Managing “SQUIRREL!” Attention Spans

Managing “SQUIRREL!” Attention Spans

It seems as though most people are familiar with the term “Squirrel!” when it comes to describing someone who is easily distracted, has a short attention span or is affected by “Shiny Object Syndrome”.

Unfortunately when it comes to marketing your business, this is the mentality that you have to take into consideration.  If your message isn’t eye catching, compelling, entertaining and engaging, your audience will SQUIRREL!… focus on something else.

To get a better understanding of this situation, I thought I would do a little research on the subject.  With a few clicks of the keyboard, I quickly found out that there is a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) which is located between the medulla oblongata and the midbrain.  The main job of the RAS is to analyze incoming information and decide which information we should focus on.

Now I’m no rocket surgeon, but it sort of sounds like the RAS is a decision system tied directly to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Which made me think of an image that has recently been making the rounds on the internet:

Source: We Know Memes

Studies have shown that the RAS will first focus our attention to our physical needs, but after that it seems all bets are off. Our attention can easily float around to other stimuli, most likely, where can I get WiFi so I can read the latest tweet from my friend who is on vacation in the Bahamas. In today’s world of smart phones, tablets, the internet and social media, it’s no wonder we have to compete just to get our audience’s attention, let alone keep it and get our message across.

Speaking of short attention spans and difficulty focusing, I love this funny clip from the movie “Adaptation” starring Nicolas Cage as writer Charlie Kaufman. Among many other issues in his life, Charlie is suffering from a serious case of writers block.

Charlie Kaufman on Writing

So what can you do in your video content to overcome “Shiny Object Syndrome” or the short attention span of your target audience?  Here are a few ideas, but I would interested to hear yours, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

  • Compelling Thumbnail – Because the internet has become a gigantic portal for visual content, the thumbnail for the video has become critical.  Viewers will more likely decide to click on a video based on the thumbnail image than they will the title.
  • Get to the Point – Now more than ever, we need to be efficient in getting our message across.  There are too many “shiny objects” that will steal the attention of your viewer.
  • Add an Element of Entertainment – This seems obvious, but many marketers are too risk averse to go out on a limb and try something creative and entertaining.  Keep this quote from Jerry Seinfeld in mind “This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.”
  • Inspire Emotion – It is much easier said than done, which is why it is often best left to professionals.  If your video can make the viewer feel something, anything, they will not only become more engaged, but will retain your message at a much higher rate.
  • Tell Them What to do Next – If you have done all of the above and your audience is listening to you, tell them what you want them to do and be very clear about it.

So, if you or your target audience is suffering from “Shiny Object Syndrome” come to Richter Studios in Hermosa Beach to hang out under the largest shiny object of them all seen below, then we can help you produce the cure.


Got any tips for addressing the short attention span of your audience?  We would love to hear them in the comments below.