A new study from Brainsights and thinktv looked at how people pay attention to TV and online video advertisements. They measured the levels of attention and engagement of 600 study participants: 300 viewed ads on a TV screen, 150 on a laptop, and 150 on a mobile device.

What they found is very interesting: the medium (type of screen) affects what people take away from the video.

A style of video that works well on one screen might not work on another. For instance, TVs are suited for long, high-quality video content. Moreover, people who watch TV are usually watching for leisure. Mobile phones have very small screens and are usually used for convenience – when other (larger) devices are not available or impractical to use. Short-form content tends to work better on mobile devices. Laptops fall somewhere in the middle. They’re used for a mixture of leisure and work, and feature a medium-sized screen with relatively high definition. Still, attention spans are lower than they would be on TV, perhaps because there are more distractions.

Therefore, you need to make sure that your content matches your consumer’s screen size. The study authors conclude that story-driven, visually complex, or brand-focused content in particular needs to be on TV.

The researchers used a story-driven KFC ad to compare the quality of the connection between the screen and the viewer across different devices. User engagement soared at key moments for TV viewers, but not for mobile and laptop viewers who may have missed subtle cues that were difficult to see on small screens.

They also used a visually intensive Molson commercial, with wide shots and landscape views to compare the three types of viewing screens. Many of the landscape shots were lost on laptop and mobile viewers, who did not get the full impact of the experience. Attention and connection were much higher among TV viewers than digital device viewers (62% and 88% higher, respectively). Ads on digital screens therefore need to be simple, with a clear (never subtle) call to action.

TV also outperformed digital for brand-focused ads, driving far higher levels of attention and connection.

The key finding of the study is that TV remains the most versatile video medium, garnering higher levels of attention and connection, particularly for story-driven, visually complex, and brand-focused content. Combine these higher attention and connection levels with the reach and efficiency of TV, and you have a winning strategy.

Other types of content, like benefits-focused ads, perform equally across devices, and ads with simple calls to action work slightly better on digital devices.

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