Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Dan Plant: The power of the pause – could advertising benefit from a slower pace?

By NDA monthly columnist Dan Plant, Executive Head of Strategy, Starcom UK

Last week I had what felt like a really novel experience in today’s working world.

I was in a meeting – (an actual face to face meeting in an actual room) where nobody spoke for a full 60 seconds. 60 seconds where the three of us digested what had been said up to that point, 60 seconds where we took time to consider the implications of what had been said and to figure out what we actually thought before we started talking again.

At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, it seemed unremarkable, but afterwards I realised that such an occurrence would be almost unheard of in a Teams or Zoom meeting. If the three of us had been meeting in the virtual space, there would always have been someone talking, a pause of more than a few seconds is almost instantly filled as otherwise people start to feel awkward.

But that pause was really powerful. As we moved on, those 60 seconds had allowed us to filter what really mattered and make decisions on how to move forwards on the task in hand.

That got me thinking about the power of the pause.

It reminded me of every presentation training I’ve been on where we are told to “use full stops!”. In presentations we always feel like we have so much content and never enough time and we barely stop to take a breath. But great presenters know the power of a full stop. They know that the only way for a message to be remembered by an audience is to take a beat to let the full meaning of a sentence land before moving onto the next thought.

The power of the pause…

I think there are some really interesting implications for media and advertising here.

The primary job of all advertising is to be remembered. There is a growing understanding in our industry that we have to deliver more than just the “reach” of an advertising campaign. We must create attention and mental engagement if we are to have a chance of creating memory encoding. Lumen and Ebiquity recently produced a valuable guide to the “Challenge of Attention” which is really helpful at identifying where we can find real audience attention in different media formats.

But what happens if that attention shifts instantly at the end of the advert?

The overwhelming drive of our media landscape is to constantly fill the available media with content. Any space not filled is seen as a wasted opportunity, any eyeballs not being served an impression is considered dollars down the drain.

But that means that consumers never get a chance to digest the messages we put in front of them. Any attention or engagement we generate is swiftly snatched away by either more advertising or more content. That applies whether someone is flicking through TikTok or watching TV.

Without a pause, can consumers really be expected to remember anything?

So what can we do about it? How can we start to plan, not just to maximise attention, not just for optimising the relevance of the surrounding content, but to give our advertising messages the space they need to breathe?

Could we consider saying less in the time we have in order to leave a moment of silence?

I once worked on quite a unique campaign for IKEA where we booked the same time slot every evening for a month on Channel 4. It was a 10-second ad showing an IKEA version of the old BBC style clock with a voice over telling viewers “It’s 10.35, time to go happy to bed” with the clock ticking for the remaining 5-6 seconds. It felt really brave to leave that time with just a ticking clock, but the consumer response was brilliant and awareness levels were way higher than we could have expected for the number of TVRs delivered.

But it is quite a challenge to make that call. Who of us would be willing to consistently give up five seconds of a 30-second ad to guarantee that pause for thought? We need to really think about human attention as a vital but finite resource that must not be over exploited. Treated with care it allows us to cultivate relationships and build memories. Given breathing space it can stay fresh and fertile. But if we never give people a break, that attention will turn to indifference and even avoidance.

Giving over our valuable paid for media to empty space does seem like a very brave call when we are fighting for every pound of our media budget, but maybe that bravery could make the whole budget work even harder.