You Have Nine Seconds

I recently met with a mattress retailer who was struggling with his advertising. His two-store chain was relatively new.

He told me that twenty years ago, a very successful mattress dealer in his college town had voiced his own radio commercials. He had decided to duplicate that dealer’s approach — starting every commercial with a story and “easing into the sales pitch.”

It wasn’t working, and he couldn’t figure out why. I asked him to send me some examples, and the next day three commercials landed in my Inbox. It didn’t take long for me to spot the problem.

Each commercial was sixty seconds long, and each started with a story. As I played the first one, I watched the timer on the audio clip. The story lasted more than 30 seconds. At the 34-second mark, the owner abruptly ended the story and launched into his pitch — the store was having a mattress sale.

Two decades ago, when the owner was in college, that approach worked well. In 2011, he wasn’t seeing any response at all.

What’s changed?

We’ve changed. And the internet’s changed us. As early as 2002,  BBC News reported on what the Net has done to our attention spans:

The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with an attention span of nine seconds – the same as a goldfish.

“Our attention span gets affected by the way we do things,” says Ted Selker, an expert in the online equivalent of body language at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

“If we spend our time flitting from one thing to another on the web, we can get into a habit of not concentrating,” he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

Author Sally Hogshead, writing in Jeffrey Gitomer’s recent book Social BOOM!, had this to say:

Nine seconds! That’s just long enough to read one tweet. That’s all we get before before our customer’s brain makes a decision to either stay focused or relocate to a new topic.

Before Al Gore invented the Internet, customers were willing to wait for you to tell a story and “ease into the sales pitch.” In 2011?

Your customers are goldfish. You’ve got nine seconds.

Get to the point.


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2 thoughts on “You Have Nine Seconds

  1. Hooray, “Doctor” Phil is back!
    It’s funny (funny strange, not funny ha-ha) how the media we use shapes our consciousness. I used to think primarily about blog fodder, Then came facebook fodder. Now I’ve started to think in twitter-like ways. My attention span is shortening with each step.