I once took a class in television production at my local cable studio, and one of our assignments was to go and watch TV with the sound off and pay attention to the ads. The lesson was to look at how fast-paced ads were compared to those from an earlier time period (such as 20 years ago).

I have noticed this phenomenon of quick pace not just in television but also print ads (I'm drawing my comparison to vintage ads) and also how films and movies are shot from 20 years ago to those of today. They feel more slow and drawn-out whereas today's are very quick to change scene and avoid stagnation.

What are reasons why there has been a shift in how those media are directed? Are there psychological and or cultural factors that have heavily influenced the visual and aural aspects of them?

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    It certainly seems to correlate with how entertainment has changed (long novels/bible ->movies -> very brief online stimulation) but I'd be very interested to know if there's any good research on this
    – Ben Brocka
    Apr 27, 2012 at 19:44
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    I'm unconvinced by this notion that we've only recently shortened our attention spans. I've never seen any hard research backing this concept up. Nor am I really convinced that entertainment has much changed - written entertainment in Medieval England was mostly made up of short woodcuts and bawdy pamphlets; early modern drama is pretty fast-paced. Apr 28, 2012 at 0:36
  • What does this have to do with UX? Apr 28, 2012 at 14:33
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    @VitalyMijiritsky My question is about how and why there is a huge change in advertising and whether the design of those things have influenced or been influenced by the way people interact with them. Is it too off-topic for UX or can I rewrite to make it more on-topic?
    – user4262
    Apr 28, 2012 at 21:33
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    I'm curious as to whether you had commercials from 20 years ago to compare with ? I actually looked at this issue in the late 80s - and even, then TV ads had a high 'cut rate' (ie the number of changes of 'view'). Its possible that the issue of reduced attention span has actually been around for some time.
    – PhillipW
    Jun 30, 2012 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


I hate that we all automatically spring into nostalgia and some sort of "kids these days" mentality when it comes to these sorts of questions. I think the main reasons for this change are generally positive not a side-effect of us all getting thicker.

One factor to consider is that we've simply had more time to get better at making ads that serve their intended purposes. Advertisers perform a lot of cognitive science and psychological research to develop strategies and techniques for cutting through to consumers, and so you'd expect techniques for communicating to their audiences to change over time.

Regarding print ads: colour printing of newspapers is a relatively new thing. That allows brands to apply very consistently their marketing across multiple media which wasn't always possible before. If you're really extending your question back 20 years, you should also think about how much desktop publishing and design tools have improved in that time. In 1992 it wasn't feasible to produce many of the complex layering, texturing and compositing effects we now see. A bunch of newspaper compositing was still being done by hand (literally cut-and-paste) as recently as the late 90s.

It's also apparent to me (but not something I have evidence for) that magazines especially have become much more typographically pure in the current era; that's partly due to the proliferation of digital typography and partly due to the improvement of layout and proofing tools. It's also a fairly popular design aesthetic. With the actual editorial content tending to be more stark and grid-based, it stands to reason that the advertisements would tend to avoid that aesthetic in order to draw attention to itself.

It's also almost certainly related to the increase in exposure to advertising we all have now, which makes us far more cynical than we once were. "Talking head" ads directly espousing magical effects of a certain brand of clothing aren't generally going to be well received by a more savvy audience.

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    Good points about modern technology removing traditional production constraints in advertising. Jun 30, 2012 at 16:37

I would assume it has to do with the fact that the attention span of users is much shorter nowadays and they look for instant gratification. There is this infographic which I found on the net which provides a number of statistics on how much instant results matter:

  1. One in four people would abandon a site if it took more than four seconds to load
  2. 50 % of mobile users would abandon a page if it didnt load in 10 seconds and three out of five wont even return to that site
  3. If Amazon's page render speed was reduced by even one second,they could potentially lose upto 1.6 Billion dollars in a year
  4. Slowing down Google search engine by 4/10ths of a second, for example, would cut 8 million searches from Google’s daily total of 3 billion

There is also an article which states that Facebook and internet 'can re-wire your brain and shorten attention span' . To quote what they say

The Oxford University expert believes constant computer and internet use may be ‘rewiring the brain’, shortening attention spans, encouraging instant gratification and causing a loss of empathy.

I'll try to update this with more information later

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    I would take anything Susan Greenfield writes with a huge grain of salt. Her sample size are small (if they exist at all). Most of what she propounds are just hypotheses, not backed up with any data at all.
    – ChrisF
    Apr 27, 2012 at 20:05
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    The article is also in the Daily Mail which often appears to have the desire to classify everything in the world as either harmful/causing cancer or beneficial/curing cancer.
    – ChrisF
    Apr 27, 2012 at 20:07
  • Ah ok, I didnt know she had that reputation
    – Mervin
    Apr 27, 2012 at 20:11
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    The Daily Mail isn't exactly known for its level-headed approach to matters on health and well-being, and its editorial is typically suspicious of technology. It has published some pretty dubious stories of this nature in the past, too. Apr 28, 2012 at 0:37
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    I'd guess that the shorter attention spans go with the increase in available information. (For example in 1992 in the UK there was no internet and 4 TV channels)
    – PhillipW
    Apr 28, 2012 at 16:58

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