NBCUniversal’s Key Tip For Thumb-Stopping Content: Employ the 6 Second Rule



“The attention economy is a cruel mistress and takes no prisoners. Get their attention in six seconds or not at all,” said NBCUniversal’s Megan Troth during her #SMWNYC session.


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Back in the day, TV and radio adverts were sixty seconds long. That was when we had to watch what was put in front of us. Now, with the power to choose exactly what we see and when we see it, it’s a nearly impossible task to get someone to focus on your product. Nearly.

According to researchers, the average human attention span is eight seconds. Apparently, that’s four seconds less than twenty years ago. It’s also, supposedly, one second less than that of a goldfish.

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We live in an age where everybody is trying to get noticed. Whether it’s companies advertising their brand, bands trying to sell their music or the average person trying to go viral with a tweet or a YouTube video, the odds of success are longer than ever before. Coupled with our distinct lack of bother for anything that doesn’t immediately catch our eye, it’s been calculated that an advert, a trailer or a social post has six seconds – if not significantly less – to catch our attention.

‘Thumb-stopping content” is how it’s referred to by Megan Toth, Senior Social Media Lead at NBCUniversal. Just how, when people are always skipping on to the next song, to the next post, to the next message – do we get someone to stop? At the helm of one of the biggest television production companies in the world, she’s got a big job on her hands – here’s how she claims to do it.

Make it a meme

The sharing power of the internet is much like human instinct. The growth of any brand, musician or company relies on one important communication tool – word of mouth. when people like something, they want to tell their friends.

Megan agrees that one of the most important factors in keeping someone’s attention – and making them remember you – is making them laugh. She used HBO’s Instagram account as an example – with posts that marry popular internet memes with clips and shots from famous shows. It’s a promotion tool.

‘If you make them laugh, they’ll remember you.’

Similarly, the LA Art House’s Instagram account brings art, something that perhaps exceeds some people’s understanding, down to a personal level. People are way more likely to take a chance on something if they know what’s going on and understand it. Memes are the 21st century’s way of doing that.

Switch it up

‘Don’t post the same things on every platform,’ says Megan, as one of her biggest bugbears about brand content. Some brands will get one hundred thousand likes on Instagram, and post the same thing on Facebook, which doesn’t match their platform style or feed in the same way – and get 100. It drives followers away. They don’t need to see things twice.

Make it look nice

Refinery29 has branched out in recent years to become more than just a digital magazine. Their Instagram account is run by professionals with the know-how and experience to make a cracking feed.

Colour is always positive: bright, eye-catching and mood-enhancing. Karson Cressley allegedly has a pink bathroom to wake him up and make him feel better in the morning as supposedly, pink improves serotonin levels.

It may sound obvious, but painting a pretty picture is also a stonewall way to build a brand. It’s the way NatGeo, the ‘Holy Grail’ of social media content, amassed their mega 350m follower count across platforms. They give the account credentials to the photographers, who are trekking through the wild to capture the shots of leopards and dolphins and hyenas: the people who know the photograph best.

Make it snappy

Perhaps the most important aspect of it all in the digital era is selling your content in as minimal a time scale as possible.

Megan used a quote to describe how critical it is to make your image or video as bold as possible when people are always swiping right or scrolling down.’ The scarcest commodity of the 21st century is our attention,’ she says. ‘The attention economy is a cruel mistress and takes no prisoners. Get their attention in six seconds or not at all.’

‘It’s probably less than that,’ she added. It sounds harsh, but it’s true.

GIFS are a goldmine in a six-second world. Short form video content, as GIFS are, on a loop, is worth 1000 words. Megan referenced a study by global orange juice brand Tropicana, where they measured traffic from minute-long, 45, 30, 15 and 6 seconds adverts. The most successful? Take a guess.

Six-second ads on TV are booming and are a win-win for brands. They cost less time and money to make and air.

She ended the session with the following piece of storytelling advice: ‘Think of your story like a joke – distill it down to the punchline.’ There’s no place for timewasters in a window-shopping society.

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