Quit Blaming the Fish: How to Get Viewers to Watch Your Videos

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros
andrew davis
Audiences will pay attention, if your content is compelling, says Andrew Davis.

If viewers aren’t paying attention to your marketing videos, should you blame the audience or the content?

Marketers are told their videos need to be “bitesized” and “snackable,” because viewers won’t sit still to watch. That way of thinking is “idiotic,” says marketing consultant and author Andrew Davis.

Consumers today are reputed to have the “attention span of a goldfish.” Davis told attendees at Brightcove PLAY this week that this might not be as short as one might think.  He recently locked eyes with a goldfish in a restaurant fish tank, and this fish could clearly focus. For a full 11 minutes, the fish looked at him and spit rocks in Davis’ direction.

The lesson here? “Quit blaming the fish,” says Davis. “Your audience is capable of paying attention—if the content is compelling.”

Marketers are also told their videos need to be brief because audiences don’t have the time to watch. “They may say that, but then they’ll find the time to binge two seasons of ‘Stranger Things’ on a Saturday,” he says. “It’s our job to maintain their attention.”

The problem is that marketers are taught how to grab customers’ attention, but they haven’t been taught to hold it, he says. In a rush to get people to watch their videos all the way through, marketers are cutting down their videos so much that they’re editing out everything interesting.

The concept of “paying attention” is a bit of a misnomer, says Davis. “The phrase ‘paying attention’ infers that it is something you can buy, but attention is earned over time.”

Marketers can earn that attention by piquing viewers’ interest, he says. Take the concept of unboxing videos, for example. There are 8.4 million of these clips on YouTube, and people excitedly watch them to see what people received in mystery boxes and other purchases.

Another example is the popular “When Life Happens” video from Ikea. In the 4:29 second clip, nothing happens, other than a young man doing housework. He tells the audience up front that nothing interesting is going to happen, and asks incredulously “Don’t you have anything better to do than watch me washing dishes?” Still, the average watch time is three minutes, because viewers are curious and think something interesting must be about to happen. And while they’re waiting for that twist, they’re looking at Ikea products.

The voice between what you know and what you want to know is the “curiosity gap,” says Davis. “You can earn attention by creating that gap.”

Daniel Gruchy and Gavin Free—better known as The Slow Mo Guys—created a viral video showing what would happen when they put a lit firecracker into a watermelon. The explosion happens in about eight seconds, and then viewers can move on, because there’s no curiosity gap.

Buzzfeed also went viral by blowing up a watermelon, but took a different route. They took to Facebook live, and in real time, wrapped rubber bands around the melon. Twenty minutes in, there were 375,000 viewers. Forty minutes in, there were a whopping 800,000 folks watching, making comments like “Why am I watching this? What has happened to my life?” and “I’m so proud to be part of the 730K with nothing better to do.” One man commented that he had invested too much time to stop watching….even though he should have picked up his kids from school 40 minutes ago!


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Tension is a key ingredient in the curiosity gap, he says. “Tension is the emotional anxiety we feel. You start wanting to know what happens next and that changes to needing to know.”

“This is an important transition—the need for closure is an important psychological phenomenon,” Davis added. But remember, your video’s payoff should be proportional to the tension you created. Otherwise, viewers will leave disappointed with the clip—and possibly your brand as well.

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