Capturing User Attention in A World of Lookalike Apps


Same looks, same formats, same user experiences. In 2024 it will become increasingly hard to tell social platforms apart as they replicate their competitors’ successful features to keep audiences within their own ecosystems. As uniformity becomes the norm, how can brands stand out? What roles will creative, and attention play in the quest for users?

This article is extracted from The Pace of Progress – 2024 Media Trends, dentsu’s 14th annual trends report.

Uniformity for everyone

A few years ago, differentiation was the thing for platforms. Each app used originality to carve its niche and attract users, from X (formerly Twitter)’s following and retweeting to Pinterest’s pins and boards. Even Snapchat’s lack of intuitiveness played a part in its success, encouraging friends to explain its intricacies to each other while keeping parents at bay.

Today, popular apps have never looked so similar. The Spotify app features short musical videos reminiscent of the scrolling videos in TikTok. Instagram recently launched Threads, a text-based conversation app very similar to X. And X wants to combine audio, video, messaging, and payments/banking.

The benefits for platforms are clear. While no Western app has yet cracked the code to build a super app similar to WeChat in China or Line in Japan, they still aim to become the go-to apps around which people’s digital lives gravitate. Offering the most popular features in one place is a way to retain users and increase average time spent in the application.

A platform’s adoption of familiar user experience also facilitates user onboarding so that people can use the service from day one. Possibly the ultimate example of this is Instagram’s Threads, which lets people sign up by using their existing Instagram account credentials and uses their Instagram connections to make their first steps on Threads more welcoming.  This strategy made Threads one of the fastest growing social apps in history, signing up 100 million users in five days.  Additionally, content creators can leverage similar designs to publish more often, as they can easily cross-post content made for one platform to the other.

Finally, as platforms are under pressure to be more profitable, replicating already proven and successful features is cheaper, faster, and less risky for them than rolling out brand new, highly differentiated features to users.

The user attention equation

As research from Kantar shows that being different is the ultimate commercial competitive weapon in inflationary times, allowing brands to charge more and making them less substitutable, how can brands stand out if platforms look increasingly similar?

For the last five years, the dentsu Attention Economy program has changed how we plan media for many clients, with results showing the many benefits of attention, from brand recall to brand choice, and it even has an impact on carbon efficiency.  Attention is a more meaningful way than impressions to buy and measure campaigns, as it goes beyond viewable ads to focus on viewed ads.

It also shows that creative is the main driver of attention effectiveness, as the difference between good creative and poor creative can impact recall by 17%.  In a world of increasingly similar apps, creative will play an even greater role for brands looking to capture attention in the future.

Also, while apps increasingly look the same, it does not mean they are the homes to similar audiences, that people use them for the same reasons and in the same context, or that they have singular formats (e.g., Snapchat AR lenses were viewed longer than other social formats). By using attention in planning strategies, brands can make the most of these parameters to stand out and achieve their goals.

What’s next for the future of Social Media Platforms?

As leading platforms trend toward uniformity, we could see more similarity between formats, which could lead to production efficiencies for brands. Yet, it could also mean increased competition for the most attention-grabbing slots. Niche apps will introduce unique features, but it is uncertain how many will reach critical mass before seeing their features replicated everywhere.

This is the fourth trend discussed in dentsu’s The Pace of Progress – 2024 Media Trends report

Next time: trend #5 – From walled gardens to walled pipes[DC6] .

To find out more about the future of advertising, read our full 2024 Media Trends report “The Pace of Progress’’