It is more complicated than ever to create popular commercials that attract and hold the viewer’s attention. The most significant challenge is impacting people in a way that gets them to share your commercials with others. Popular commercials today are fighting an uphill battle for the attention of consumers.

I play lots of fetch with my dog, Shellie. For about 15 minutes, I throw one of her toys across the room, she retrieves it and brings it back. She can completely focus on one single object for fifteen minutes straight. Ah, if only our target markets had such devotion.

During the same fifteen-minute period, my husband sits on the couch watching television. While “watching television,” he has his iPad on his lap playing one of many puzzle games. His iPhone is on the arm of the sofa so he can text with multiple people, and engage on Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. All the while, the remote is on the coffee table waiting to switch channels during a commercial break. Does that mean that the adult male human in my house has a much shorter attention span than my adult female canine?

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This post has been updated in August 2021.

Do We Really Have a Shorter Attention Span Than 20 Years Ago?

Twenty years ago, the average human attention span was 12 seconds. Today, some studies claim that the average attention span for a human is between seven and eight seconds. To put that into perspective, these claims infer that we humans now have a shorter attention span than, not only dogs but both squirrel monkeys and goldfish.

Beginning in 2000, the we have a shorter attention span than goldfish rumor began spreading through online content like wildfire, and it is still being cited today. As it turns out, the origin of the “study” claiming that humans, in general, have a shorter attention span than a goldfish is suspect, at best. We don’t really have shorter attention spans at all. We simply have more things competing for our attention.

Creating popular commercials is a tough task. Grabbing the attention of your target market while they are inundated with hundreds of channels, ad-free streaming services, audio ads, Facebook ads, podcasts, pop-ups. We know that the goal is to attract the attention of our consumers, but do we really know what that means?

Attracting the Attention of Our Targets

Every single marketing industry blog post, book, podcast, magazine, or webinar, at the very least, mention attention span or something about attention attraction. Even on our very own Bunny Studio Blog, article after article references attention. Whether they are focused on scriptwriting for audio ads or voiceover work, it is in there. We think we know how to attract attention. We all know how and when to pay attention (and how to look like we are paying attention when we aren’t). But, maybe we aren’t talking enough about the different stages of attention, and what we are capable of absorbing during each.

popular commercials for radio ads

The Four Stages of Attention

Understanding what we are battling is integral to the creation of popular commercials. The assertion is that, due to constant stimulation, our attention spans are shrinking. Attention span being the time that a person can concentrate on a particular stimulus. However, the assertion that our attention spans are shrinking does not account for our increasing multi-tasking ability. Therefore, instead of just referring to attention-getting as the goal, we should fully understand the various inroads. 

  • Sustained attention: the ability to focus on a single activity for a period of time without distraction
  • Selective attention: the ability to focus on one of several present stimuli while filtering out the rest
  • Alternating attention: the ability to alternate your focus between one or more stimuli requiring different mental demands
  • Divided attention: the ability to process reactions to multiple demands simultaneously

When you aim to create popular commercials, regardless of the medium, the likelihood of having an individual’s sustained attention is slim.

Continuing with my husband watching television as an example.  If the target market of your tv commercial is males between the ages of 35 and 50, you have roughly a yoctosecond to get his attention when a tv program goes to break.

Now, if multiple football games are being broadcast at one time, we probably devolve into the realm of Planck time. Seriously, the speed at which an adult male can change the tv channel during football season is undetectable to the human eye (That’s no less believable than the goldfish myth that’s been cited as fact for almost 2 decades).

Ok, maybe it isn’t as short as the shortest recordable units of time. Nevertheless, it is short, and you are competing with every tv channel, Candy Crush, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and text messages for his alternating attention.

So here is the question: What about popular commercials is cutting through all of the noise?

Characteristics of Popular Commercials

Real-time television viewership is in decline, while streaming services and social media activity is on the rise. Still, the average American over the age of 18 tunes in to watch for 4.5 hours a day. While the decline in television watching may seem like a downside for advertisers, another door for opportunity has been blown wide open. 

