Thinking Outside the 30-Second Ad

As far as attention-getting schemes go, digital video has a proven track record of drawing in consumers.

According to a report from Magisto, marketers spent twice on online video what they did on television ads last year. Classic 30-second ad format probably isn’t going anywhere, but interest in both long-form and short-form video are reaching record highs. Brands are beginning to experiment with both longer- and shorter- form videos as a way of switching things up for consumers, pushing extremes and creating videos ranging from a few seconds long to a few hours. 

Those seconds-long micro videos are especially tailored to a younger customer demographic, whose attention spans and preference for unusual ad formats make them well suited to such a time frame. The ability of short form video to exist on a variety of platforms also makes it highly useful. 

However, brands are also catching on to the importance of the “customer journey,” and with technology like VR on the rise, longer-form video experiences are beginning to proliferate as well. Consumers are spending more of their time watching videos online, creating a great opportunity for brands to subtly product place while simultaneously providing attention-holding content. 
The drawbacks and bonuses of each format are worth examining, and we took a look into each style to give insight for marketers into how they should proceed with their own strategies. 


Go Long

If you’re going to create a longer-form video, it needs to have some kind of hold over your viewer.

Most often this hold is an emotional one, something that unlocks a kind of deeper meaning for the one watching. For those accustomed to the 30-second format, it may be tempting to place your product front-and-center, but be wary-- in 2018, the consumer climate prizes authenticity and craves freedom from that kind of in-your-face product promotion. To that end, the most successful long-form videos around are those in which the product is subtly integrated behind a striking premise. Like a mini-movie, your long-form video should maximize its entertainment value over product screen time.  

Marriott’s Two Bellmen series is an excellent example of a compelling, long-form advertisement that consistently markets the intended product without making it the focus of the ad. In it, two bellmen with some pretty impressive parkour abilities foil a painting robbery that takes place at a hotel. It certainly doesn’t feel like an advertisement-- it feels like an action-packed short film that just happens to have a hotel theme. As an added dimension, the obvious high production value makes it clear that Marriott is both proud of their company and clued in to modern tastes. 
Speaking of modern tastes, Lowes also ran a highly successful long-form ad for their black Friday sale by capitalizing on the Escape Room and DIY trends. Lowes put four professional “fixers” in a locked vault room, allowing them to bring in one tool each. “Having the right tool at the right time is going to be the difference between winning and losing,” the host warns, creating an immediate through-line to the overall message of the ad. The 17-minute video drew over 5.7 million youtube hits.

Old Spice, whose wacky short-form videos are already a major force in the GIF-making community, tried out a longer video with their “Ye Olde Exploding Yule Log”. The hour-long video riffs on the classic Holiday Yule Log recording, but throws in Terry Crews, plenty of explosions, and a general sense of absurdity. It is, frankly, hard to look away from. Despite all we have said about integrating the product subtly, its obvious placement in Ye Olde Exploding Yule Log is perfectly on brand for the company. 

Current industry standards for buying and selling long-form advertising videos are in the process of revision. The 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies) and IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) recently updated their terms and conditions for long-form video from their 2009 iteration-- the new standards are meant to reduce delays associated with hashing out some of the technical and business aspects of long-form video, such as cancellation provisions and the use of ad tags. Keeping up with these developments as you begin your strategy will be crucial, but dealing with the particulars of digital video marketing seems destined to become a much smoother process in the near future. 


The Short Cut

On the other end of the scale, cramming both an ad and a compelling narrative into a 10-second time slot is quite the challenge.

For any brand wishing to produce omnichannel content, short-form videos are perfect, since their format allows them to be shared across a range of social media platforms. These videos also work best when tailored to suit a younger audience, who hop from platform to platform regularly. Since so little information can be imparted in under 10 seconds, however, this format is better for well-established brands with easily recognizable logos and product images. 
These mini-videos can also be strung together into playlists or series, often pulling the viewer through a larger storyline or leading up to a longer, “big reveal” ad. It’s also a way to introduce variety into your campaign structure, showing ads that are both familiar and new. 

The best-performing short-form ads at the moment are those which don’t require sound, are oriented vertically, and are shareable over multiple platforms. 6-second video advertisements are often referred to as “bumper ads”, and they can get more across than you might think. Last month, Youtube partnered with creative ad agencies to showcase the 6-second ad format at Sundance. Representatives from Samsung, NBC, Nestle, Amazon, Visa, Showtime, Hulu, Gap, Viacom, Sony, Microsoft, Chase and Amex visited the showcase in Park City, Utah to learn more this kind of micro-storytelling. "People are willing—and sometimes eager—to choose to engage with longer-form content, but brands also need to be able to weave in effective shorter-form messages to guarantee exposure alongside a positive brand experience," said Tara Walpert Levy, vp of agency sales for YouTube. 

It may seem hard to cram a good storyline into six seconds, but it can be done-- and it can be done with style. Geico’s “Unskippable” ad won AdAge’s 2016 Campaign of the Year, and also won our hearts by ending before it’s even skippable. But it's also so unique and witty that you'll actually watch the entire ad. 
However, for the first time, long-form content—greater than 20 minutes in length—now represents the majority of time spent watching video across all screen sizes, at 63 percent.

Businesses can turn either form to their advantage, and the decision will often be made easier by considering what is “on brand” for your company. Whichever form you choose, make sure it has personality. Consumers in 2018 demand more from their advertisements, calling for strong storytelling and a compelling through line. A jingle and a catchy slogan will no longer do. 

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TrendsGregor Cooney