The Cure For ADD-vertising

Multi-tasking is humanly impossible. What your brand needs is a simplified marketing message–that you can sum up in one word.

The Cure For ADD-vertising


The enemy has changed. It’s no longer simply your business competitor. You’re up against a substantially more scientific reality–our brain’s inability to multi-task.  

We may indeed believe we’ve mastered the skill of multi-tasking, but have we really? Are you able to send a text message while you’re in a meeting, while at the same time engage in the conversation and also take in what’s being said? Your instant response is undoubtedly a resounding “Yes,” but in all likelihood the truth is an unfortunate “no.”

Let’s try a simple experiment. It will only take a minute. Begin by visiting Then, when ready, simultaneously read the following clause while listening to my speech. When you’re done, I’ll get you to answer a few simple questions. Let’s go …

An average consumer is exposed to two million TV commercials before reaching the age of 65. That’s equivalent to watching eight hours of TV commercials, seven days a week for six years. If you feel this is excessive, look at Japan. In Japan you’ll discover that the average Japanese consumer watches seven years worth of TV commercials. The interesting fact is that as the number of TV commercial hours increase, so the success rate of new brands falls.

Today we know that eight out of 10 new product releases in the western world fail within the first three months. In Japan, the statistics tell us that nine out of 10 new product releases fail. In Europe, a brand new product will survive on the shelf for 10 weeks, whereas in Japan it will only last two. To further complicate things, the innovation time for a new product in Europe is on average 16 months, but in Japan it’s only three! Let me not forget Korea. There you’ll discover the fastest innovation time in the world–with an average of only 10 weeks.

The speed to market not only reflects a steady increase of technology, it also a sign of the increasing consumer demand for instant gratification. We simply don’t have the patience to wait forever for a new product. We want it now! In the same way, we expect a reply to our emails within 24 hours, and as for our text messages–we want that within minutes!

Your time’s up! Here are the three questions:


  1. How many TV commercials are we exposed to before we reach 65?
  2. What is the average product innovation time in Japan?
  3. My speech mentions an increase in a woman’s heartbeat when she sees a blue box from Tiffany’s. By what percentage?



Before I reveal the answer, let’s revisit the results from an identical experiment we conducted only weeks ago. When people only read the above text without listening to my speech, 92% were able to recall the correct answers. (If we added another question to the written text, the success rate would fall to 84%.) However, when adding the multi-tasking component to the experiment, only 31% were able to answer all three questions correctly–a dramatic drop from 84% to 31%–despite the the fact that all three questions represented the essence of the message.

Now it’s your turn. The answers


  1. Two million
  2. Three months
  3. 22%


How well did you score?

Every study conducted on multi-tasking demonstrates how bad we are at it. Our brain is simply not wired for it–and now matter how hard we try, we’ll lose the game. The reason is actually quite simple. Take for example our reading of the copy above, our brain has to shut down, reset, and start again if we’re to capture the second message happening at the same time. There is no way we can keep two tracks open at once and take in the information from each simultaneously. Furthermore, as we shut down the brain we not only lose data from the first task, but we also lose it from the second. In other words, the combined knowledge we take in whilst multi-tasking is substantially less than if we just focused on one task.


This pains the advertising industry to no end. An average kid takes in 26 hours of content over 24 hours. Despite the ungodly hours kids keep, they’re generally exposed, on average, to at least two information sources at any given time. What this means is that they tend to only remember a fraction of what’s said–“fraction” being the operative word.

Even though recent studies indicate the brains of young children have begun to adapt to this multi-channeling phenomenon, the concept of simple needs to be further simplified by advertisers. The word count in ads must be reduced, the messages minimized, and the language, pictures, music and sounds completely aligned. Marketers should forget the notion of three messages in one ad. Forget about a logo, a pack shot, a web address, and a slogan on the end frame in your TV ads.

Let’s insure your communications remain relevant for the future.

First, does your brand own one word–one truly unique word?

I say “cowboy” and you think “Marlboro.” I say “safety” and you think “Volvo.” How is your brand stacking up? Is it claiming its own territory or is it melting into the generic mass? One where there’s any number of companies laying claim to “quality,” “worldwide,” and “service”–to name just a few.

Second, do your messages consistently communicate and support that single word?


Take for example any Apple ad. Simplicity, design, and innovation are words or values consistently communicated in every aspect of the product, from the packaging to the commercials. Select any aspect of an Apple ad, and I’m sure you’ll agree that at least one of the above words are communicated. Can your product bear similar scrutiny?

Third, let it become a somatic marker!

Some years ago the concept of somatic markers was founded. A somatic marker is essentially a bookmark in our brain. It’s often created by an event so dramatic that you’ll never forget it. Think 9/11, or the death of Princess Diana. Now remember where you were when you first heard about it. No doubt you will also remember who you called or who you were with. By comparison odds are that you’d struggle to remember what you ate for dinner two days ago. That’s the difference between a somatic marker and a non-event.

Great communication establishes powerful somatic markers–it establishes something dramatic enough that makes it memorable. Can you remember the “Will it blend?” BlendTech viral ads which showed a person blending an iPad? How can you forget such a ridiculous notion? Or the one about the Spanish toy chain called Imaginerium, which always features the two doors into their store–a large one (for the adults) and a small one (for the little ones). I bet you’ll never forget the store either once you see it.

What about you? Does your ad have the power to create a somatic marker in the brain?

Did you manage to tick all the boxes? Or even one?


Time’s up. You’ve now spent five minutes reading this article and here’s the good news: You didn’t multi-task at all–well done! Here’s the bad news–you’re probably the only person on Earth concentrating on one message only.

Martin Lindstrom is a 2009 recipient of TIME Magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Influential People” and author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Doubleday, New York), a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best–seller. His latest book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, will be released in September. A frequent advisor to heads of numerous Fortune 100 companies, Lindstrom has also authored 5 best sellers translated into 30 languages. More at

Read more by Martin Lindstrom: The 10 Most Addictive Sounds in the World

[Front page image: Flickr user Stuck In Customs]



About the author

Martin Lindstrom, author of seven books, including theNew York Times–best-selling Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends, is one of the world’s foremost branding experts. His previous books have been translated into 47 languages and sold well over one million copies