When short & sweet falls short

The dangers of the 15 second advertising slot.

KISS – Keep It Short & Simple. We’ve heard the saying many a time before, and today its an axiom for video advertising. Once upon a time the focus for brands was winning in the three-minute advertising space and having shorter edits of the same ad available to be plugged into any discounted slot that the media buying agency happened to provide as a free addendum to their media plan. Advertising breaks on television average 16 minutes per hour in the US and 8 – 12 minutes in the UK. Yet the average length of video advertising for brands today on Youtube is 15 seconds.

Today marketers face target audiences that are not only highly fragmented with individualistic tastes but who actively seek out specific content that connects to their interests. YouTube rules the roost for this content. No mystery then unless you signed up for You Tube Premium you are assailed with a slew of advertising pre-rolls and inserts that marketers today profess to be the ‘gold format’ – the 15 second ad clip.

Let’s take 10 seconds to think about that. 15 seconds for marketers to find a golden goose to sway an ever-limited attention span and to tell a tale that is well remembered. Seems like a tall order for something so short.  As an advertising practitioner I must acknowledge that I don’t consume ads quite like the normal consumer does. Sure I actively use Ad Blockers, but every now and then I actively seek out advertising time and again to see what Ad Land is churning out these days. Now since most of the video content I consume is streaming and advertising free – one of the main sources of getting to trending ads are – you guessed it, YouTube.

Specifically, the YouTube advertising leaderboard. Now usually some of the choicest pick of advertising is round the festive corner or pegged to a sporting event like the Super Bowl or the Olympics. And to be honest it’s been a while since I spied the leaderboard with the intent of watching every single ad in the top ten ranking. When I did so in the week of 20th August 2019 it was glaringly obvious that brands have given agencies a mandate to present work in the 15 second clip format. Yet truth be told after watching all those ads, the 15 seconds don’t really register.

To put this in context, the average reading speed is 200 words a minute, that’s 50 words in 15 seconds. With the average rate of speech being slower at about 150 word’s per minute. This translates into a message that really needs to be quite direct or simple in its twist to be comprehensible. This the tweet format for video advertising. In fact, I would wager a bet that there is but a marginal difference between a 15 second video and an animated GIF. The later might just trump because GIF’s by the very nature of their format are more likely to be viewed more than once (since they loop and you’d be less likely to skip a GIF than a video).

So how much can you say in 15 seconds that’s short and sweet and memorable. The bitter truth is not much. In most cases creativity took a back seat, except perhaps for the Subaru Forrester ad that put a puppy in the back. But even there I am not sure how much brand recall is going to be there for an advertising like that. I personally had to check the ad again since I thought the ad was for a Volvo (I couldn’t honestly recollect the car make – a problem when you involve pets in car advertising.) Some of the ads that did put a smile on my face were for technique and I didn’t quite remember the product at the end of the day. True, I wasn’t the target audience, and these aren’t brands I can pick up from a supermarket in my part of the world. But some would argue if the advertising were truly effective, I would still remember the brand, wouldn’t I?

Yes the 15 second video slot is perfect for reinforcement of a message, instead of trying to build brand awareness. I wouldn’t be surprised that the volume of media buy who have to go up to generate the effective recall of a longer advertising spot. Some things just don’t work in this format. Like a nice ad jingle. But a musical note sign-off would help build recall. At the end of the day a smaller format needs to work twice as hard to be an effective advertisement. Otherwise gone in 15 seconds will just fizzle out.

YouTube ads leaderboard: 2019 bumper ads edition

  1. Subaru Forester
  2. Eggo Waffles
  3. Frito Lays Variety Packs –
  4. Reese’s Thins
  5. Fridgidaire
  6. Cheetos Win what you see –
  7. Dove shattering beauty stereotypes –

Video and the demise of digital as you knew it.

It’s a no-brainer that across digital channels there is a lot of focus on video content these days. Spurned on by video bloggers and their ‘vlogs’ or video blogs, and brands quick on the bandwagon with their own video campaigns. Digital has become the tried and tested channel and a cheaper alternative to distributing videos on traditional media. Especially videos that fall between the gaps of an ad film, documentary or a brand film. Digital has also introduced all new video formats. Instagram is redefining the short format of film with brands creating amazing quick cuts of real time footage to short animation loops and quizzes to garner attention. Just look at the work the official Formula One Team or how BBC or CNN is redefining the news on Instagram. We see new properties every other day. Like Instagram TV.

