Brain Chatter: The Skinny on Six-Second Ads

August 16, 2017 Shane Schick

About a week ago an acquaintance of mine shared a story from AdWeek on LinkedIn, which predicted we are at the dawn of the six-second ad spot.

Almost immediately there was a comment on his post from Chris Williams, the vice-president of digital at the Association of Canadian Advertisers, which consisted entirely of a link to a YouTube video in which a man is bombarded by so many short commercials at once he basically explodes. The clip is titled “Blipverts.”

It’s kind of funny. It’s also kind of horrifying.

Those of us who came of age in the late 80s and 90s might remember blipverts as a plot point in Max Headroom, a truly bizarre sci-fi series which nonetheless managed to predict where the ad industry seems to be heading.

Whereas blipverts were only a second long, six-second spots might seem nearly as challenging to make -- and to build influence with consumers.

Getting brands on board with this idea has taken a while, with companies like Google trying to position them as a way for the industry to push itself (“creativity in constraint!”, its page about the format reads). As Deadline reported, however, Fox Networks is not only bringing six-second ads to its digital and on-demand services, but to broadcast TV on programs like Teen Choice 2017. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, said the company is already working with selected ad clients on six-second ads to roll across its social media service.

There are still lots of unanswered questions about six-second spots, of course. Cost is a big one: will brands really shell out for more “snackable” creative on top of what they’re already investing for 15-second or more traditional 30-second spots? Do you just take a portion of the larger format and “version it” to six seconds?

As we recently shared on The Tite Report, Google’s creative lead, Mike Halminen, offered some great ideas on what it’s calling “bumper ads,” where content could simply be broken up into chunks, like teasers leading up to a bigger picture piece.

According to an article on MediaPost, however, getting value from bumper ads means looking at them as unique assets:

The creative ecosystem has been built around the 30-second TV spot and, more recently, the 15-second spot. The investment is both financial and emotional. . . Six seconds requires an entirely new storytelling mode.

Whether or not you agree with that argument, I think there are a few guidelines brands should keep in mind as they explore six-second ads:

Assumptions Based On Demographics And Technology Are Usually False: 

When I moved from print journalism to online, there were all kinds of “experts” who said younger people only wanted to read short articles, and that they had to be more “casual” in tone. Today, however, “longform” articles are drawing big traffic to all kinds of publications, including those, such as the New York Times, who haven’t radically altered their styleguide for digital audiences. Six-second ads may or may not be what resonate with Millennials or Gen Z, but there are no guarantees.

Consider The Form Factor:

Six seconds may be ideally suited to mobile devices like smartphones, where we could be more likely to watch content on the go. Their real advantage, however, may come with devices that are still a few years away from the mainstream. Would you sit through a 30-second commercial when you’re wearing a virtual reality headset? Probably not, but you might tolerate six.

Remember The Ad Is Always Adjacent:

The one thing that doesn’t change in all this is the fact that even the best ad spots are getting in the way of the content that caused an audience to show up in the first place. It needs to align on some level. And it’s still an interruption.

For brands fighting for attention in a more distracted world, six seconds may be better than nothing.

For consumers, nothing would probably still be better than six seconds. 


Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine. He tells stories about technology, marketing, innovation, fashion and more. ShaneSchick.com. 


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