Short and sweet: Why There’s a Growing Appetite for Five-Second Video Ads


Mike NicholsonOne of the industry issues that refuses to go away is creative length, and it’s remarkable that even in 2017 we’re still seeing publishers running 30 second ads against short-form content. Here Mike Nicholson, Director of Mobile Business Development, EMEA at OpenX, makes the case for five seconds. 

With short-form video coming to the fore, it follows that shorter video ads are needed to accompany them; nobody wants to sit through a 30 second video ad to access a short news clip. Yet a surprising amount of standard length TV commercials are still being served across digital channels, suggesting some advertisers still expect these to perform.

With short-form video coming to the fore, it follows that shorter video ads are needed to accompany them; nobody wants to sit through a 30 second video ad to access a short news clip. Yet a surprising amount of standard length TV commercials are still being served across digital channels, suggesting some advertisers still expect these to perform.

To ensure their ad strategies evolve in parallel with video consumption habits, brands need to follow advertising guru Trevor Beattie’s advice. He believes that consumers today absorb information so fast that a 30 second ad is purely unnecessary and can feel like a lifetime. According to Beattie, advertisers should move towards shorter micro video ads – preferably around five seconds in length, the time it now takes for consumers to digest and understand marketing messages.

Here are five reasons advertisers should embrace the shorter ad – one reason for each second:

Millennials engage with shorter video ads
An IAB study compared 10 second and 30 second mobile ad lengths to determine if there was a difference in ad receptivity and brand effectiveness. The shorter-form ads were found to have greater appeal and persuasion potential with the sought-after millennial audience, although the more traditional long-form ad performed better with older age groups.

Short five-to-ten second ads fit with millennial expectations. They correspond to the time a message can be viewed on Snapchat before it disappears and the amount of time a post appears in a Facebook timeline before the user scrolls past it. YouTube has shown it understands and respects this expectation; users can skip its video ads after viewing for five-seconds.

Short attention spans require short ads
Back in the fifties when the length of TV commercials was established, television was new and exciting and there was little else to compete for viewer attention except the lowly kettle, fabled for causing power surges during primetime advertising breaks. Fast-forward to the 2010s and it’s a completely different story. With internet browsing, social networking, instant messaging, and online gaming all competing for attention, doesn’t take much to distract users from a video ad they weren’t that interested in watching in the first place.

Microsoft research suggests smartphone use has reduced average consumer attention span from 12 seconds to just eight seconds, and the NBA is even considering decreasing the length of basketball games to cater to the decreasing attention spans of millennial viewers. IAB guidelines, which state video ads are viewable if they are in view for two seconds, illustrate just how unrealistic it is to expect today’s consumer to watch and engage with a 30 second advertisement.

Short ads can also be sweet ads
“The human mind can register an image into memory in 0.25 seconds” declared Proctor & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard, when outlining his tough new stance on ad transparency. The company has been one of the first to embrace short five or six second ad formats that quickly convey the brand and product benefits, such as the Facebook ad for Tide.

To create a seamless cross-channel experience brands could consider using their 30 second TV commercials as a starting point, beginning with an impactful brand visual to grab the viewer’s attention, including just the highlights of the original ad, and finishing with a strong call to action – all in around five seconds.

Just because a video ad is short that doesn’t mean it has any less impact than a longer-form commercial, as Pepsi proved with its series of 100 five-second emoji-themed ads. Brands need to start thinking of video ads as marketing moments – especially when advertising on mobile – focussing on just one thing, saying it quickly, and repeating it often.

Short video ads can be non-skippable
Few premium publishers will allow a 30 second video ad to play without giving the viewer the option to skip it, as this creates a poor user experience. And given the opportunity, the majority of consumers will choose to skip. A survey of US millennial internet users revealed almost 60% skip YouTube ads as soon as it becomes possible.

If brands are using a traditional 30 second TV commercial across digital channels there is a high risk viewers will skip the ad before they even know what brand is being advertised. In many ads made-for-TV there is a story arc that in some cases does not even mention the brand until after 5 seconds of the ad. In this 42 second ad for Heinz Baked Beans for example the branding doesn’t appear until half-way through so it would have no impact on viewers who skipped after just a few seconds.

YouTube is responding to video ad skipping behaviour by promoting its six-second video ad format, which will be showcased at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to illustrate its capacity for brand storytelling. Most advertisers would prefer to tell the whole brand story in five-to-ten seconds than have just part of the story unfold before the user skips. Shorter-form ads could potentially be played in premium environments such as The Telegraph or Guardian without providing the option to skip.

Shorter ads are lighter on data
With ever-growing volumes of video consumed on smartphones and tablets, video ads must be designed using a mobile-first philosophy. Every time a user watches a video ad via a 3G or 4G connection they use valuable mobile data, so the shorter an ad is, the less data it uses – reducing the cost to the consumer.

These lighter video ads are also quicker to load, significantly improving the user experience and increasing the chances of engagement. Slow loading video ads with high data consumption may well be a driving factor in the adoption of mobile ad blocking, so reducing the length and weight of ads could be one way to reverse this trend.
Digital video consumption is evolving, so brands must ensure their video advertising strategies also adapt. By embracing short five-second video ads advertisers can embrace the trend for short-form video, address limited attention spans, avoid ad skipping behaviours, and appeal to users viewing video on a mobile device, while still delivering an impactful and inspiring brand message.


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