Video content ensures the fans have never been closer. Will Smith is probably the hottest thing on Instagram right now with funny anecdotes and a daily peek at him living life large. The result, a fan following on Instagram that could possibly put him in the oval office if he tried. The writing is on the wall as well. The app chart wall. A peek at the apple app store listings and you notice the ever growing popularity of video apps, like Tik Tok a new music video creating app gracing the top of the charts. Tech and software alike is making create videos easier. However while video is on the supposed rise, does it detract from the other question – why isn’t web design in the age of UX seeing similar leaps and bounds especially in Ad Land?

When I started out in digital, helping form a digital team at R K SWAMY BBDO, we were not only the first off the boat, but the first in deep water. It was choppy waters at a time when brands started venturing forth by parking their spare funds into digital ‘pilot projects’. They discovered disproportionate returns in doing so, compared to ad-spend in traditional media. This encouraged experimentation. Agencies stepped up to deliver. Without established channels like you have today and the waters being tested every day we saw a renaissance of digital builds.

Websites of all form and flavour sprung up overnight around the web. Websites that looked like games, or out of this world experiences. From the tacky colourful ones that were home-grown to the sleek and sophisticated. I’m talking about some of the most memorable experiences like ‘Get the Glass’ or much later – Rajnikanth’s website that worked without the internet. These were a blend of branding and understanding the medium using web design in new ways to tell stories. There were content platforms, CRM platforms that engaged continuously marrying content to function, a dearth of product and event related microsites that focussed on lead generation, games, interactive stories and much more.

This was a time when social media was growing its roots. Social meant cranking out social media apps which used personal data in creative ways to celebrate it. Like Intel’s Museum of Me. Or introducing that special tone of voice for social – like the brand Hippo and its famed twitter account. How about the piece of Toblerone chocolate that you could tweet to? Banners that would make Bruce Banner proud (ok I couldn’t resist that one).

Today there has been a seismic shift in digital. But not quite in web design. While we talk with baited breath about Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and UX. There is a focus on AR and VR, chatbots and tech implementations (let’s be honest mostly spam work churned out for awards with few everyday applications). What does it all mean for web design and pushing the boundaries of the website, whether on mobile or on desktop? With all the buzz about User Experience (UX) and researching customers of digital experiences, you would expect to see a seminal shift in the kind of websites you interact with surely. The truth is maybe not.

Yes we see iterations of improvements.  And at times we are treated to complete revamps that are so jarring from the original experience that you’re wondering if you are in the right place after all. But where are those sites that put a smile on your face. Will we see more web experiences built around progressive web apps as the answer perhaps? Websites that will marry the functionality of your mobile phone (GPS, push alerts etc.) to traditional responsive web design. Providing a seamless experience as you transition between devices that resembles a native app experience when on mobile and full- fledged site when on desktop.

The truth is possibly closer to video. Namely animation. Better bandwidth means we can now sites that are heavier. There is a whole new generation of motion graphic talent having made the shift from Flash (or Adobe Animate as it is called today) to After Effects. This talent is on display across Instagram. We also see new tools like Webflow that have the potential to tell immersive experiences with ease. Blending animation, code and a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) development environment. So possibly new web development will see AI powered websites that deliver customised stories that closely integrate video and animation.

So why are we so fascinated with video and not moving towards a blend of tech? Truth is, it’s still a tried and tested medium for stories well told. If your agency is seeing talent migrating from traditional mediums to fill in the gap of purely digital talent then the focus is likely going to be video production that is less risky. This is easier for talent to understand and doesn’t really require teams to get the nitty-gritties of digital. So if you agency is focussing on video and social as a key solution this could be a tell of the talent pool. Implementing campaigns in either aren’t new territories. I was chatting with an old colleague of mine (between the two of us we’ve covered most of the large agency networks in our career) and he concurred about talent being a key motivator. So I’d wager a guess to say that if you peeked under the hoods of a different digital agencies you would notice a growing gap in digital talent. What’s more the existing talent is playing the extremes leaving the middle field where better web design and developments happen wide open. On one extreme traditional talent who have switched to digital over the past few years stick with what they know best – video, or adapting new campaigns based on the mechanics what they have seen others do. On the other talent is going beyond web design to focus on the likes of AI, augmented reality, automation and more. Experimenting in the cutting edge space and willing to fail at it. But it is the middle ground is where the next big story in web design will be won.

Will it be a tale of the developers inheriting the earth? That’s a story for another day. But developers who have now access to codified frameworks they can leverage will definitely play a key role in the next push for web development. Whether it is Bootstrap or React these developers can stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before. They have a wider palate to paint from with their creative counterparts and by working together will make new magic happen. Like the days when creatives and developers conceived of parallax and site elements that reacted to your scroll, used to tell moving stories. We will definitely see something new round the corner soon. We can hope for it to be something entirely out of the box. Like a website that talks to you to decide what content it shows you. Time will tell. Till then we have ample amount of videos to watch.