It’s time to stop fighting and embrace the six second ad

A lot can be done in a short amount of time, which is something marketers need to realise if they will ever succeed in the inevitable six second ad future, writes GumGum's Jon Stubley.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that people don’t like autoplay sound-on pre-roll ads.

We know as consumers we hate them, we know as advertisers that people hate them (we give them a countdown to when they can skip them) but pre-roll remains the most common format for digital video advertising.


As with many issues in the digital industry, the answer stems from a legacy issue. When TV eyeballs began to move from linear TV to digital video, advertisers followed. And instead of reinventing the wheel they bought with them the concept of the 15-30 second; a familiar and comfortable way to spend a budget that was usually appropriated from TV spend.

Fast forward to today and it’s still the most prevalent format, despite considerable experimentation (autoplay, click to play, sound on, sound off, pre-roll, mid-roll, outstream, shoppable, social and vertical video… the list goes on).

Research my own company did in the US with over 300 brand advertisers and agencies found that 86% of marketers say they’re using pre-roll today, more than double the number using any alternative, with 84% saying they still expect to be using pre-roll in two years’ time.

Paradoxically, the same respondents also believe that the pre-roll experience sucks. Nearly half of marketers rate the pre-roll experience as poor or fair, and 80% say consumers simply don’t like pre-roll. They skip it because it is “unengaging” and “intrusive” and list “annoyed viewers” as the top challenge for digital video advertising.

Shorting the irritation factor

So, if pre-roll is here to stay (at least for a bit) how can we reduce the irritation factor? Consensus seems to be to reduce the time and make unskippable 15 and six second ads.

Today, most people are using 15-30 second ads but the six-second ad seems to be the format that most marketers have their eye on; 77% believe they’ll be using the format in two years’ time, up from the 54% who are using them now with 80% believing that they are either effective or very effective.

The six-second ad was effectively launched two years ago by Google, so-called bumpers are designed to reach people efficiently with quick-hit, catchy branding—basically, their message gets out in the time that it would typically take for someone to click the skip button of a longer ad.

They also fit well with many brands’ upper-funnel goals of ad recall and awareness, especially because they can’t be skipped and the message is seen and heard.

Indeed, over the past year the six-second format has become so widespread it has moved from digital video pre-roll into media like TV. In the US last year, Fox sold six-second ads during last year’s World Series, key NFL broadcasts and 2018’s Teen Choice Awards, AMC put a six-second spot at the top of each Walking Dead episode this season and Snapchat plans to start testing six-second unskippable video ads in some of its content.

Short but sweet?

So, if six seconds is the sweet spot for reducing consumer irritation, how easy is it to tell as story in that time? Although 60% of the marketers we surveyed believe the ideal length for digital video pre-roll is less than 10 seconds, almost the same percentage (56%) indicated that creative constraints are the biggest challenge to greater adoption of short video ads.

For creatives used to building a video campaign around 15-30 seconds, it can feel quite limiting but it’s entirely possible. Just as the six-word short story, which legend has it was made famous by Ernest Hemingway, “For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn” was able to engage and connect, so a video can create a connection in a condensed window.

Continued evolution

And adapt we must. The latest PwC Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook 2017-2021 report predicts online video advertising will continue double digit growth and overtake classifieds in 2019 to reach AU$2,227 million by 2021, so there is a lot at stake if consumers entirely tune out and press the skip button.

Whilst pre-roll looks likely to be the default for the time being, it’s inevitable that new formats will emerge. More than three-quarters of marketers in the survey agreed that the ad industry needs an alternative to pre-roll.

I expect to see native formats like outstream video having a bigger impact across campaigns and In-feed social ads will have their place. Other alternatives, such as in-image ads that leverage the storytelling of the six-second campaign, may also find themselves in the mainstream.

Whatever format prevails, it is going to be one that finds a way to engage consumers quickly and breaks their habit of clicking “skip” every time.

I’m looking forward to collectively erasing the skip button.

Jon Stubley is managing director of GumGum.


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