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Are “Multi-taskers” full of it?

September 29, 2009

The University of Stanford just released a study which won’t make multitaskers happy (myself included).  According to Stanford those who say, “I work better with the (insert distractions here ex: TV, Radio, instant messenger, etc) on” are not only full of it, but also are hurting their brain’s cognitive ability.  Here is an excerpt from their study (found at:

“People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time”

They broke their test sample into two groups: one who were heavy multitaskers and another who were single focus workers.  It was found that the multitaskers vastly underperformed their single focus counterparts.  The constant inflow of information distracted the multitaskers; who were not able to focus on and remember the important information in the exercises.  The single minded group had an easier time focusing on their task at hand and didn’t find the extra information a problem.

This is a groundbreaking study; before these results were found, it was thought that multitaskers had an extra ability to consume higher levels of information more efficiently.  The higher level of consumption may be true, but the extra information clearly hurt the multitaskers in this study and actually may have some cognitive side effects.

I have always been a self proclaimed multitasker and was shocked by the results.  Is multi-tasking really hurting my cognitive ability?  Because of Stanford’s ground breaking study; you can expect many more studies like this to follow.

But how does this new information effect marketers?

Assuming these findings are true, marketers may have to look into changing some of their practices, especially to the multi-tasking heavy Generation Y.  This study shows the current over saturation of media and marketing efforts are not helping consumers notice, or recall their information; especially the multitaskers.  Your marketing efforts on intense mediums (the internet) are not being recalled.

As a marketer your job is to make sure your ad is noticed and recalled.  The easiest way to accomplish this is by encouraging engagement with your messaging.  If you make a consumer focus on your product, and even physically engage it, the likelihood of recall is much higher.  A great way to do this is with some sort of user generated content (UGC).  The more focus you can receive from a potential consumer the more effective your ad would be (UGC is great for this).

Some may read this study and think that this gives them an excuse to make their messaging stand out in obnoxious/pervasive ways .  Yes, consumers may have an easier time remembering it, but they won’t be good memories.  This is one way to severely hurt a brand.  Remember, attempting this strategy is risky, Gen Y is extremely averse to pervasive advertising.

This study also sends a clear message to Gen Y.

Gen Y needs to slow down, and take things one at a time. Which wasn’t stressed to them growing up.  From a young age we were encouraged to be efficient.  We grew up with computers, 80 TV channels and cell phones; all things that vastly segmented our lives and made us adopt the multi-tasking lifestyle.  We have a hard time knowing anything except multi-tasking.

A side effect of the search for efficiency is also a low boredom tolerance.  If Gen Y is bored, they will quickly shut down or move on.  Something you need to remember when forming messaging for this demographic.

If you are marketing to Gen Y, it is a good idea to help them slow down and engage your messaging.    A refocus on personal selling and consumer input would be the perfect strategy to compete with the many distractions and a less than efficient use of brainpower.

Now excuse me when I go contact Stanford; I know I would represent the….



Oh yea sorry; multitaskers well.

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