The Digital Signage Insider

Ideal Length of a Digital Signage Message: 22 Characters or Less

Published on: 2012-01-25

After getting some help from Steve Whitehead at Amscreen, my presentation on content best practices for the 2012 Digital Signage Expo is nearly ready. While preparing it, I looked back at many of the other content-related presentations we've put together, and I was generally pleased to see that the recommendations we made four or five years ago still hold true today. However, I was even more pleased at the two or three places where I could go in and make refinements to some of our old adages. Of those, the most useful and potentially important is about message length. As it turns out, just a few characters can have a pretty big impact on whether your on-screen message gets read or not.

What is a word?

In our pioneering (if I do say so myself) research using Amazon's Mechanical Turk last year, we discovered that increasing message length by a few words can dramatically affect recall:

But after reading some unrelated research about email marketing, I began to wonder what's more important: the number of words, or just the sheer amount of space the words take up? After reevaluating the data, I came to the conclusion that it's actually both. Very long phrases are still hard to remember, and the number of characters that make up a phrase seems to affect whether the viewer will try to read the phrase in the first place.

The ideal digital signage message length is 3-5 words, totaling 22 characters or less

The graph above suggests a pretty significant falloff in recall at the five-word mark. But upon further review, it was our particular choice of words that made the difference: messages that contained five shorter words fared just as well as four-word messages containing a similar number of characters, with 22 characters or less representing the sweet spot for recall. This makes sense, since the corresponding number of words falls well within our built-in psychological limit of seven plus or minus two elements.

Whether adding a few extra characters is really going to prevent your messages from being read and remembered probably has a lot more to do with the content on your screen, the quality of the message and the environment that your viewers are in, rather than just the number of characters. But if you wanted just a little more evidence that short, succinct messages are more likely to get remembered, consider this it.

A little housekeeping

Last week, we presented a quick 3-question survey that's designed to measure the pulse of the digital signage industry. If you haven't done so yet, please take 30 seconds to fill out the Digital Signage Sentiment Survey. We plan to publish the initial results in the next week or so and make it a quarterly tradition that we can all benefit from!


+3 # Paul 2012-01-25 18:16
My motto has always been: If you can't sell it in five words, no one will buy it.
0 # Brian Ardinger 2012-01-25 20:03
15% of a tweet - who knew ;)
-1 # Bill Gerba 2012-01-26 02:51
Not too surprising. Short attention spans seem to be a really big ... ooh, shiny! Now what was I saying?
-1 # Ranxell Bridge 2012-01-26 10:53
From experience, short catching words attracts customer's recall. Do another blog on catching words that are not more than 5, for different Industry for Digital Signage and I will contribute the one that has worked for us
0 # Bill Gerba 2012-01-30 16:12
Hi Ranxell, We have done some research on "power words" like "New", "Save" and "Free," but not enough to give quantitative results. Maybe a purely qualitative, anecdotal blog article is in order (and would suffice?) Thanks for the idea!
+3 # Harry 2012-06-20 10:43
useful research! it directs the design of ads, as well as the size of digital signage. Thank you sooo much! Hangel Technology Co., Ltd. LED display manufacturer

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