The Dawn of Six-Second Media
Six-Second Ads, and their rise and fall, is a curious chapter in how commercials have changed over the years. TV advertising was originally very brief: ten seconds or less. Afterwards it often ballooned to sixty seconds in the 1960s and 1970s with voiceover storylines, then gradually reduced to 30 or 15 seconds today. In 2020 the number of 30 second TV ads stand at 42% and at 39% for 15 second ads. For digital ads in 2020, 80% were :30 spots, in a near reversal of trends since 2015. But what happened to the six-second ads we all were promised? And where is my jetpack?
The Vine platform (2013-2017) made viewers more ready to consume six-second videos. It seemed like an introduction to the future served in bite-sized media. However, it soon failed, largely in part due to marketers moving to longer form videos on YouTube and Instagram. This should have been a red flag against the six-second commercial from the get-go.
Additionally, another issue with six-second commercials is that they are most likely to be seen on mobile. So do brands want to have a separate creative campaign for portrait mode as well as 16:9 television/streaming?
Enter TikTok, which was launched outside of China in 2017 as Vine was dying on the…well, vine. TikTok allows videos from 15 seconds to 10 minutes, and most of the content is on the briefer side. But most of the commercial content on TikTok is not from paid sponsorship but rather from on-camera (not voiceover) Influencers in 60 second-or-longer videos. Check out this excellent 2020 Article on how Influencers effectively leverage the TikTok platform. So once again, the six-second commercial lost another frontier with TikTok, which has a huge user numbers in the United States of over 100 million. Of that number, 90% of users say they use it everyday. And they’re not watching six-second commercials!
The Peak of Six-Second Ads
2017 was the peak of the hype for six-second TV commercials, as FOX wanted to start showing them on their NFL broadcasts. YouTube also actively encouraged the six-second standard for content at that time. In 2018, Snapchat tried to run un-skippable 6 second ads as a way to force revenue-generating content on users. However, that didn’t do much to help their bottom line. Even The Walking Dead and Sky TV were offering 6 second ads in 2017 and early 2018. Adweek and Advertising Age were all over it. And then…nothing really happened. Nobody wanted to make the 6 second content, pay for it. Frankly, nobody wanted watch it. These ads were just as annoying as the original Vine content, but with a bigger budget. However, the six-second TV commercial had one last act to play out.
The 6 Second TV Commercial found a new home in 2018 as Pre-Roll Bumper Ads on YouTube. Like on Snapchat, these were also non-skippable six-second ads. YouTube also offered :15s that were skippable after five seconds, and non-skippable :15s spots. Guess what happened? By 2019, the market soured on the six second bumper ads. This great overview from Media Radar shows how even just from 2018 to 2019 there was a substantial shift from 6 second ads to favor 30 second ads on YouTube.
Length Matters! Tell Your Story, Trust Your Audience
Even with younger audiences on TikTok, YouTube, and SnapChat who prefer shorter commercials, six-second ads have proven to be too short. Fifteen or Ten seconds are new standards for telling a quality story in a short amount of time as possible. Six-second ads can be quite amusing as works of media in themselves. But it’s not an effective marketing platform. Surprisingly, some studies show that they are harder to process while others find them to be more impactful, and optimal for Millennials and Generation Y. And certainly, six-second ads wouldn’t work for toys and other products marketed to children. Regardless, the reception for six-second ads has been lukewarm at best, even when they have a great voiceover to go with them. The market has spoken, and they want advertisers to tell their story and trust the audience…and take their time with it. There’s a lesson to be learned in all of this that is apt for commercials with or without voiceovers, and that is: storytelling is essential.