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Long form works best on mobile if you grab the audience early, says Google director

The shift to mobile isn’t shortening viewers’ attention spans, although advertisers must grab the audience’s attention early for longer formats to work, a Google director has said.

Ben Jones, the director of Google’s Unskippable Labs, spoke to Mumbrella during his recent Sydney visit about his team’s experiments with branded video content and the challenge facing advertisers as viewers increasingly move to mobile devices.

Unskippable Labs is a small team run by Google that tests how people respond to different creative content on mobile devices.

“The stakes are higher because it’s more intimate… if it works, it works much better. We skip at a higher rate on mobile, but if we pay attention we pay more attention and they are more impactful.

“There actually may be more impact in changing the narrative structure. I don’t think our attention spans are getting shorter, they are getting more fluid.”

Jones believes once an advertiser has the audience’s attention then they will stay with longer form commercials: “You need to grab attention earlier and, if you have it, people watch it longer.

“The idea ‘you have to get the message in’ because the attention span is so short is not right. We see consistently that if people choose the ad they’ll watch for a longer time. It’s not just ads, Hollywood movies are getting longer, books are getting longer, we’re in this golden age of long form story telling.”

For those making TV ads, the change is a challenge, Jones says: “The poor traditional 30 second spot is stuck in the middle. If we’re forced to watch it, it’s way too long and if I love it and it tells an amazing story then it’s too short.”

“What has surprised me is the gap between what advertising people love and things that are effective. Things that creative directors are obsessed with are a very specific kind of highly adaptive, highly attuned and very sensitive way about thinking of story telling.

“One of the things my team does is look at at a thousand well performing ads per month, the best performing ads in the world and we try to identify emerging patterns and very surprising ads come up in that. Ads that you’d never pick them, they’d never win an award show but they’re really effective.

“I think that gap between effectiveness and creative director taste is interesting. As advertising changes quickly, people who built their careers around a certain sensibility are struggling a little bit because you’ve been rewarded for having a certain type of taste and judgement and it doesn’t change as fast as the market changes.

“I think we all have to take more risks which makes the world more creative and more fun.”

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