As screens get smaller, users tend to have a diminishing tolerance for long ad messages. On a big-screen TV, thirty seconds may go by quickly enough, perhaps because audiences have become accustomed to this length, but on a smartphone, that same half-minute can seem like ages. Viewers tend to build resentment for the content with each additional second that their mobile screen is held hostage.
This sentiment is a major reason why we're suddenly seeing a big push for six-second ads. YouTubebegan offering six -second bumper ads in December and boasted that in a test of three hundred campaigns, nine out of ten bumper ads drove significant recall. In July, Facebook also announced that it will soon be jumping on the bandwagon to offer six-second video ads. In June, Fox publicized its plan to bring six-second ads to its digital and on-demand properties, with linear TV to follow. Next year such snackable ads may go mainstream, seeking out the sweet spot for ad-human connection.
The six-second advertisement is a medium of growing popularity. But can you really get an ad message across in the time the average man spends washing his hands?
How to get a message across in six seconds
As it turns out, six seconds is plenty of time. The creators of Vine pioneered six-second media after discovering that five seconds feels too short. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also quoted research by Tropicana claiming that six seconds was the perfect length for ad messages on Facebook's social network.
To prove the point that you can actually say a lot in that amount of time, YouTube hosts a channel called Six Second Storytelling. Given six seconds, the channel tells classic stories like Romeo and Julietand Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis.
But there are real-life examples, too. This ad for Stella Artois is basically a magazine ad with some motion and a narration. An Under Armour ad featuring the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper comfortably lays out a philosophy about stats versus the love of the game in six seconds. Finally, this ad from Michelin presents a tender parental moment, complete with a corny dad joke.
When YouTube solicited advice from some pro creatives earlier this year, suggestions ranged from "think of your ad as a joke” to "build curiosity.” Clearly, some see the six-second ad as a challenging new canvas on which to test their storytelling acumen. One thing experts don't recommend is cutting an existing fifteen or thirty second ad down to six seconds. Six-second ads should be free-standing and made from scratch for a higher success rate.
How to use six-second ads
It remains to be seen whether a brand can be created with six-second ads. Google's research has found that 61% of six-second ads thus far have lifted brand awareness. Newer brands trying to reach younger consumers might find that the six-second is a window of opportunity to get their messages across, using longer ads for retargeting.
Established brands like Geico or Coca-Cola, having already spent hundreds of millions of dollars establishing awareness elsewhere, meanwhile, might use such ads for a different purpose. For them,six-second ads could be useful to reinforce pre-established brand awareness themes and messages. A winning combination for a campaign can feature snackable ads along with other ads of various lengths.
Which is the winning formula?
Ultimately, it depends on the brand, the audience and the messaging. The best way to see if six-second ads work is to try them in practice and keep a close eye on the data. Intuitively, going shorter makes a lot of sense. The human attention span has dropped from twelve seconds to eight since 2000, around the start of the mobile revolution. Perhaps in a few years, you will hear from me about four-second ads.