Nov 15, 2016

Attention deficit: Why mobile-free moments shouldn’t be overlooked

As mobile media fragmentation continues unabated, some advertisers are seeking out new opportunities in those pockets of time when consumers go hands-free .

Blank canvas: Time spent in elevators represents a valuable ‘hands-free’ moment to connect with consumers directly
Blank canvas: Time spent in elevators represents a valuable ‘hands-free’ moment to connect with consumers directly

For advertisers, the biggest downside to the impact of the internet on their audience is the staggering, mind-boggling number of choices it presents to the consumer. Fighting for his or her attention is a hard battle. Especially nowadays, when nearly everyone appears wedded to a smartphone.

Mobile devices are where people watch TV, log into WeChat, download videos, play games, educate children, enjoy movies, sing KTV, shop, and do business — all in one go. The technology is transforming China’s entire economy, moving more activities online.

Mobile usage has become almost synonymous with internet usage. Consider this: in June 2016, there were 960 million active smartphone devices. Nearly 91 percent of the devices were being used to surf the internet. As more internet-based applications become mobile-enabled, it is becoming increasingly difficult for advertisers to break through to comsumers amid the rising
market noise.

This environment is naturally posing fresh challenges for traditional media. Print, broadcast and out-of-home continue to grapple with new, innovative ways to tap into their audiences’ growing mobile addiction. 


As consumer attention becomes hyper-fragmented, there are some clear winners and losers. With almost 400 million monthly active devices using China’s top 10 application types, online socialising dominates, led by WeChat. Social messaging has become the prime ‘time-killer’ taking up more than 80 percent of users’ mobile activities. All other applications are wrestling each other for the remainder. Naturally, brands are battling to reach out through social media, but competition is intense.

On the other end of the spectrum, so-called ‘passive’ media has not remained stagnant. In fact, some traditional areas are becoming more effective for marketers by identifying mobile-free spaces and moments in time where they can still gain consumers’ attention.

Three such areas in particular that still provide strong opportunities for marketers include television, theatres and elevators.

Television has long been a dominant force in Chinese media and continues to attract solid audiences. Culturally, the living room is a place where the family can gather and connect with each other, enjoying programmes with mass appeal, such as talent and reality shows. This social element to watching television as a family has helped to keep the medium relevant in the face of competition from other sources of entertainment. 

However, it is still by no means easy for a show to stand out in the sea of more than 3,800 variety shows in China. Plus, advertising costs remain astronomical for many marketers.

Another winner is the cinema scene — continuing to gain in popularity thanks to the booming movie industry. China’s total movie box office revenue was more than Rmb 44 billion (US$6.5 billion) in 2015, an increase of more than 49 percent. The number of moviegoers reached 1.26 billion. Movie theatres have become largely hands-free zones, as patrons divert their attention from the small screens in their hands to immerse themselves in the cinematic experience, making them an appealing audience for advertisers. 

Another similar space is the elevator.

In cramped quarters with limited waiting time, elevator media usually acquires a more attentive crowd. Here, too, consumers tend to reduce their mobile phone usage because it is seen as impolite or just ‘waiting time’.

A study by Millward Brown found that only 11 percent of people used phones when waiting for the elevator — leaving an attention opportunity sitting wide open for advertisers. This compares to 61 percent of consumers who use smartphones while travelling on the bus, and 66 percent when taking the subway.

As advertisers fight for pockets of the consumer’s attention span on the mobile phone, these fleeting moments while in transit or in daily routines are as large an opportunity to reach the consumer with high quality content as are digital solutions.

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