14. 11. 2022
Does it ever happen to you that while watching a commercial break on TV, an ad sticks in your mind so much that you have to think about it the next day? Or that you completely forget the “skip-ad” button when watching an ad before an online video? That is exactly the kind of situation where the real marketing experts rub their hands with satisfaction. They have just managed to grab your attention, which is an extremely difficult discipline that challenges even the most renowned brands. Is there any manual on how to tackle it with honour and create an ad that will become a viral hit?

Capturing the viewer’s attention is a fundamental principle of advertising. According to the AIDA (attention-interest-desire-action) model, capturing attention is the first step of the whole process, culminating in a purchase. But today, with advertising lurking at every turn, capturing attention is also the most difficult task, and the path to this goal is lined with many pitfalls.


The marketing world has long been familiar with the concept of double jeopardy. The influential Adelaide-based Ehrenbach-Bass Institute uses the concept to refer to situations in which a brand is plagued by loss of audience attention due to a weakened market position and low customer loyalty. This model tends to be widely accepted, but in recent years there have been authors who, while agreeing with its core, believe that the issue is much more complicated. This includes a trio of titans of contemporary marketing research - Orlando Wood, Peter Field and Karen Nelson-Field. They presented their modified Ehrenbach-Bass concept to the audience at this year’s Cannes Lions marketing awards. The basis of their authorial change is to add one additional aspect to the original.

In their concept, it is a triple jeopardy of attention. Peter Field believes that marketers who do not consider attention-getting as one of their main goals are making a fundamental mistake. Especially in times of economic crisis, which at first blush may suggest that the most sensible strategy is a short-term boost to sales. But even in tough times, winners do not forget to build their brand - and an attention-oriented marketing strategy is an integral part of that. So what three interrelated threats in the marketing jungle are trying to convince you that attention does not matter?

  1. WASTED BUDGET. While the brand may enjoy a relatively large budget, it uses it in an inefficient manner to say the least. And in extreme cases, it outright wastes it. Whatever it does, the majority of its resources are certainly not going into meaningful advertising activities that could have gained the attention of consumers.

  2. MISGUIDED MEDIA PLANNING. Although a brand can use many communication platforms in marketing at the same time, the resulting composition does not make sense and does not prefer channels that are most suitable in terms of attracting the attention of the audience. Typically, this may include situations where the majority of marketing activity is focused on social media and the resulting media mix is completely lacking television or one of its modern equivalents.

  3. MINDLESS CREATIVITY. Of course, you can hardly cram creative work into a pre-made box. Its forms and quality vary from person to person. But marketing science does offer some basic guidelines for what creative that seeks to capture the audience’s attention should look like. But even if you follow them to the smallest detail you may not succeed. That is the fate of living in a world where finding original messages is increasingly complicated. But if you ignore them completely, you will almost certainly miss the mark.

At this point, it is worth recalling the popular neuromarketing approach pioneered by one of the Cannes speakers, Orlando Wood. It is his theory based on the functional differences between the left and right hemispheres of the human brain. In a nutshell, the left hemisphere views the world in an abstract, schematic way and prefers larger wholes at the expense of details. The right hemisphere behaves in the opposite way - its ideal stimuli are interconnections, humour, cultural references or specific static and non-static perceptions. Wood further distinguishes TV ads according to the hemisphere for which they are primarily intended. And based on the comparison, he finds that right hemisphere ads are better at capturing attention because they can connect it to emotional experiences, which then has far-reaching implications for business. The current era typically suffers from a lack of this type of advertising, which is both good and bad news for marketers. It means that there is a vacuum in the market - but to really engage viewers, they have to try their best.

Karen Nelson-Field, on the other hand, focused more on the effectiveness of different communication platforms in the workshop. In particular, she highlighted the fact that the vast majority of all marketing spend actually ends up below the average person’s attention span. In terms of numbers - each ad should be able to hold the viewer’s attention for at least 2.5 seconds to become imprinted on their memory. Almost 85% of digital ads fail to do this. At the same time, Nelson-Field introduced her concept of attention elasticity, a property of communication platforms that causes them to hit their natural limits. These limitations should be taken into account when devising marketing strategies. Television, for example, has a very good elasticity of attention, while social networks such as Facebook are not doing very well in this respect.

