Disappearing content is more memorable
People pay more attention to content they can only see once (e.g. Instagram Stories). They were 10.2% likely to watch it for longer and liked it more.
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Disappearing content. Snapchat pioneered it. Facebook made it mainstream. Snaps or Stories, they are usually available only for 24 hours. Then the content disappears.
What happens if your content - or your ad - is in one of these ‘disappearing’ formats, compared to a ‘traditional’ - everlasting - piece of content?
Are there advantages for ads in these formats?
Here’s what researchers from Wharton and Bocconi University found.
P.S.: Remember to design and record videos in a vertical format for mobile. People found them 13% easier to mentally process and liked them more.
People watch disappearing content for longer and with more attention
Channels: Social Media | Video Ads | Image Ads | Ads | Content | User-generated content | Influencer marketing
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: September 2022
Use ‘disappearing content’ social media channels such as Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook Stories.
Your organic content - or ads - will be more effective. People will pay more attention, remember it better, and like it more.
People pay more attention when watching content that can only be seen once. Compared to content that can be seen again, they view it for longer and have a better impression of it.
As part of a series of 12 experiments, people:
Remembered 9% more ingredients of a video recipe
Watched a Facebook video ad for 25% longer on average (5 vs 4 seconds) when it was in a disappearing Story format (vs normal post)
Focused their eyes 5.76% more on key areas of a cell phone plan comparison table when they were told they could only see it once
The effect is weaker when the content only has a small amount of information because less information requires less attention to process.
🧠 Why it works
When we watch something that can only be seen once, we’re worried that we’ll miss information. There’s only one chance to understand it and take away whatever relevant information we need.
This restriction on our ability to view the content again makes us focus on it more
And just as we’re willing to pay more for limited edition products because they’re scarce, we’re also willing to pay more attention to content that we can only see once, since our opportunity to view it is also scarce.
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The research focused only on images and video. Other content such as audio was not tested, but the effect is more likely to be similar than not.
It’s likely that a similar effect happens in non-digital settings, such as watching a unique live performance (vs one that will be repeated). However, this was not tested.
The study did not test whether how long content is available influences how strong the effect is. Should content be viewable only once, or as many times as the viewer wants, during a certain time period? If the latter, what is the ideal time period? 1 minute, 24 hours, 1 week?
🏢 Companies using this
Most large brands use disappearing Stories. For example, on Instagram:
Lego ran a Q&A series of Stories about the brand
Outback Steakhouse shows offers and runs polls
Sephora showcases and links to specific products
Stories are often used for promotions, contests, announcements, and interactive content.
Abercrombie & Fitch uses Instagram Stories to highlight promotions, with CTAs to be reminded or to buy online.
⚡ Steps to implement
If you want to make a promotion or announcement more memorable, use a communication channel that people can’t access repeatedly (e.g. Instagram Stories).
Try warming up disappearing announcements with other, permanent content. For example, announce in a traditional post when a promotion will go live, then launch the promotion in a disappearing post.
Keep a fine balance. If people can only see it once, the information should be easy enough to remember. Keep it to the point.
🔍 Study type
Lab and online experiment and field experiment (with Facebook ads in disappearing vs non-disappearing formats)
The Effects of Content Ephermerality on Information Processing. Journal of Marketing Research (September 2022)
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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