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Do Six Second Ads Really Work?

December 17th, 2018   ||    by Rick Howe

We had a bit of fun not long ago, postulating that the television industry could actually create and deploy one second ads. Whether anybody would actually buy those ads is an open question:

We played with the short ad concept because we were flooded with :06 ads, particularly on NFL games. Part of that appears to be the artistry of the control room: when you don’t know exactly how much time you’ve got (e.g. a :30 time-out), better run something short so you can get right back to the game. And part of that is simply the “look HERE, look THERE” nature of televised sports.

Toyota and NBC appeared to be happy with their exploration of the format during the 2018 Winter Olympics. And millennial viewers (the small fraction who actually have television sets) seem to be re-living Comedy Central’s early ‘90s series “Short Attention Span Theater.” For them, the shorter the better.

But we haven’t seen a lot of research on whether the :06 ads actually work. Television may be joining digital media in the race to the bottom with ”cheaper!” “shorter!” advertising.

Or we may actually have a format that engages viewers without driving them screaming from the room.

At TVOT NYC 2018 we had the opportunity to see a presentation by Dr. Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist, Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience, and Beth Rockwood, SVP of Ad Sales Research for Turner. They presented some fascinating research on “How Viewers Experience 6-Second Ads.”

There are, of course, some obvious (and somewhat misleading) conclusions floating around about 6-second television ads. My favorite is “More people watch an entire 6-second ad than watch an entire 30-second ad!!!!!” (exclamation points added)

But there is something going on with consumers’ attention span across all media; perhaps the constant tsunami of images and information has trained us to glance-evaluate-accept/reject information much faster, simply to survive.

How that all applies to television advertising is fascinating. I won’t go into the lab testing methodology, which is a) somewhat above my pay grade and b) somewhat boring. Trust that Turner had the need, Nielsen had the tools, and we should accept their findings as instructive. Here’s the top line:

1). Regardless of length, viewers visually fixate on half of the ad. Roughly 48% of a :06 ad, 51% of a :15 and 51% of a :30. Obviously half of a :06 (three seconds) isn’t a lot of time to do much.

2)  But what the :06 ads can do is deliver a branding message. Obviously branding very much depends on great creative. And even more obviously a :06 that quickly and emotionally connects to a larger campaign can deliver more than a stand-alone. And in that regard the :06 may be efficient and effective.

3)  Engagement with :06 ads appear to roughly equal that with :15 ad :30 ads.

4)  Big brands (again rather obviously) get better recall and attitude scores in the :06 world than smaller brands.

5)  This is important: consumers not only liked the :06 format, 40% of them felt the short ads were informative. And while not knocking the ball out of the park with “I love that ad” feedback, the short-form ads appeared to score much lower on the negative “I hate that ad” side of the balance sheet.

Where does that leave us? Borrowing from their digital playbook, brands are investing more in the :06 ads. Bigger brands (with bigger budgets) are seeing more success. :06 ads complementing full campaigns appear to work. AND :06 ADS DON’T AGGRAVATE CONSUMERS AS MUCH.

So, if we can avoid the temptation of packing 20 :06 ads into a two-minute pod, we might actually have something. And for all you creatives out there, learn how to talk fast and work fast: it’s all speeding up.


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