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The One Second TV Spot

October 17th, 2018   ||    by Rick Howe

I’ve been paying attention to short-form television ads. REALLY short-form television ads. ONE SECOND television ads. I published a piece on LinkedIn about it, here.

It started with a conversation at Advertising Week in New York in early October. The good people at Videa asked me to attend, learn and contribute.

We are now seeing research on the relative efficacy of very short (0:10 and 0:06) television ads. A new analysis from brings some timely focus on the issue of time, as reported by Wayne Friedman in MediaPost.

  • “Shorter TV commercials are getting slightly higher levels of attention than 30-second commercials.
  • An analysis of 37,854 TV commercials across 4.7 million TV ad airings, found that from the end of 2017 to early 2018, 10-second commercials earn an attention” score of 91.0 to 91.5.
  • By comparison, 30-second spots earned a 90.0 score.
  • The difference is much more notable when 10-second commercials are compared to 60-second commercials — which tallied a number of 88.0 to 88.5.”

Admittedly, part of these results is the fact that viewers have SIX TIMES as much time to switch away from a :60 ad as they do from a :10 ad. But when you concentrate on the metrics, instead of the message, the arguments seem compelling. Even so, creatively front-loaded messages may be able to deliver before the viewer has a chance to click away.

When Fox’s True(x) group introduced the six-second spot in 2017, advertising analysts proclaimed it the “next big thing” for the advertising industry (the “next small thing … “). Imported from the digital world, :06 spots on television started generating advocates almost instantly: “Wow!  A lot more people stay ’til the end of an :06 spot than stay ’til the end of a :60 spot.”


We have been seeing some real innovation in the creation of :06 spots (Pepsi’s kissing emojis come to mind), and it’s obvious that brands can surround their target customers with short and long form messages on the blithering variety of devices in use.

Let’s take that concept to the extreme: the ONE SECOND TV Ad.

In the last 16 (!!!) seasons of “NCIS” on CBS, we’ve all encountered the black and white freeze frame just before the commercial breaks. It’s called the Phoof (or Foof). And here is an example.

Two things we can all agree on: 1) “NCIS” viewers expect to see and wait for the phoof at the end of every act, and 2) any advertiser would kill to have their message in that phoof.

But what can you really do with just one second? Ask any NCAA basketball team! Count to yourself “one, one thousand.” That’s one second. Four beats, in no particular hurry.

An advertiser can certainly do a single still image, or a slight motion (e.g. a wave of the hand). But a :01 spot may do best as a “tease” for a longer message to come (in the ad pod), or as a “Hey you!” attention-getter.

And sound has a big role here. Legend has it that “NCIS” creator Donald Bellisario created the famous “NCIS” Phoof sound by tapping on a microphone in a recording studio. In a similar manner “Law and Order” creator Dick Wolf used a synthesizer to create the distinctive “Chung Chung” sound to emulate a jail cell dead-bolt sound, but he added the sound of 500 Japanese men stomping their feet on a wooden floor!

You can’t make this stuff up.

Point is, sound is a critical component of television, and of television advertising. And while both the “NCIS” and “Law and Order” trademark sounds grab our attention, we can do it one better.

It’s the sound you carry with you almost everywhere you go: your phone’s text tone. We are trained to respond, almost instantly, to that sound. And since our digital devices (including the TV) can communicate with each other, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that an advertiser could know that I am watching – and insert my personal text tone in the :01 spot.

Or, for that matter, at the beginning of a longer spot.

So before too long, when your TV sounds YOUR text tone and you look up to see an image of Colin Kaepernick for Nike, don’t blame me.

I warned you.



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