When Less Is More

Whether frozen margaritas or family reunions, too much of a good thing isn’t great. That’s especially true in the realm of digital advertising, thanks to online users’ hummingbird-esque attention spans and Olympic-caliber speed and accuracy with a skip button. If you can’t drive home your brand’s message quickly, there’s a good chance it’ll be driving home alone.

As a result, standard ad lengths have shrunk in recent decades: In the 1980s, 15-second advertisements were the new short-form spots, as compared to traditional 30- and 60-second ads. Today, when even a quarter of a minute feels like a long time, six is the new 15. More than half of brand marketers and agencies are currently using the six-second bumper ad—which was introduced just two years ago—and that figure is expected to top three-quarters in the next couple years. 

A recent study has found that these micro-ads are almost as effective at driving brand memorability as the old-school 15- and 30-second ads. The study tested television viewers’ ability to recall an ad’s content and the related brand name 24 hours after exposure. Short-form ads earned a 22 percent brand memorability score, just two points lower than 15- and 30-second ads, and equal to that of 60-second ads. In other words, a six-second ad was just as effective at triggering brand recollection as one that was ten times longer. 

“Short-form ads show potential for brands looking to engage consumers in different ways to traditional longer-form advertising,” says Christopher Leach, vice president of research at Phoenix MI. “Early analysis proves that short-form ads warrant a place in a brand’s advertising arsenal, provided they execute effectively.”

What does effective execution look like with only six seconds to work with? Without a doubt, short-form ads present a creative challenge for marketers. But they don’t require a reinvention of our expertise—rather a back-to-basics approach to advertising best practices.

“Comparing and contrasting the common characteristics of top- versus bottom-performing ads revealed that what is true of successful 15- and 30-second ads holds true for short-form ads,” the study found. “Paths to creating highly memorable advertising include using a unique and entertaining premise, creating an emotional connection via humor or sentimentality, keeping things simple and focused, and featuring relatable characters and ideas.”

Though the six-second ad format may be relatively new, the idea of keeping a brand’s message short and sweet is anything but. Some of the most successful campaigns in recent memory can be recalled by most any consumer with just a few words or a single memorable character. “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC.” The Most Interesting Man in the World. “Thank you, Mom.” Small Business Saturday. “Whassup.”

Another key advantage to keeping ads brief in today’s digital climate: Six-second ads are unskippable. That’s crucial at a time when digital ads are frequently described as intrusive to the user experience. Three-quarters of consumers say that skipping ads is an ingrained behavior, and anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of viewers skip them as soon as possible.

“Six-second advertisements are effective because of better positioning but also because it is easier to view a greater proportion of the advertisement when it is only six seconds long,” another recent study found. “As shorter advertisements are introduced, the general consensus across methods is that shorter advertisements perform better than would be expected. This likely is explained by significant research that shows that the first few seconds of an advertisement of any length are the most critical for brand awareness.”

The bottom line: When it comes to boosting brand memorability, reducing audience annoyance and circumventing the skip button, sometimes less is more.

Illustrations by Hatiye Garip