3 tips to engage ad viewers' attention

Our brain loses focus for 1 to 2 seconds when an ad switches scenes. During this 'attention drop', we barely store any information from the ad. The attention drop can last even longer if the scene transition is too abrupt. Discover why attention drops and ways to deal with it.

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Make sure scene transitions are flawless

Neuromarketing learning 6 - Hoe behoudt je reclame de aandacht - Essent reclameWhen you watch an ad, your brain will automatically try to group the different scenes into 'boxes'. This is necessary in order to process and store information quickly.

The brain has to work hard with ad transitions, in fact, it is constantly switching gears: closing the previous scene, storing scene information and jumping to next scene. Ad transitions are also called 'conceptual closures'.

Conceptual closure

An example of a conceptual closure: In the first scene, the newly-married couple gets into a car and drive off (engine noise). In the next scene, we see them sitting in the garden with a baby.

Conceptual closure can also occur through other forms of transitions such as music, background colour or characters. In fact, anything that makes the brain suspect that a scene is ending.

3 tips to keep the effects of an attention drop as low as possible

No matter the duration of the conceptual closure or smooth the transitions are, attention is still temporarily weakened for about  1-2 seconds. To keep the attention drop as low as possible, here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure the scene transitions are flawless.
    If you make the scene transitions flawless, the brain is less likely to realise that one scene has ended and the next one is starting.

  2. Do not show important information right after a conceptual closure.
    Important information will not reach viewers during a conceptual closure. If you show important information during this closure, viewers won't be able to continue following the ad storyline, and they will not make the connection between the ad scene and your brand. Therefore, we recommend not showing a brand logo immediately after a punch line.

  3. Accept the attention drop and respond cleverly. 
    One way to overcome the attention drop is to display important information, such as your logo, before the conceptual closure or to display information for an extended time. With an extended display time, the logo can be placed after a punch line.

Example of an attention drop: Essent ad (Dutch energy supplier) 

A good example of attention drop can be found in the Essent ad with André Hazes Jr. (Dutch singer, see ad below). We measured this ad with viewers in the MRI scanner. The scan measures viewers' positive and negative emotions activated by the ad. An effective ad needs to activate more positive emotions than negative ones (see learning 1).

The 0-line in the video below is neutral, everything above it means positive emotions are activated and everything below it means negative emotions are activated. Look closely at what happens around 16 seconds.


16 seconds into the ad, the line drops below the 0. This shows that negative emotions were activated. Further analysis revealed a low score on Attention and a high score on Danger.

This combination indicated that the conceptual closure caused ambiguity and confusion. The scene transition when Dré Hazes is performing on stage to when he was in the bar was too abrupt.

Based on our findings, Essent adjusted this scene transition.

Check out the next learning.

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