Video: Triple Jeopardy of Attention

When all three of the above threats come together, a lethal cocktail is made. It is yet another reason to think of audience attention as an irreplaceable commodity of sorts. Advertisements that do not grab attention are of no use to brands in the long run - they may strengthen demand for products in the short term, but there is no question of strengthening customer loyalty. How to get to the root of this mystery?


It is hard to order what such an attention-grabbing ad should look like. Every author should keep in mind that he or she must at least put a little bit of him or herself into it to avoid creating a template-based work that no one will be interested in. There are some best practices, but at most they are lessons in what has historically paid off for brands and what has not. Therefore, it is best to get inspired by them, but the biggest piece of work will still be left to you and your creative skills. However, TV viewers will generally appreciate ads that include any of the elements listed below.

STRONG STORY. A narrative approach is essential - but do not get confused. We are not just talking about fictional advertising constructs where a story is required. Ideally, the brand itself has a story and is actively working with it as part of its marketing strategy. In an ad itself, this is a fundamental prerequisite for attracting attention - no one is going to follow something they are not interested in. Don’t be boring and try to create an engaging storytelling.

CAPTIVATING BAIT. Keep in mind that you are not making a movie or a TV series. That is not to suggest that TV advertising cannot be of comparable quality, but at least in terms of structure, the disciplines cannot be compared. A film viewer is able to forgive a director for starting at a slower pace because they understand that lengthier exposition may pay off later. In advertising, you only have a few dozen seconds to interpret your message, so it is best to fire one of the sharpest bullets right at the start. Get the viewer’s attention from the beginning - especially in an environment where they can easily be engaged in any other activity, this is the only way to ensure their full attention.

EMOTIONAL MASSAGE. It is a bit old-fashioned, but it is still true - viewers demand TV ads to evoke emotions. These can be evoked in a variety of ways, depending on how you want to impress your target audience and the nature of your product. Do you want consumers to think of your brand when they feel good? Engage them with a joke. Do you want to profile yourself as a reliable partner in difficult life situations? Be serious and offer them insight into a situation that any of us can easily find ourselves in. Or do you want to motivate them to be more socially responsible? In that case, subject them to shock therapy that will make them think. In short, be clear about what exactly you want to achieve with your advertising message.

Gone are the days when ad consumers were treated as a homogeneous and indistinguishable mass. Today, we have tools for AD TARGETING and other conveniences that allow you to reach exactly the target group you are looking for. But paradoxically, this places greater demands on you. In such an environment, it is assumed that you understand the target group - both in terms of demography and psychology. Different groups have different interests and motivations, and beyond that they are objectively part of certain overarching groups based on demographic criteria. Something different applies to each, and if you know their tastes and touch the right cord, they will reward you by paying attention to your presentation. Quite logically, advertising the latest sports equipment will probably not work in a retirement home. Conversely, advertising for joint pain medication is not primarily offered to primary and secondary school pupils either. These groups have different problems and life experience - it is apparent that their attention needs to be captured in different ways too.

CALL-TO-ACTION. Just as you started strong, you should finish strong. This appeal is essentially the alpha and omega of all marketing activities. You want consumers to behave in accordance with your wishes, so you also need to provide the necessary motivation. If you have managed to get their attention from the start, you have practically won because they will undoubtedly hear your appeal. But it still has to resonate enough for them to act on it. For more patient audiences, this is also your second chance - do not waste it to get the attention you want. It will be easier for spots that pursue some appealing societal goal because in that case you can also appeal to the viewer’s morals. In the rest of the cases, it mainly depends on your marketing skills.

STAR CAST. The trend of celebritisation has manifested itself even in politics, and the world of TV advertising has been working with it intensively for decades. It is no surprise - a brand’s association with a popular actor, singer, model or some other publicly known authority bears fruit. You can be sure that, at least at the first occasion, the viewer will be intrigued by the new connection. But beware - this can be both a good and a bad sign! When choosing an ambassador or mascot, keep in mind that the viewer requires a certain degree of authenticity. If you hire a well-known economist for a hair shampoo advertisement, you will probably earn a contemptuous tap on the forehead instead of an enthusiastic ovation. Although in an ad for a new insurance company scheme, such synergy could certainly work. Just give it some thought and do not push it at all costs.

