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6-Second Commercials are Here: Are You Ready?

Posted by Andrea Keating on October 10, 2017

What do you get when you combine the shrinking attention spans of millennials and Generation Z, the rising costs of television ad time, and the increasing access to high-quality video production tools?

Six-second video advertisements.

You may have already seen some of these on your favorite websites (where they’re often referred to as “bumper ads”) that want to earn advertising revenue but don’t want to force viewers to sit through a 30-second commercial. And because today’s consumers boast an average attention span of just eight seconds (which is shorter than a goldfish), the logical response would be to produce ad content that is shorter than that.

This isn’t difficult to do, given the wide availability of digital editing software, high-quality video cameras on smartphones, and virtual graphics and animation tools. Today, almost anyone can produce an attractive six-second video that contains a clear message and/or call to action.

Six-Second Spots are So Sexy

As a result, YouTube recently began offering this format to potential advertisers. And at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, attendees were treated to ten of these six-second films – five of which were produced by creative agencies, with the other five submitted by filmmakers. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before these 180-frame spots migrated their way toward our televisions – especially when viewed against a backdrop of perpetually-increasing TV ad slots.

In August, Fox experimented with six-second TV ads during its Teen Choice Awards show; and it also announced its intention to debut these ads in their telecasts of National Football League contests, Major League Baseball games, and other sporting events beginning this month. The move marks the first major change in TV ad length since 15-second spots were introduced in 1985.

According to MediaPost, companies can now purchase six-second ad slots at a mere $75,000 apiece. That’s a bargain compared to the $250,000 starting price tag for a 30-second commercial within an NFL broadcast. And advertisers seem to be embracing this trend: in the last half of August, more than $3 million was spent on five- and six-second TV commercials in the U.S.(most of which were local station programming promos)

Selling Six-Second Videos to Clients

Now that six-second video ads have entered the mainstream, how will their presence impact the world of corporate video production?

Of course, there’s a pretty good chance that your clients won’t be looking to purchase TV ad time anytime soon. On the other hand, it’s essential to emphasize the value that a professional video production company can provide even for ads that are only six seconds in length.

One idea would be to offer a six-second video as an “add-on” to clients who have already contracted with you to produce their corporate video. This would give clients a product which they could use to advertise on mobile websites, YouTube, or other online platforms. Ideas for these six-second videos include:

  1. 1. A simple pitch for the viewer to click through to the full-length corporate video on the client’s site.
  2. 2. A mashup of shots from the full-length video to act as a sort of “teaser” for the company.
  3. 3. A short, basic corporate image video.
  4. 4. A quick promo for an upcoming event.
  5. 5. An ad promoting a specific call to action.
  6. 6. An entirely new concept for the video (which could possibly be the impetus for a series of future six-second videos).

Suggestions For Structuring Six-Second Videos

If your company is thinking about jumping on the six-second video bandwagon, here are a few tips on how to approach them:

  • Keep six-second spots simple. This seems obvious. But it’s also easy to get caught up in storyboarding, scripting, and shot selection instead of concentrating on finding creative ways to set the scene quickly. And your storyline should be completely linear with no branching narratives.
  • Consider using text and animation only. You won’t have to worry about camerawork, lighting, or actors. Using visually-pleasing text and animated images, you can practically insert all of the information typically found in a 15-second or 30-second text-only video and simply shorten or eliminate the pauses. 
  • Remember the medium. A large portion of these videos will be watched on a mobile device, so utilize the 1:1 square format for smartphones and tablets. If dialogue is involved, you should probably insert the text on the screen so viewers don’t need to turn up their sound. 
  • Center it around the punchline. When you tell a joke, you usually stay away from the punchline until the very end. With a six-second video, do exactly the opposite: start with the punchline and then figure out what elements you can add in to set it up.
  • Start with something relatable. Try to make the opening shot or sequence an image that viewers can instantly relate to. If you can accomplish that, it’s much easier to seize their attention. Then they can call on their own experiences to “fill in the blanks” and allow you to tell your story more succinctly.
  • Use the brain’s processing speed to your advantage. In a sense, the human brain isn’t constrained by time. One second, one word, or even one image can convey a copious amount of information to the viewer. So don’t feel that you must include any transitionary images, dialogue, or shots in your six-second video.
  • Change or disruption is still a key element. Even with the shorter timeframe, you still need to introduce some component of change. Whether it’s a point of view, scene locale, or plot twist, you must use change to advance the narrative. You’ll just have to pinpoint the precise moment when the change occurs.
  • Build curiosity. Even in just six seconds, you can still layer your story to build on itself once you’ve (quickly) seduced the viewer. This will help you create a logical flow, and it will force you to measure the video’s building blocks in frames instead of seconds.
  • Don’t forget the call to action! At the end of the day, a six-second video is still a marketing tool. So you need to instruct the audience on what their next move should be. The good news is, you can embed a hyperlink in the video which can take the viewer to the client’s site or a specific landing page.

It remains to be seen whether six-second TV commercials are a passing fad or the wave of the future, but the environment exists for a long-term niche in the virtual world for these “video haikus.” And since today’s corporate video clients are usually interested in keeping costs low and maximizing return on investment, sprinkling these six-second videos into strategic spots on the Internet will remain an attractive proposition for their marketing departments. Therefore, the companies that produce these corporate videos should probably find a way to adapt to a shorter attention span world.

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