Every second counts as ads try to hit the ‘sweet spot’

How long is the ideal ad? Anything from five seconds to three minutes

For advertisers, time is money in a quite fundamental way. Brands buy time from broadcast and online media owners, and they do so in standardised chunks

For advertisers, time is money in a quite fundamental way. Brands buy time from broadcast and online media owners, and they do so in standardised chunks

 

The concept of finite time is something with which we all must grapple in life, whether you’re stuck in a sealed editing suite whittling down the world’s most perfect television advertisement or trapped on a 1980s game show hosted by Paul Daniels. Every second counts.

There is never as much time as you think, unless it’s one of those “leap second” days when a rogue second is inserted into world clocks to keep them in sync with the sun. On those days there is, technically, more time than you think.

Such an occasion was enjoyed just last week on the 86,401 second-long June 30th, with the extra second duly marked by an army of brand marketers feverishly pressing “send” on social media networks.

Companies from Nissan (“0 to 60 in 2.7 seconds. We’ll let you use that #LeapSecond to try to catch up”) to over-the-counter sleep aid ZzzQuil (“Enjoy that dream just a little bit longer”) hashtagged as if their lives depended on it. In the case of the British Heart Foundation, other people’s lives depended on it. “Make your #LeapSecond count and learn to save a life,” it tweeted with a link to everything you needed to know about CPR but were too superstitious to ask.

Time is money, which is why I won’t be wasting any of it googling who is meant to have originally said that. For advertisers, time is money in a quite fundamental way. Brands buy time from broadcast and online media owners, and they do so in standardised chunks that vary from medium to medium and according to fashions that change over, well, time.

On TV, a typical ad runs for 30 seconds, though brands with “big” messages and even bigger budgets will make show-off 60-second executions, and those that play in the Super Bowl leagues can go mad and also produce multi-minute YouTube edits for die-hards and journalists to watch.

The average length of the videos on YouTube’s most-watched ads “leaderboard” is three minutes. “Online video gives your brand added freedom to tell its story,” Eoghan Phipps, head of Irish agency sales for Google, told a recent industry conference in Dublin. “World-class brand content can afford to go on for a little bit longer,” he assured.

But these uploaded videos are more akin to public relations, or “earned media”, than spot advertising. Back in the humdrum everyday business of paid-for ads the pressure on time is in the other direction. On TV, the 15-second format, though often still a truncated edit of a 30-second spot, is growing in popularity, boosted by the need for brands to create “stories” that can be readily adapted for less forgiving mediums such as video on demand and mobile video.

Consumption of video on demand “differs greatly from linear TV”, wrote Core Media chief executive Alan Cox in his Outlook 2015 briefing. “Unless your commercial is ‘epic’, never use ads longer than 20 seconds. In a lean-forward experience such as watching video content online, 30 seconds of pure advertising is an ocean of time for which consumers will not thank you.”

Advertisers should “insist on a maximum length of 20 seconds for desktop video and 10 seconds for mobile”, Cox suggests.

Fifteen seconds is both a very long and a very short time. It is, for example, the number of seconds Netflix gives viewers to decide whether they want to proceed to the next episode of a series or bring their binge watch to a dignified conclusion. If Netflix viewers can see their whole lives flash before them in 15 seconds, then video advertisers can surely learn to get brand messages across in the same amount of time.

Fifteen seconds – also the length of video clips on Instagram – is, after all, an epoch compared with the eight seconds Pandora chief revenue officer John Trimble hints might be the “sweet spot” for mobile video promos, the six seconds of a Vine video or the five seconds that buyers of YouTube’s skippable ads are allotted to either make their point or somehow persuade users to relax their skip-ad trigger fingers.

With knowledge comes patience. As someone who has frequently had the thought “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t watching this never-ending sequence of pathetic, anger-inducing ads”, I appreciate it when services such as Channel 4’s ad-loaded All 4 platform have the courtesy to tell me how long I must wait before my programme begins.

It’s the online world’s equivalent of the pedestrian-crossing countdown, designed to placate the easily enraged. Time feels like it’s moving more slowly as the seconds tick away but at least I know the pain of the stasis will end and life – or in this case The Secret World of Tinder – will eventually resume.

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