I attended CES 2020 along with 180,000 of my closest friends. Two big things stood out to me this year – the quantified self and the continued feeding of ever-shrinking attention spans.
If the electric toothbrush is an indication of anything, it’s that we perform common tasks poorly and there’s an app for that. Many, many companies were showing off smart toothbrushes aimed at helping us brush better. One company touted the stat that the average person brushes their teeth for 45 seconds, once per day. That, opposed to the recommended two minutes, twice per day. Then there’s the brushing coverage throughout your mouth and the pressure with which you brush.
Smart toothbrushes aim to address all of those issues. A timer ensures you brush long enough and a companion app tells you what regions of your mouth are getting under-brushed and if you’re brushing too hard or soft to get the job done properly.
What really got me to pay attention though was when they took a psychological approach to dental hygiene. Missing teeth are associated with a lower IQ and therefore people with missing teeth due to gum disease and tooth decay will likely face discrimination when, say, applying for a job or engaging in a negotiation. There are also the social stigmas associated with tooth loss, which can leave people feeling isolated and cutoff from their social circles. In that regard, smart toothbrushes aren’t really about brushing your teeth better and healthy versus unhealthy teeth and gums. The benefits of good dental hygiene ladder-up to very significant socio-economic implications for individuals. That’s a lesson we can all take to our clients when designing studies and ensuring we’re focusing on the real issue.
Along with only brushing our teeth for 45 seconds, that seems to be where our attention spans are headed, too. Along those lines we were presented with Quibi. Quibi will be a new streaming service that creates very short-form episodic programming. Think 10-minute episodes rather than 22- or 44-minutes.
Quibi is helmed by Meg Whitman, Jeffery Katzenberg, and many other Hollywood and silicone valley heavyweights and they already have a number of A-list projects in development. This reminds me of a story I recently heard from a friend who was in the car with his 13 year-old son when a song with a long preamble came on the radio. The singing didn’t start until around 45-seconds in and his son said, “Wow, the song just stated now?” To the kiddo, the song didn’t start until the singing started, even though the composer very deliberately “started the song” with an extended instrumental opening.
As we’re helping our clients create and refine any kind of content, let’s remember two important things: 1) These days it really can’t be too short. When you think you’ve edited and cut and trimmed to the core essentials, edit some more. 2) Know what your audience considers valuable (the singing) and don’t impose upon them all the other stuff that you believe is valuable but they’re not interested in (the instrumental opening).
Am I happy about this? No. Creativity and expression can easily get stripped away when we cut and cut and cut some more. But if we’re in the business to sell stuff and not just entertain ourselves, then it doesn’t much matter. The market decides what it wants and if we want their time, attention, and money we have to give it to them.