Images are driving online content: what does this means for brands?

Recent studies reveal that attention spans have declined from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2015, and this is has a significant impact on media consumption. Jon Stubley looks at what can brands do to keep consumers engaged.

Most of you will have seen the excellent John Oliver piece on the danger to journalism (and as referenced in Nic’s leaving editorial last week), which includes several references to the much lampooned Tronc.


For those of you who missed the – let’s call it ‘ skeptical interest’ – that accompanied the news in June that Tribune Publishing was rebranding itself Tronc and becoming a self proclaimed “content curation and monetisation company”, you can read about it and watch the accompanying video to employees here.

As an avid consumer of quality journalism, it is hard not to concur with the derision with which the new company has been greeted. It’s more than a little depressing.

However at the 1.42-minute mark, the video (in all of its The Onion-esque glory), does highlight an inexorable trend in media. This is the moment when Tronc’s chief technology officer says that in the future its pages will be “much more visual…as that is what people expect” before its chief digital officers goes onto outline how much more valuable video advertising assets are versus display.

On this point they are on the money.

People are becoming much more visual in their entertainment, learning and communications preferences, which has resulted in the rise of the ‘visual web’. Think Facebook videos, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Periscope and image driven websites. And in turn this is having a profound effect on publishers and advertisers.

It is a scientific fact that we are becoming more visual as a global society. According to research done back in 2009 at UCLA, visual intelligence is rising. Back in the 1940s visual performance, as measured by a visual intelligence test called Raven’s Progressive Matrices, substantially declined with age.

Fast forward to 50-plus years later and it is improving. No doubt due to the proliferation of screens and the need to simplify ideas in a crowded information age. Add to this that we have shorter attention spans than goldfish, with one of the most recent studies revealing that attention declined from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015, and you can see that this is has a significant impact on media consumption.

Gold fish isolated on a white background.

For publishers, this means addressing the fundamental issue of the newspaper business’s role in a post digital world, along with how to use technology to advance journalism and genuinely serve its audience.

In my opinion, Tronc has failed to properly address this by not putting the audience and the quality of its product – in this case, journalism – at the heart of the reinvention.

But its need for reinvention does illustrate the state of flux the industry is in, the difficulties of monetising publishing in a world of ad-blockers and falling ad revenues, and the inevitability of evolution.

The good news is that the rise of the visual web, whilst causing some of the pain, is also providing new and additional revenue opportunities for struggling publishers. As consumers publish and consume more imagery and video, so publishers and advertisers are tailoring their content to be delivered in that way.

Consequently we are seeing a rapid growth and appetite for in-image advertising as it provides a way for advertisers to engage with their audiences in a non-interruptive and contextual way.  There have been significant advances in image recognition software over the last few years, which is driving its growth.

Marketing concept: hand holding smartphone with word Advertising on display. Mobile smart phone on White background, 3d render

Our own technology is now sophisticated enough to recognise a range of characteristics within an image – from facial features and gender to colour tone and brand logos. For advertisers, this means that it can be used to detect a picture of a clean-shaven man and serve an ad over it; providing critical relevance that is often missing from other forms of digital advertising.

Further, at a time when to borrow a phrase from Andreessen Horowitz, “mobile is eating the world”, images and video make advertising sense on a limited screen size when the audiences are invariably on the go and are not looking to be interrupted.

Combine this with the fact that ad-blocking is much more prevalent on mobile vs laptop (largely driven by fears that ads consume too much data), then native image advertising is seamless; there are no load times or publisher tags slowing down the page.

There have been a number of interesting developments in the visual advertising space and we expect to see further activity in this space in the next 12 months. Last year, for example, Time Inc., invested in visual search engine Snap Fashion and just this week T Brand Studio (The New York Times’ hugely successful brand marketing unit studio) acquired AR and VR outfit Fake Love.

And companies like my own are experiencing exponential growth as brands and publishers are beginning to understand how in-image ads are able to capture and hold attention without interrupting the overall user experience.

It is going to be fascinating to see how publishers continue to evolve their business models to adapt to changing consumer behaviour and the inevitable unsustainability of previous business models. But one thing is for certain – the future will be much more visual than it is today.

Jon Stubley is the vice president – ANZ of GumGum


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