Is your attention span the same as a goldfish’s?

by Sally Hogshead on March 28, 2010

A hundred years ago, our attention span averaged twenty minutes: one minute for each year of age, up until age twenty. Things were slower on the farm, with fewer distractions beyond crop rotation and bird migration. But today? Ah, well, a little different.

“The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with an attention span of nine seconds — the same as a goldfish.” ~ BBC News

iStock 000008603242Small 300x270 Is your attention span the same as a goldfishs?

Hold on — Nine seconds? That’s all we get before people’s brains make a decision whether to stay focused, or relocate to a new topic? No wonder we’re experiencing the symptoms of attention deficit disorder: short attention span, distractibility, and tendency to be bored. In an ADD world, people leapfrog to the next conversation, the next idea, the next website. (Hello, multi-tasking!)

In our chaotic world, our minds and our lives have become so cluttered that we rarely focus on just one thing at any given time. We’ve thrown open the doors to the short-attention-span theater, and now the show parades around us at a rate of five thousand marketing messages per day, faster than FedEx, louder than Kanye West, bigger than Disney World. Our attention spans are shrinking at a rate inverse to the growing number of distractions.

Now, “getting attention” is no longer enough. Children get attention when they scream in the candy aisle. Don’t Walk signs get our attention when they flash on and off. Marketers get attention when we offer a discount coupon, or buy a TV ad on the Super Bowl, or advertise a two-for-one sale. Yet while bells and whistles and gimmicks might work (maybe), they rarely lead to lasting emotional connection, or long-term behavior change. Interest is not enough. Neither is awareness, intent to purchase, or having share-of-mind, or being top-of-mind, or any of the other jargon thrown into PowerPoint slides. It’s not even enough to make a better product, or have a more important message, if nobody cares.

It’s no longer enough to have a great idea, or an important message. Great ideas and important messages ideas die every day.

Today your message is ignored and forgotten unless it’s able to “fascinate” — to irresistibly and instinctively persuade someone to act.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiffany Madison March 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Wow. This was both frightening and enlightening. Thanks for writing.

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Emily Binder February 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Hi Sally. As you may be aware by now, I frequently cite your Fascinate principles and this goldfish attention span fact in particular. The triggers are just so preachable.
I enjoyed your tweets during the Superbowl. If I were to apply your principles to #brandbowl ads, the crass, but arguably effective notorious Doritos commercial was most fascinating to me. However, I much preferred Chrysler’s Eminem ad.

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