Why Does The Attention-Memory Threshold Matter?

Jun 27, 2022

Over 80% of ads don’t reach the 2.5 second attention-memory threshold

Why does this threshold even matter?

Because you need to hit the threshold if you want your brand to grow.

We talk often about the viewability gap, where around 75% of the ads you pay for don’t deliver the value you think they do. That figure is set at the 3-second mark. When we raise the bar to a 2.5 second threshold, around 85%* of the ads you pay for don’t hit the mark.

To land on why this matters, we need to revisit how advertising works. Here are a few fast facts:

  1. Advertising doesn’t persuade.
  2. Advertising does not create immediately felt behavioural change.
  3. Successful advertising reinforces behaviour, rather than changing it.
  4. This takes a long time.
  5. Successful advertising nudges the buying propensity of a lot of people.

The way advertising works is not at all influenced by how we think it works; success comes from working cleverly within the confines of what we do know about advertising.

“How a marketer thinks advertising works directly shapes what is created, which media is chosen, who is targeted and what is measured.”  – The Attention Economy and How Media Works

Why 2.5 seconds?

From the work we have done around advertising decay, we can see a relationship between active attention seconds and days in memory. There is a point, the 2.5 second mark, where the number of active attention seconds starts to make a difference to the length of time a brand stays in a person’s memory.

When an ad receives more than 2.5 seconds of attention, we can start talking about enduring impact.

Nudge not shove

Advertising doesn’t prompt big changes in buyer behaviour, it nudges over time. Its goal is to make small shifts across the whole audience, over time, and most pertinently as a buyer comes into the buying window. It’s advertising’s job to make you think of Solo to quench a thirst, or Cadbury’s Favourites to take to a dinner party when the host tells you not to bring a thing. And because we’re talking about humans here, each person will be looking to buy at a different time, which means there is no immediate effect and no direct link.

The stark reality of advertising is that it takes a large increase in advertising spend to generate a small increase in sales. There are no seismic shifts. Even a small shift in the right direction is good, and market share maintenance is an achievement in itself.

So if advertising is nudging not shoving what should it be doing? At its simplest, it should be announcing to potential buyers that a brand exists. And because people’s memories are filled with other problems, like staying alive and keeping their jobs, advertising needs to keep reminding them that the brand exists.

This might all seem like advertising 101, but it sits at the heart of why the attention-memory threshold is so important.

Enter mental availability

If we’re nudging, and nudging, and there is no immediate effect, how can advertising effectiveness be measured? One way is tracking a brand’s mental availability – the strength of memory structures that ensure a brand is thought of at the purchase occasion. Mental availability is closely related to market share growth and decline, and is widely accepted as an indicator of brand strength.

Through our research we know that attention and mental availability are related. With our client OMD, we conducted a study of 600 people in the US who collectively viewed over 3,300 impressions of 12 brands across three categories on three online video platforms. We found a direct relationship between mental availability and active attention.

When ads don’t meet the attention-memory threshold of 2.5 seconds, it’s hard for mental availability to grow, which makes it even harder to grow market share.

Reality check

If the biggest percentage of your ad budget sits below the attention-memory threshold because it’s being spent on lower attention platforms and formats, the money you spend won’t be growing market share.

Without attention, brands can’t grow.