When journalists write a news story they put a lot of thought into its title. The headline is what sells the story, what draws the reader into the feature.
It works the same for online video. The first few seconds are like a headline that will either grab or loose your viewers’ attention.
We mentioned in our previous blog that the average attention span is just eight seconds long. That means by the time your video loads (broadband speed depending) you have about five seconds to capture your audience and convince them to watch the full film.
But why are viewer attention spans so short? Well, here’s the science part. Our brains have a Reticular Activating System (RAS) that acts like a filter for unnecessary information. It rejects useless content and focuses on what is ‘important’ to our physical and emotional needs. Studies have shown that our brains respond to novelty, our name, emotion, contrast and factors that influence choices about ourselves. Your online video needs to appeal to those things in the opening seconds to get viewers hooked.
Plan it right
Before you jump into the first few scenes, you need to plan your video. What do you want the message to be? What’s the aim? The more specific you can be about the video’s goals before you start, the stronger your point will come across from the offset and the more likely your viewers are to stick with you.
It’s also important to know your audience. Write down who your audience is and their level of understanding about your company or products. Use that to establish what’s important to them and how best to target their emotional needs.
Also, keep your videos short. Viewers are more likely to pay attention to videos that are two to three minutes long. If they’re any longer viewers are more likely to switch off early on.
Content and visuals
Now you’ve got a plan, let’s think about the critical part: the first five seconds. Here are a few techniques that stimulate that RAS filter in your viewers’ brain, to get them hooked on your content:
1. Get your point across as soon as possible.
If viewers don’t know why you want them to watch the video, they’ll switch off. So, illustrate your point quickly and clearly using hard-hitting facts, questions or sketches.
2. Inspire emotion.
Whether it’s sympathy, novelty, curiosity or shock, generating an instant emotional response from your audience will draw them in and capture their attention for longer.
3. Demonstrate contrast.
Our brains need contrast to make informed decisions and avoid confusion. So, think about using ‘before and after’ formats to illustrate the difference your company or product could make for the viewer.
4. Don’t go for something familiar.
It takes something creative and unique to be engaging. Your video production company can help you come up with creative shots, use of lighting and dramatic effects that will set your video apart from the offset.
Advertising agency, John St., created a promotional video that comprises those four techniques. The first five seconds include attention-grabbing facts before going on to introduce novelty through their sarcastic approach to the use of cat videos in advertising. The result? A unique, entertaining and engaging video that captures the audience from the offset.
It’s not all about you
When you’ve only got five seconds to impress, it’s tempting to go in all guns blazing to sell your company. But online viewers don’t respond well to messages that are too ‘markety’. So, be authentic and don’t make your video simply about increasing sales – your audience doesn’t want to be sold to, they want to be engaged.
Keep them hooked
Now that you’ve grabbed your viewers’ attention you need to keep them hooked. Present information in a logical way with a conversational script so viewers can easily understand your point.
Then, think about the RAS factors we mentioned earlier, like using novelty by introducing something humorous or unknown throughout the video. You’ll need to present novelty every few seconds to keep your viewer’s brain engaged.
This advert for the Ikea catalog is a great example. It uses repetitive comparisons of the ‘Bookbook’ to a piece of technology to create continuous novelty that keeps the audience engaged and entertained.
You can use the same technique with sympathy or shock, as seen in this video for Save the Children’s Syria campaign. The film shows one-second scenes of a British child caught up in a fictional war to repeatedly evoke shock and sympathy in the viewer.