Why 6-Second Formats Are Saving Digital Video Ads

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Is six seconds the new magic time for ad engagement?

The snackable video ad—popularized by the YouTube’s non-skippable Bumper—is poised to become one of the go-to formats for maximizing the impact of brand messaging across digital video. As more and more people are watching video on their mobile devices, attention spans are shortening and advertisers and publishers have been challenged to keep viewers’ eyeballs on their ads. That’s why brands as varied as Geico, Tom Ford and Secret Deodorant have been coming up with ways to succeed with six-second spots.

Younger consumers, in particular, crave these shorter, easy-to-digest, messages—people accustomed to communicating with emojis, GIFs and 140 characters often don’t have the patience for 30- or 60-second pre-roll. Since longer video ads can be skipped after five seconds, it makes sense that brands now would want to get their messages out in that amount of time.

Attention spans are shortening and advertisers and publishers have been challenged to keep viewers’ eyeballs on their ads.

“Since we piloted this format last fall, we’ve seen on YouTube that six seconds is both long enough and short enough,” explained Tara Walpert Levey, Google & YouTube VP of agency and media solutions, at this year’s Cannes Lions. “It’s great for on-the-go users who appreciate the succinct message, for creatives who appreciate the constraint, and for brands who value the consistent results.”

In fact, the six-second ad is moving beyond digital video and into television. Fox Networks became the first broadcaster use six-second spots on linear TV during August’s Teen Choice Awards, with ads from Mars and Duracell. “Consumers, especially those that skew younger, demand shorter ad lengths,” noted Ray Amati, media director at Mars Wrigley, noting it was a great way to feature its brands like Snickers and Twix “in shorter pods that may reduce channel surfing.”

Still, the six-second format is new enough that media buyers and advertisers are still figuring out the best way to use them most effectively. Here are some things to consider:

Focus on top of funnel

Initial tests by YouTube found that six-second Bumpers were most successful in driving lift in top-of-the-funnel KPIs such as brand recall, awareness and consideration. Because of their succinctness, they also work well as a kind of lead-in to a campaign’s traditional 30-second ads, providing incremental reach and frequency. For instance, Atlantic Records used six-second ads to make fans aware of a band’s new release by focusing on different featured artists, and then longer ads to tell a fuller story about the album and band.

Go fast and frequent

Facebook has been encouraging its advertisers to hit consumers with faster, messages. In a recent call with the financial community, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg shared the company’s plans for six-second ads across its platforms (including Instagram). In a test for Tropicana, six-second video ads were tested against standard 15- and 30-second spots. The shorter option drove saw “higher metrics across the board,” according to Sandberg, including a 16-point lift in brand awareness compared to a six-point lift for the longer formats.

Think mobile

Six-second may be moving to TV, but it is really the offspring of mobile. And on mobile, people overwhelmingly prefer shorter ads. Research from Facebook found that video-watching on mobile is fast, frequent and needs to work with or without sound. The platform also found that on mobile, 47 percent of a video’s value is delivered in the first three seconds. So while longer TV ads might put a punch line or call to action at the end, mobile puts a premium on getting to the message immediately

Build a series

Don’t think about a single six-second ad, but a campaign made up of a series of snackable spots that can play in succession. Consider the brands that were able to build buzz with Vine videos (the original six-second format). Lowe’s created the “Fix in Six” series showing home-improvement hacks in six seconds. GE’s #6SecondScience showcased snackable experiments. Both created a look and feel that identified the brand without getting in the way of the message. The same goes for super-short ads—see Geico’s “Crush” series, which plays with the concept of condensing ads across different situations.

Keep the creative custom

Just like you can’t turn a sonnet into a haiku, it doesn’t pay to try to cut down a 30-second spot into five six-second ads. You need to think about it as its own unique canvas. Creatives who participated in Google’s six-second storytelling activation at last year’s Sundance Festival found that the format is less constraining than one might think. But the keys? Don’t sell. Stay focused. Zero in on an emotion. And make them fun.

Six seconds may not seem like a long time—it’s probably how long you’re spending reading this sentence. But with video viewing growing and attention spans falling, it’s going to be the ad format to watch.

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