 The archive of the aforementioned Cannes Lions marketing awards is literally a golden fund of ads that excel in attracting attention. The award ceremony is watched globally as an offshoot event of the Cannes Film Festival. In a way, it is the Palme d’Or of marketing. Outstanding achievements in the history of the awards abound on both sides of the barricade, among both winners and losers. Let’s recall some of them.

V/Line – Guilt Trips (2014)

Virtually all of us have probably taken a guilt trip at some point in our lives - a visit to someone you have not seen for a long time, where the guilt of letting it go that far discourages you. In Australia - where the gulf between rural countryside and modern cities is extremely apparent - this is a common, very emotional issue. Young Australians who grew up in the country often move to the cities, leaving behind not only their memories but often their ageing parents. In 2014, rail carrier V/Line wanted to draw attention to this issue and put together a campaign designed to have a bit of fun and, more importantly, to warm the heart.

Video: V/Line – Guilt Trips (2014)

With its “Guilt Trips” programme, the brand reached out to parents whose offspring had left for the lights of the big cities, offering to send them a one-way ticket back to their hometown. The accompanying TV spot maps the process - from the moment the moms discuss it at the hairdresser’s, to the detailed instructions on how to join the program, to the moment the letters from the parents are read by the recipients who begin to realise that they definitely should not forget their roots. Emotions work reliably in the ad, even when it comes to fiction - they are even more intense when paired with real everyday stories. This is another contribution to the wealth of Australian advertising work, which traditionally abounds with a great deal of creativity and an admirable ability to capture the world’s attention.

The New York Times – The Displaced (2015)

The Displaced is not a typical TV ad. In fact, it is a short documentary for which increasing sales of a particular product is a secondary concern. Instead, it brings to the fore a painful life story from a third-world country and an issue that many of us view from a distance. However, it absolutely deserves to be mentioned in an article about advertising campaigns that capture the attention of millions of viewers with their unique design. In addition to its content, it is also a showcase for the journalistic skill, precision and attention to detail that have traditionally been the hallmarks of The New York Times since 1851.

Video: The New York Times – The Displaced (2015)

The project had two goals - the business one was to increase the number of users of the NYT virtual reality app, the social one was to highlight the harsh reality of the escalating refugee crisis and in particular its impact on children among the millions of people on the run. The traditional media gave its readers the opportunity to experience the stories of three refugee children in VR - one from Syria, one from Ukraine, and one from South Sudan. The New York Times thus offered them a not-too-pleasant experience, which they were able to see with their own eyes and experience almost personally, using technology that simulates reality. The project received universal acclaim thanks to a unique idea, creative work with available technology and a refined approach to a socially depressing topic. The ad earned not only several awards, including Cannes Lions, but also the attention of millions of viewers, not just The New York Times’ loyal subscribers.

Burger King – McWhopper (2016)

The downside of living in the information world of digital technology is that if you want to catch the attention of your audience, you have to try really hard to come up with something that has not been invented before. “Well, just a while ago...” is a legendary line from a popular Czech comedy that comes to our mind in this context. Viewers who are not easy to surprise are very demanding. But if you are one of the world’s largest fast food chains, offer a joint project to your biggest competitor through advertising channels. A collaboration between Burger King and McDonald’s? Hmm, serve it up, please. This is how Burger King shocked TV viewers with its 2016 campaign. And quite possibly their counterparts in McDonald’s marketing.

Video: Burger King – McWhopper (2016)

One day, the former chain came up with an offer to combine the most popular burgers of both chains to create the golden grail of fast food -  McWhooper. Moreover, this happened during the so-called burger wars, when relations between the two competitors were literally at a standstill and even their marketing was aimed at harming the other as much as possible. Burger King’s move literally brought down the media world - some considered it to be just another poke at the arch-enemy, others thought it was a well-intentioned olive branch. Either way, McDonald’s turned down the offer at the time, and we may never know what such a McWhopper tastes like. What a pity... but certainly not for Burger King as the data presented in the accompanying TV spot will easily convince us.

Swedish Tourist Association – The Swedish Number (2016)

When you live in the same place for a long time, sooner or later you will inevitably get bored. In such a case, it is relatively difficult to get out of the rut and perceive the beauty around you with an unbiased eye. But we should remember that for someone unfamiliar with this reality, what you take for granted can be a source of abundant beauty and unforgettable experiences. What is more, meeting someone with a different perspective may make you become a little more receptive to the environment around you. In 2016, the Swedish Tourism Board was faced with the dilemma of how to lure more tourists to the country. Finally, its staff realised that the clear answer had been under their very noses all along.

Video: Swedish Tourist Association – The Swedish Number (2016)

The headquarters set up a special phone line for tourists who were redirected to the number of a random Swedish citizen after dialling the number. Curious tourists could then ask the person any questions they wanted about the country, life there, local culture, gastronomy... in short, whatever came to their mind. Of course, the headquarters could have gone the safe route and produced a simple brochure, maybe even a travel guidebook if it had a big budget. But instead it came up with a campaign based on authentic information from authentic people. The TV spot is a compilation of interesting parts of various phone calls. The headquarters has thus attracted attention not only because it has come up with an original and unorthodox concept but also because it has literally brought the public administration of the Kingdom of Sweden out of the marketing middle ages towards modern tomorrows.

Carrefour – Black Supermarket (2017)

You have roughly two minutes of airtime, how do you use them most effectively? Try to shock the audience by revealing something that touches them, even unconsciously, that happens in their immediate vicinity but they have no idea about it. Shocking revelation is undoubtedly one of the reliable strategies to attract attention with TV advertising - at least the audience will be enriched with new key information in this way. This is the approach taken by the French retail chain Carrefour in 2017, which managed to improve its sales, draw public attention to a neglected topic and even change national legislation as a result.

Video: Carrefour – Black Supermarket (2017)

In a dramatic black-and-white clip, the chain reveals the truth about the rampant protectionist trade in industrially made farm products in France, the producers of which are certainly not afraid to use a range of chemicals and pesticides. French law imposed a cap on the chains: organic products from small and medium-sized local farmers could account for no more than 3%. While this practice was perfectly legal in France, Carrefour’s campaign sparked an admirable wave of consumer backlash that effectively buried the law. All it took was a single two-minute TV spot, which was completely grim in its styling, with plenty of shocking revelations and the necessary call-to-action. There is a good reason it is considered revolutionary in the marketing world.

Tide – It’s a Tide Ad (2018)

Nothing captures the attention like a cliché turned inside out a hundred times. And historically, one of the most clichéd advertising disciplines is the TV advertising for washing powder. One of US leading manufacturers of this product - Tide - decided to play with the well-established format in its own way. Not only did the company manage to surprise viewers who were expecting just another ordinary clip about lying around in scented bed linen, but it also made a spot that scored a hit at the 2018 Cannes Lions awards.

Video: Tide – It’s a Tide Ad (2018)

The main protagonist of the clip is American actor David Harbour, who became famous in our country thanks to his role as Sheriff Jim Hopper in the Netflix hit Stranger Things. The ad originally premiered as part of the Super Bowl. Its authors drew inspiration from the typical commercial breaks of the annually celebrated football holiday. During the approximately two-minute running time, Harbour is thrust into situations that bear a striking resemblance to the classic commercial mash-up during the Super Bowl commercial break. But before the narrative gets underway according to established audience expectations, the actor emphasises to the audience that “this is a Tide ad”. By about halfway through the footage, you are just waiting for him to break another established structure while having a good time watching the illustration of how schematic the ad industry can be. It has got a likeable face, it’s smart, it’s funny - it’s definitely a Tide ad!

No one would dispute that we have much to learn from the winners of prestigious awards. All of the aforementioned ads could have easily slip through the cracks - why didn’t they? First and foremost, it is their inimitable authorial style. Each of them shows that someone has given real thought to its creation, and it was not just quickly patched together to boost sales. No, these adverts are all about grabbing attention and adding sound to the name of a particular brand. Each achieves this in a different way, but they have one thing in common - they have managed to resist the ubiquitous clichés and come up with something fresh, unorthodox and often revolutionary.

And that is exactly the alpha and omega of attention grabbing in TV advertising. It certainly does not pay to try and mindlessly copy something that worked for someone else before. Creativity and attention are connected vessels - one simply cannot exist without the other.
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