Consumers today are bombarded with editorial, commercial and social messages through more devices and sources than ever, making it increasingly difficult for brands to engage them.

At video intelligence we believe that context is the key to grabbing and keeping consumers’ attention. By delivering content based on a consumer’s current behaviour, we have seen a far greater level of engagement.

In our Consumer Vigilence film, Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing at Birmingham University, breaks down two key pieces of consumer behaviour that present a serious challenge to publishers and brands – multi-screening and perceptual vigilance.



A relatively new problem facing advertisers, it’s now normal for consumers to switch from one screen to another, whether to avoid advertising content or simply because they are distracted by what’s happening on another device.

Take, for example, the results of an emarketer research pointing to an estimated 70% of the US population using another digital device while watching TV.

“These individuals are often texting, using social media or shopping and buying as they watch TV.”

Szmigin explains:

“One of the problems advertisers face when consumers are using multiple platforms is that consumers are taking in less information from more sources. Publishers have to think about getting a story or piece of information across quickly and succinctly. We have to accept that consumers will be moving from their phone to their tablet, to a TV.”

Perceptual vigilence

This is a process whereby individuals notice and recognize stimuli that are most relevant to their needs. It has always been around, but an increase in branded content across multiple platforms means consumers use this more and more often nowadays.

Essentially, perceptual vigilance is a subconscious mental state where our brain is ‘on guard’ to deal with non-essential content – often advertising. When adverts were delivered in predictable formats like four-minute breaks in television shows, we could easily predict when to switch this ‘vigilance’ on, but in the age of branded content and sponsored social posts, we’re constantly having to decide for ourselves if content should be taken at face value or treated as an advert.

This presents a major problem when it comes to capturing a consumer’s attention: if they are used to exercising this perceptual vigilance, they’re automatically on the defensive when it comes to giving away their attention or affection, and are less likely to engage with advertising content.

Perceptual vigilance can also be used to tackle a method used by many modern brands and publishers: disruption. Szmigin explains how disruption can be both a positive and a negative for consumers:

“Doing something that’s different or unexpected often triggers vigilance – consumers basically filter these messages out. Very often consumers get annoyed if their lives are disrupted. If they’re visiting a site and looking for something in particular, disruption affects their whole process, which is a problem for them.

On the other hand, finding something that disrupts us in a way that grabs our attention makes us think or makes us look at it can be a good thing.

The trick to overcoming perceptual vigilance is finding disruption that consumers can relate to. Publishers have got to be aware of different age socio-economic groups who might be consuming their content. When we can find something that is specific and interesting to particular groups, we should aim to match these stories with relevant audiences.“

Present consumers with context 

The key to ensuring we’re engaging consumers with content, rather than irritating them, is context. If we can present consumers with content we know they are likely to be interested in, we can use the element of surprise to our advantage. If we use disruptive techniques without considering context, we’re likely to irritate consumers and risk turning them off our brand, message or campaign completely.

Contextually targeted storytelling can help rebuild a degree of trust between advertisers and consumers. If we’re delivering messaging that takes its cues from a person’s actual interests and activities, we’re much more likely to deliver relevant content that is of interest to consumers, and in turn more likely to hold their attention long enough to convey our message.


Reach an engaged audience