Human walking speeds have increased by 10% in the last twenty years, but we are sitting for longer than we used to – and far longer than we should. Our fast food industry is worth more than $570 billion globally, with revenues up 33-fold in the United States since 1970. But worldwide obesity levels have more than doubled since 1980.
But even if it is a mixed blessing, doing things faster taps into basic human desires to be more efficient, to make time for more activities – and to win against others who are not so fast.
In the world of brand marketing, it is good if companies can respond to consumers as quickly as possible. If, for example, the Key Performance Indicators for a brand (awareness, likeability, intent to purchase etc.) are dropping, it is good to know this fast in order to be able to react in the marketplace.
If an advertising message isn’t working, the sooner it can be pulled and replaced, the better. If nobody is seeing your messages, then the more rapidly the media plan can be changed, the sooner the problem can be addressed. If your competitor is out-gunning you, it is good to know while you can still do something about it. Speed, in short, is surely a Good Thing.
But does speed make us stupider? A study by Microsoft concluded recently that the average human attention span has dropped from around twelve seconds in 2000 – just as Smartphones were starting off on their inexorable growth path – to just eight seconds in 2015.
Shorter, allegedly, than the attention span of a goldfish. This may or may not be connected to the fact that the average American (read: people in any developed country) checks his phone 46 times a day. Most web users spend less than 15 seconds on a page, according to a study by Chartbeat. We are in a world of skimming, grazing and skipping.
In the world of audience measurement, reports used to be delivered at what now looks like a leisurely pace: readership updates were sent out once a year; radio reports quarterly and even television data was only issued weekly.
Now TV audiences are reported overnight. In some countries, readership data is delivered monthly, while in others, radio audiences are reported weekly.
Where survey research is involved, we need to be very efficient at collecting the data in the field and getting it back to the office if we are to report the findings more quickly. Equipping interviewers with laptops and tablets has helped both in controlling and monitoring interviewers and in getting data back to the centre. The data then have to be processed, cleaned and weighted before publication, all of which places a natural limit on how fast the whole process can become.
In the digital world, speed means real time - or as close to it as is practical. When somebody loads an internet page, it is automatically registered in real time by the site. The site owner knows instantly how many different devices have been used to access the page over a given period.
Programmatic technology enables immediate identification of devices which have visited web pages or typed in certain search terms and to follow them wherever they go, presenting them with banners and other messages that are deemed relevant to the pages they have visited.
Most display internet advertising is now traded this way in developed countries, which means that the moment somebody visits a website they can be targeted with a message related to their internet history. The ad is literally ‘served’ as the web page chosen by the user is loading.
So now that we know very quickly how many ‘people’ (actually devices) have had an opportunity to see an ad message on a web page they have visited, we can also calculate whether the ad is working. How many ‘clicks’ does the ad message generate? How many searches related to the message are triggered over the next few hours and days? Do different creative executions have different effects on behaviour? And what is the ideal weight of advertising before response falls off?
All these familiar advertising research questions can be answered very quickly. But speed is not, in this case, absolutely everything. People still lead off-line lives which cannot be tracked in the same way. Their web browsing behaviour may be misinterpreted by programmatic computers, meaning the wrong messages will be served to them (e.g. think of all the holiday ideas being sent to people that have just booked a holiday, following extensive research or the invitations to test drive a car they have already bought).
And the effects of advertising can often take some time to be felt. People may not be ‘in the market’ for a car very often, but when they are, all the information, advertising and other influences that come into play when they are choosing a brand come into effect – not just messages that start appearing everywhere they go on the internet.
Speed is important, but it is not everything.