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 Capturing Attention In a Scroll-Fast World
[Attention, New Scarce Resource]
Sharing an essay for our Evolving Internet Insights Newsletter unpacking how companies are creatively capturing attention in world with razor thin attention spans.
(P.S. For the summary and further breakdown of this essay, follow me on Twitter)
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Note: Some sections of this essay were originally released on my Evolving Internet Insights newsletter.
One of the areas that is often overlooked and underestimated is the role of distribution in building a company. Many talented builders think if they just build a “killer product” with a lot of utility, then users and customers will line up to use (and pay for) it. To put it bluntly, we believe that the old adage “build it and they will come” is largely not true.
Building a product or technology is just one part of the equation. The other critical part is distribution, or getting the product in the hands of users and customers.
This is particularly true when it comes to emerging technologies.
Why Distribution is So Hard 🤔
Before the internet became ubiquitous, big companies that had well recognized brands easily advertised their products to consumers via TV, billboards, in-real-life activations, etc. Companies with “deep pockets” had a huge competitive advantage because they were able to showcase their products in any distribution channel they desired.
The internet and social media changed this paradigm. All of a sudden, the ability to access distribution channels was not determined by whether you had the money or not. The internet facilitated widely accessible and low cost methods of distribution – “the People’s distribution channel”. Anyone on the internet could try to capture attention even if they didn’t have large corporate budgets (à la YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc). As we saw with many internet personalities, a creative individual would craft a message about their company/product that goes viral despite the fact they did not have a large advertising budget.
Even though traditional distribution channels are still an important part of capturing attention, distribution became less about who can afford or access distribution channels and more about who and how one could capture attention.
Generative (Gen) AI further exacerbates this dynamic of successful content delivery (read: content + distribution). Almost overnight, anyone can access an image model or a large language model (LLM) and create high fidelity content without needing to hire experts and specialists to do so.
While the internet increased access to distribution, it also increased competition (since many people can access the internet). And a similar thing is happening with AI. AI increases access to the tools of mass creation, but it also increases competition (read: you might be able to create a high fidelity image, but so can everyone else). In this paradigm, creating a high quality product, visual and/or content is table stakes.
As Chris Andersen (CEO of TED) said, “every abundance creates a new scarcity.”
The new scarcity is our attention.
In the hyper connected world we live in, overloaded with information and content on the internet, capturing user attention and mindshare is one of the hardest things to do.
So this begs the question, in a world with both the internet and Gen AI, how can companies “win” in capturing consumer attention?
Capturing Attention In a World of Abundance 🎣
1. A New Form of Localization🏯
One method we’ve seen companies use is the adaptation of their products to specific segments and niche communities. When the world was globalizing, this was often referred to as localizing your products – taking your content or product and translating it to the local language of the market you were trying to access.
Now we are at the onset of localization for specific communities or subcultures. Instead of focusing on a local language, companies are adapting their marketing, branding, and messaging to cater to niche groups that would identify with the content.
One example was Nissan’s viral advertisement that featured LoFi music. The concept was simple, yet wildly effective. The four hour ad featured a seemingly endless driving scene inside the cabin of caricatured Nissan Ariya SUV with soothing LoFi music playing in the background.
The ad went viral and generated over 18M views on YouTube – making the video the second most viewed piece of content on Nissan’s YouTube channel. For the uninitiated, LoFi is a popular ambient music genre that people often play in the background when they are working or just want to relax. LoFi Girl, one of the most popular YouTube channels, has over 13M subscribers.
Behind the scenes, the Nissan team saw data that indicated that people interested in LoFi were more likely to search for electric vehicles. Through this ad, Nissan accessed a specific segment (LoFi listeners) by serving them content that resonated most with them. All the while, Nissan was able to subtly advertise themselves in a genuine and innocuous way by inserting their Ariya SUV and billboards in the music video.
2. Making Products Approachable🦔
Making emerging technologies and products approachable is critical for consumer adoption. Emerging technologies like AI are polarizing: some believe the tech will save us, others believe it will destroy us. While AI is an exciting technology amongst those familiar with it, the average consumer might be hesitant to adopt a technology that they do not fully understand, especially if they have bought into a sensationalized “AI will destroy the world” headline.
So while the technology might be useful to the consumer, if it’s not approachable, then mass adoption will be a difficult feat.
For example, OpenAI recently released a commercial for its ChatGPT AI chatbot that was more wholesome and may have even tugged at a parent’s heart strings. The commercial tells a story about how through prompts on ChatGPT, a parent could develop a cute hedgehog character named Larry. Subtly, the ad showcases the power of OpenAI’s generative AI tools. This is OpenAI’s attempt (with likely more to come) at simplifying AI use cases for the average user, and, in the process, making it more approachable.
Remember, the average user does not care about the tech, they care about how it can help them and not hurt them.
Virality is a key ingredient to capturing attention on the internet. Since the internet is just one giant network, when more people see something and talk about it, the more attention that thing gets. This phenomenon is a self-reinforcing feedback loop (a concept we covered in our first issue of 🧠 Brain Food when we profiled how Barbie used AI to go viral). Viral campaigns end up becoming a brand artifact that could continue to resonate in a consumer’s mind leading to invaluable brand association.
For example, McDonalds launched an ad that featured a family of anime-style characters eating McDonalds. While they originally wanted to cater to that specific audience of anime lovers, the ad went viral and reached unanticipated customer segments. The simple video generated over 137 million views on X/Twitter (with a similar style McDonald’s ad achieving similar results).
The above examples were just some examples that caught our attention (pun intended) 😉.
Taking a step back, the major takeaway here is that capturing attention is not just about the merits of the product or technology itself, but their framing (story telling, vibes, audiences in mind, etc).
In a world of infinite content with strained user attention spans, the best way to capture mindshare is to create something that deeply resonates with your audiences and their digital identities. (The creation part of it should get easier with Gen AI tools 😁 )
As it turns out, knowing your audience has shown to be timeless advice, but what it means to “know your audience” needs to be reimagined through each new technology paradigm shift. First was radio, next came television, then the internet, and now, AI.
Product / Technology / Content might be King but Distribution is Queen.
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This post is provided for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing written in this post should be taken as financial advice or advice of any kind. The author(s) may own some of the NFTs, art and/or collectibles mentioned in this post. The content of this post are the opinions of the authors and not representative of other parties.
Empower yourself, DYOR (do your own research).