headlines, five-second videos and 10-point listicles.

While it’s true that you to get the point these days real fast, what counts as effective advertising is not just length, but rather, necessity. Your audience will stay with you if you provide them with digestible, scannable and relevant content that gives them what they need at that moment.

How Brands Can Meet the Demand

  • Fit the Message To the Medium – A brand message should stay consistent throughout a campaign, but not every utterance of it should or can be identical. Sometimes, you’ll have to distil your message into a three-word phrase for a billboard or a 120-character tweet (or even stretch it into a 1000 word article for a blog).
  • Focus On Clarity – Clever wordplay and immersive details do have their place, but if you follow the principle above, you’ll realise that they shouldn’t be your focus. If you want to keep your ads short and crisp for the modern attention span, you’ll want to state your intended message clearly without all the bells and whistles.
  • Less Is More – This piece of advice is as cliche as they come, but use this visual principle as a guide: if there’s so much text (or imagery even) that the page looks busy, scrap the idea. It’ll just turn eyes away.

Also, consider some of the following pointers on making ads that deliver big messages in just seconds.

Creating Effective Advertising For Short Attention Spans

  • Take inspiration from well-made ads that appeal to short attention spans
  • Tell stories with visuals
  • Turn written ideas into visual and interactive ones where appropriate
  • Experiment with short-form platforms & content
  • Cut out excess words, call-to-actions and verbiage
  • Break bigger content into pieces (i.e. episodes, serials)

Big Messages Can Still Come From Short Ads

It’s true – attention spans have shrunk, and the patience for walls of text has died. But that doesn’t mean the days of effective advertising is over. The challenge of capturing short attention spans has made it even more critical for ads to be purposeful and powerful instead of just taking up space.

Fortunately, for every new platform or medium that emerges, so do new opportunities for advertising. And if you’re willing to adapt your message and strategy, you can find success marketing to your audience even if their minds wandering.

Talk to a Mobile Billboard specialist today

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