October 12, 2018
Audience Engagement

Don’t let Attention Vampires Suck the Life out of Your Digital Messaging!

Have you ever watched a commercial starring such an attractive person that by the end of the ad, you’re not even sure of the actual subject? You’ve been a victim of an “attention-vampire” attack! No need to check your neck- these vampires feed off of audience attention at the expense of the advertised brand message. Since communicating via digital content works in a similar fashion to TV commercials, they too are in danger of thirsty vampire attacks.

How do they show up in the first place? Unfortunately many marketers, content creators, and advertisers are the ones who unintentionally lure them into their communications. Let me explain. If you are trying to attract a male audience to your signage you might promote an attractive female on the screen. It will engage, but the target audience will end up paying attention to her appeal rather than the actual message. Because the message has to compete with the baiting female, and with a time constraint, the bait typically wins.

“[It’s] important for visual designers to understand that certain images have a far more contextual impact than others. We call these images "attention vampires" because they're able to draw far more of their fair share of attention, thus leaving less for other items,” says Bill Gerba, an author on WireSpring.com. But where is the proof? After all, tons of commercials rely on irrelevant imagery captivate audiences.

The Proof

To test this “Vampire Effect,” Loucas Papantoniou, an analyst for Usabilla set up a survey. After selecting two advertisements, a bland and a suggestive one, from two competing coffee brands, Illy and Lavazza, he asked participants to select the items in the advertisements that attracted their attention.

Then, after the advertisements were taken out of their view, he asked them to recall the brand names. Out of the 108 participants, 96% remembered Illy’s brand name after watching the (bland) ad. Only 50% recalled Lavazza, after seeing their (suggestive) ad: “While the Lavazza promoted a very appealing, smart and creative ad, it proved to be ineffective. A couple of seconds after seeing the ad, half of the viewers couldn’t recall the name of the brand.” The participants did, however, notice other areas of the Lavazza ad, like the model’s chest and the man’s lower half. In the Illy ad, they only focused on the brand’s logo.


There is a fine line between attracting viewers to your digital content and distracting them from your messages. Both should work, hand-in-hand. We know that 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is purely visual and that the average viewer attention span lasts only 8 seconds. Therefore, the messages on your signage should only play for about thirty seconds. The first few seconds should engage the audience, which allows the remaining time to be spent digesting a clear and concise call-to-action.

So, where does the balance lie in using great visual baiters? It comes down to the message. Does the picture enhance or take away from your communication? Are you throwing the model up on the screen just to glue eyes, or does she add to the appeal of the advertised product or service?



The Top 3 Attention Vampires Lurking in Your Digital Content:

  1. Faces

Attractive faces. This is where most content goes wrong. Content creators display attractive models along the side of their message. Sure, the audience will notice the message, but they will spend twice as much time studying the eyes of the model, trying to read her expression or place her as someone they recognize. By simply cutting the image above the lips, the face will remain anonymous and the audience’s attention will be directed back toward the message.

  1. Babies

As humans, we are all genetically wired to notice and care for babies. In fact, babies are considered to be the strongest attention vampires. When used correctly, they can engage an entire crowd, but they can also disengage the other aspects of your digital content. The good thing about digital signage is you can incorporate an image or video of a baby for a few moments, then let it disappear as the rest of your message fills the screen. Or, strategically place the baby so it’s gaze is focused on your main message.

  1. Animals

You don’t have to be an animal lover to be distracted and entertained by playful puppies or curious kittens. Of course, you can sugar up your campaigns with these lovable creatures, but summon them wisely. You don’t want a sunny nest of newly-hatched chicks to chirp away your farmers’ market location announcement, do you? For digital signage user, the same techniques listed above can work well. Or the text can overlay the images, so the audience is forced to read the message.



The Best Defense

Our negative talk is over, and we have good news! Digital signage is a perfect medium for controlling digital content. You have the tools necessary to defend your messages against those attention-suckers.  Don’t worry about hanging garlic cloves around your kiosk, or keeping wooden stakes on your desk while creating digital content. Because these vampires are easy to manage, now that you can identify them. Before your campaign is public, ask yourself if the visuals are a distraction from your real message. Have a friend look at the campaign if you’re not sure. Remember, if the baby’s face is too cute to handle, you can always crop the eyes out.