Attention Spans Study Confirms Multi-Zone Digital Signage Layouts Bad Idea


Microsoft Canada has pushed out a useful report about the fleeting attention spans of today’s consumers – pointing out it’s not just kids and young adults who can’t keep their noses out of their devices.

The attention span study is a free download and is based on both online surveys and neurological research done late last year.

Here’s the executive summary:

Good news! It’s not as bad as you think. Attention is obviously a necessary ingredient for effective advertising, but Canadians’ digital lifestyles are changing the brain, decreasing the ability for prolonged focus and increasing their appetite for more stimuli.

Marketing too must evolve:

  • Don’t believe everything you read: there’s a lot of variance beyond the <30 year old digital natives. Media consumption, frequency of multi-screening, and social media usage are the main indicators of attention span variance.
  • Overall, digital lifestyles deplete the ability to remain focused on a single task, particularly in non-digital environments. But, all is not lost. Connected consumers are becoming better at doing more with less via shorter bursts of high attention and more efficient encoding to memory.
  • Multi-screening trains consumers to be less effective at filtering out distractions – they are increasingly hungry for something new. This means more opportunities to hijack attention but also that brands need to work harder to maintain it.

What can marketers do?

  • Be clear, personal, relevant and (quickly) get to the point
  • Defy expectations, leverage rich media and movement to grab attention
  • Embed calls to action, be interactive, use sequential messaging, and build cohesive, immersive experiences across screens


What I found particularly useful is validation of the points I go on endlessly about here and in talks I do at conferences and for clients:

  • cluttered screens with multiple zones are pointless and counter-productive
  • when people see too much crap on a screens, they tune it all out
  • you have fleeting seconds to make a point and have an impact

As the study asserts: use simplicity to focus on your message.

Dave Haynes

Dave Haynes

Editor/Founder at Sixteen:Nine
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than a decade. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He's based near Toronto.
Dave Haynes


11+ year-old blog (and now podcast) about digital signage and related tech, written by industry consultant, analyst and bullshit filter Dave Haynes.
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