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How to Capture Captive Audiences With Content


Imagine having your audience tied to your content with an 8-foot rubber hose for five minutes on a regular basis.

“We’ve got this very, very captive audience – and they’re bored – there’s really no super magic. When people pump gas they have nothing to do,” David Leader, then CEO of Gas Station TV, told NPR a few years ago.

Gas Station TV reaches millions of consumers with its content – a mix of entertainment, news, sports – and advertising. Yes, Gas Station TV is an innovative media company. But it’s a great example of how gas stations are using relevant content delivered in an unexpected way to engage their captive audiences.

.@GasStationTV uses relevant #content delivered in an unexpected way to engage a captive audience. @AnnGynn Click To Tweet

People do a lot of waiting – for an appointment, for food to arrive at the restaurant, for a conference presentation to begin. Add in people who are captive while performing mundane activities like pumping gas or clicking on Wi-Fi agreements at the coffee shop, and the captive audience potential grows exponentially.

If your brand has a captive audience scenario – or access to such an audience – why not explore some nontraditional content opportunities to connect?

Why pursue a captive audience?

Marketers are challenged to balance all the variables their target audiences require. Following Scott Abel’s seven “rights” for an excellent customer relationship with your content as shared at the Intelligent Content Conference a few years ago, content creators must aim for:

  • The right person (to get)
  • The right content
  • At the right place
  • At the right time
  • In the right format
  • In the right language
  • On the right device

A captive audience enables you to do all that. You know a lot about the audience – who they are, where they are, and why they’re there. With that understanding, you can provide relevant content to them at a known time and place in a way they can receive and understand it. Plus, in these captive situations, your content often has little competition.

A captive audience enables you to get the right content to right person at right place & time. @AnnGynn Click To Tweet

To be clear, capturing this type of audience with engaging content isn’t usually a direct path to a sale or subscriber, but it is a valuable step to ultimately developing a sales or subscriber relationship with the audience member. People may not choose to buy or subscribe to your business based on the captive content experience alone, but it will affect their memory of their experience with your brand. To paraphrase Susan Spillman of PatientPop, “(It’s) part of the holistic experience that turns (people) into loyal customers.”

How to put content in front of the audience

As you reflect on where your brand can find captive audiences, let’s explore some likely and unlikely content opportunities.


When your executives speak at conferences or salespeople present to prospective customers, think about how to engage people before the presentation begins. What will attract each audience member’s attention before the first word is uttered?

Consider these options:

  • Create a multi-question quiz, rotating between question and answer. Don’t make the questions too difficult; you don’t want your audience feeling dumb when the speaker starts. (If you have strong Wi-Fi, consider doing interactive quizzes that show the collective results on-screen.)
  • Play an entertaining video. Include captions on-screen in case the audio isn’t available.
  • Preview the presentation with facts and figures to show impact, relevance, etc.

Being innovative with your content before speaking will ensure that the overall presentation is more memorable and impactful for your audience.

TIP: In most cases the subject matter should connect to the topic. After all, a slide show of cat memes can entertain an audience, but unless the speaker is at a pet owner convention, it’s not relevant or credible.

Wi-Fi agreements

Does Wi-Fi access for your visitors end with a request for the password or the network name? It doesn’t have to. Sure, you have to get them to click “I agree” to confirm the legalese, but your opportunities to engage widen when you direct these visitors to a landing page.

Panera Wireless Login

Use a click-to-accept Wi-Fi agreement as an opportunity to send users to your engaging #content. @AnnGynn Click To Tweet

Covelli Enterprises, which owns Panera restaurants in Ohio, takes Wi-Fi users to a landing page promoting an upcoming feature such as this one for Veterans Day.


The landing page also links to frequently visited pages and even its “Sam Says” page. (That unexpected option intrigued me so I clicked and found that Sam Covelli shares his thoughts – from the origins of the company to its community work with the Animal Protective League – in a regularly updated blog.)

Whether it’s the Wi-Fi access agreement or some other routine procedure your audience encounters, explore how to take people from the task to an entertaining or informative content opportunity.

TIP: Think of all the obligatory communication your customers receive from your brand, from the order confirmation page to the thank-you email. Brainstorm ways to incorporate engaging content. For example, when a shipping notification is sent, include a travelogue about the places the package will travel through.

Brainstorm ways to incorporate engaging #content into obligatory communications. @AnnGynn Read more >> Click To Tweet

Waiting rooms and lobbies

How often have you sat in a reception room and encountered boring brochures, outdated magazines, and a TV screen showing a 24-hour news network or the latest episode of The Price is Right? Sure, all that is content but it’s not unique or scintillating enough to keep most people’s interest.

Creating and curating a mix of content for your visitors and their diverse interests and preferences is critical to fostering a positive experience with your company from their first step into your place of business. A recent PatientPop article offers some valuable ideas for medical waiting rooms that can work in some way for almost any type of business, including:

  • iPads (often tethered to furniture) pre-loaded with entertainment such as games along with news and tips around the purpose of your company (e.g., a doctor’s office could provide health-related information)
  • Screens showing livestreams from interesting and reputable third parties such as the local zoo
  • Promotion of apps or QR codes for visitors to use to see healthy recipes created by the practice’s doctors (which could connect to a grocery delivery service too)
  • Specially produced or curated content to air on screens

TIP: Don’t forget printed content. A custom magazine or relevant white paper is an excellent opportunity to connect with visitors (and they can take it with them).

Email signature lines

As the Convince & Convert team shares, your email signature (and all your employees’ signatures) offers prime real estate to engage a captive audience with your content. After all, email is one of the most (if not the most) frequently used communication channels. You could use the standard signature to:

  • Highlight your corporate culture – promote your nonprofit involvement or a new employee initiative
  • Include a link to a short video from your CEO speaking to the company’s core values
  • Share your newest research with a white paper, trend report, or even just a couple of stats
  • Share a customer success story, including customer name and a couple results, then linking to a case study
Email signatures offer prime real estate to engage a captive audience w/ #content. @AnnGynn Read more >> Click To Tweet

TIP: Don’t forget another captive audience – your employees. Think about innovative ways to engage them, whether it’s in the break room, intranet landing page, etc.


Captive audiences are a marketer’s dream. Just make sure you’re not force-feeding them with selling-focused content. Like any good content marketing initiative, think about your audience first and then create (or curate) content that addresses their interests. As you capture their attention in engaging and interesting ways, their awareness of your brand will grow, and many will be willing to further their relationship with your company.

Amp up your content for captive – and to be captured – audiences. Subscribe to CMI’s free daily newsletter or weekly digest today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute