‘Sludge Content’ Creates Opportunity for Brand Marketers

‘Sludge Content’ Creates Opportunity for Brand Marketers

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What do you know about sludge content? The latest trend on TikTok gives viewers a split-screen look at two or more videos at once. It’s a form of escapism for consumers — and an untapped opportunity for brand marketers.

As consumers’ content consumption habits evolve, advertisers are being forced to take new factors into account to stay relevant. 

Endless feeds, or infinite scrolling, on apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Reddit minimize interaction costs and increase user engagement for brands, and they’ve led to what’s now being called a scrolling addition.

In today’s environment, both content and ads are discovered through feeds, rather than one-off web pages. Many of the best ads have been integrated through the user experience. 

According to Curt Larson, chief product officer at Sharethrough, a global ad exchange that works with major brands like AT&T, BMW, CafeMedia, and WPP, advertisers should be taking the latest social media and mobile device trends into account to keep their campaigns relevant. Larson says that because so many consumers are focused so heavily on their phones, ads today must follow the “path of primary focus” in order to maintain attention.

“Because consumers are so much more exposed to ads on a daily basis, they are becoming increasingly desensitized to traditional delivery methods — this ranges from online ‘banner blindness,’ where consumers automatically ignore messages in certain sections of the screen, to TV ads, where our research shows 76% of consumers don’t pay attention to ads during commercial breaks,” Larson says. “As a result, brands have to think about ways to earn the attention of their audience through their creative messaging and how their ad is delivered to their audience.”

Studies show that 77% of employees use social media while on the clock, many of them for up to several hours a day. According to a study by the American Marketing Association, watching multiple videos made people more likely to watch additional videos, compared to if they only watched one video. That concept helps to explain the addictive nature of apps like TikTok and Instagram. It also highlights the challenges that marketers face in capturing, and retaining, the attention of consumers who’ve become glued to their phones.

Larson says his experience has shown that attention can’t be forced. Despite platforms like YouTube implementing longer and more frequent unskippable ads, the reality is that nearly everything can be skipped, blocked, muted, or ignored with enough effort. For best results, he says, advertisers need to realize that attention must be earned.

“Consumers are more aware of advertising tactics, so advertisers need to find a way to add value to their ads as a way of earning attention,” Larson says. “For example, advertisers are doing this on CTV by surrounding ads with useful content such as sports scores, weather forecasts, or news headlines.”

Drawing Attention Back to TV Ads

Advertising with television commercials is expensive, and oftentimes ineffective, particularly when consumers are focused on their smartphones instead of their television screens. According to Sharethrough’s research, 79% of consumers are on their phones during TV commercial breaks.

Thankfully, Larson says there are a number of strategies or methods for drawing attention back to TV ads. For example, placing QR codes in television ads can encourage consumers to use the phone that’s already in their hands when a commercial is playing.

“This was particularly evident with Super Bowl ads where in 2022 only Coinbase had an ad that featured a QR code but by 2023, many more brands included QR codes in their Super Bowl ads,” Larson says.

To create the most effective strategy, regardless of channel, Larson says brands should focus on developing content that adds value to consumers’ lives and interactions, but without being intrusive.

“Consumers are going to have more control over when they engage with an ad, so advertisers will need to find a way to place their ads within the content that is consumed, in a way that feels natural to the content. AI will be a powerful tool to accomplish this — enabling mass personalization of ad experiences based on the unique context and user viewing the ad,” he says. “This personalization could be powerful in creating ads that resonate with the individual consumer and create performance.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.