Popular commercials today should be shareworthy. Hyundai recently produced a commercial for its 2020 Sonata, intended to air during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. The ad features a slew of Boston well-knowns and a few cameos that might pass your notice if you aren’t a Bostonian. The fantastic thing about this Super Bowl commercial is that we are still a week away from the big game. Yet, the “smaht pahk” ad views are over the 2 million mark through shares on social media. 

This ad has everything that popular commercials today need. The star power makes it attention-grabbing, the humor makes it memorable and shareworthy. Still, the entertainment value doesn’t overwhelm the expression of brand message or intent

Popular Commercials From 2019

In July of 1941, the first commercial appeared on television during a broadcast of the Brooklyn Dodgers versus the Philadelphia Phillies. The black and white video of a watch with a, by today’s standards, generic voice over was for Bulova Watch Company, and it cost $9. Things have changed.

Today, advertising on television costs at least $5/1000 viewers for 30-second local spots and roughly $115,000 for the same nationally. At that cost, you want to make sure that you are getting your money’s worth. To do so, you might want to follow the leaders and engage some tactics that made for popular commercials recently.

popular commercials and ads for products

Popular Commercials That Entertain Like Movies

One of our favorite commercials of 2019 was the ‘Bunker’ film-style ad for Jif peanut butter. This particular commercial has the elements that popular commercials need. A great hook, a compelling storyline, a strong female lead, and a bit of subtle humor in the end. Instantly, the action piques your attention and the storyline pulls you in. In a humorous twist, the protagonist takes her chances with the aliens rather than staying in a bunker stocked with only generic peanut butter. Wouldn’t we all?

Popular Commercials That Hook You with a Tune

Apple’s AirPod ‘Bounce’ commercial might not have pulled your attention away from your iPhone or iPad right from the get-go. However, the song, “I Learnt Some Jazz Today” by Tessellated probably drew your eye back to the television, because you wanted to know that song. Then the trampoline cityscape action draws you in and keeps you there. Undoubtedly, as entertaining as any excellent music video. It is a commercial that you look forward to seeing again, and won’t soon forget.

Popular Commercials with Star Power

Ethos is likely the primary form of persuasion used in advertising today. Why not? We are a celebrity-obsessed society.  Stella Artois’ Change Up The Usual campaign, gave us two of our favorite stars, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges. The stars reprising two of our favorite iconic roles, Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City and The Dude from The Big Lebowski, offers a quadruple dose of persuasion. This commercial has several attention-grabbing hooks. It opens with SJP undeniably in character as Carrie, if that doesn’t grab your attention, her voice will. Then, if the starlet doesn’t turn heads toward the tv, The Dude certainly will.

Popular Commercials That Require Kleenex

Another popular persuasive tactic for advertising is an emotional appeal. If you reside in the Southeast, you’re probably familiar with Publix Supermarket chain, and their goal to make the most tear-jerking holiday commercials ever.

Why are we drawn to commercials that reduce us to tears? Reminders of people that we’ve lost are bittersweet. Commercials like this touch us in places that we might not open up about on a daily basis, and maybe not even most of the year. They’ll make you run down to Publix and buy the ingredients for your Grandma’s best recipes.

There is so much to consider in advertising today. The biggest hurdle is coming out ahead in the competition for a consumer’s attention. As a society, we’re inundated with messages and information.  However, the classic elements of good advertising haven’t changed, visual impact, memorable copy, clear brand message, call to action.

Those classic elements elevate to a point of discussion and share worthiness, like Hyundai’s Sonata commercial that we referenced earlier. Super Bowl 53 in 2019 had the lowest ratings of any championship game in the previous 11 years. Nearly 5 million fewer viewers tuned-in in 2019 as opposed to 2018. However, the cost for a 30-second commercial spot has increased by $50,000. Hyundai dropped a commercial that they knew was going to be memorable and share-worthy a week before the game ensuring that they would get more than their $3.25 million worth.

Find the best ad creator today at Bunny Studio!