News & Views

The Agony of Choice

by Contagious Contributor

Marketers can now make video ads ranging from six seconds to six minutes. Duncan Southgate, global brand director, Digital at Millward Brown explains how they can make the right decision


Today’s marketer lives in a swirl of choice. Multiple technologies to deliver their advertising, multiple platforms on which it could appear, and multiple formats in which to broadcast their message.

This plethora of choice is most apparent in video with the options stretching from Vines at six seconds through to, well, almost any length you like. The challenge is to understand what benefits these different lengths provides and where and when each should be used, both on TV and online.

Our analysis of Millward Brown’s 132,000 strong advertising database combined with a detailed examination of the new digital opportunities provides general learning about what the average video ad can deliver in a given time length.

On the whole we see much less variation across time lengths than we do across executions, meaning that the power of the creative is still the key to success, regardless of format.

We also see more similarities than differences across time lengths – we see surprisingly little difference across lengths on measures such as enjoyment, emotional response and persuasion, for example.

The two key areas where we do observe a difference depending on time lengths relate to message communication and involvement. Shorter ads are generally less effective at communicating complex ideas, while longer ads are more likely to be described as interesting, involving, unique, or distinctive. So a 15-second TV ad might be great for communicating a sale or a simple offer but it’s unlikely to be as effective at helping with a major brand repositioning.

On TV there is also the cost equation, so a shorter 15-second ad that’s slightly less effective than a 30-second edit might turn out to be more efficient because the media costs are so much lower.

That cost equation doesn’t apply on most digital platforms and that’s where we see the longest messages. The most popular videos on YouTube average two minutes and one in eight are more than five-minutes long. The question in these environments is not how much does the media cost, but how long do we need to convey our message in an enjoyable, effective way.



Our general advice is that brands looking to succeed with long-form content should embrace polarisation and aim to deliver some kind of reward. Some digital epics such as Samsung’s Galaxy11 (see above) and Dove’s Patches will reward millions of viewers. They may not appeal to everyone and they may generate critique or parody, but to some extent this is the price and sign of success in the online environment.



Other longer films such as this Ford’s Mustang relaunch documentary (above) may have more niche appeal. In this case, the video rewards hard-core Mustang fans with a fascinating behind-the-scenes perspective from Ford’s senior management.

Digital video isn’t just about length, it’s also about the environment where consumers see your video. Vines, for example, offer a way not just to communicate for six-seconds but also to become part of a vibrant social media community. Videos that celebrate what’s unique about this format will do well. For example, the “Who needs 6 seconds?” Vine for Nissan GT-R cleverly used the format to deliver the brand’s acceleration message.

These insights enable us to create some general rules for use of ad length:

Vines and other microvideo formats are typically suitable for one simple, explicit message and creating resonance in new social communities. They work well when they are simple but not too simplistic, authentic rather than slick and involve the brand as part of the story.

Fifteen-second executions can be appropriate as a way of stretching budgets on TV, for simple messages or reinforcing more complex messages from longer executions, where these are well established and the shorter ad will trigger memories of the full creative. They are also most effective when communication needs are simple, provided the offer is both straightforward and compelling.

Longer, 30-second ads tend to be better at delivering more complex messages so are best when launching a new product, a new campaign or after a brand has been out of the spotlight for a long time. They can be used for line extensions, allowing space both to benefit from existing brand equity but also to create a distinct personality.

By the time brands are investing in 60-second spots, they really should aim to develop their story, attract a high degree of involvement and to generate event status for their ad.

As brands venture into the infinite timelengths offered by YouTube and other video platforms, some of the same rules apply, but creating compelling content beyond 60-seconds requires additional viewer motivation. Long-form content is for fans who can’t get enough of your brand or the entertainment you are delivering. It’s for inspiring stories that simply don’t fit into 60-seconds and it’s for immersion into your story. Essentially, it’s a reward for advocates and or potential advocates.

From short to long, from resonance to reward, from micro to epic and everything in between… finding the perfect combination in a six- to 360-second advertising world can be tricky. Brands should invest and experiment now to test and learn what works best for their brand objectives across different lengths and placements. If done well, brands using a smart mix of ad lengths can remain culturally relevant in a more social and mobile world, while also maximising the impact of their media spend both on TV and online.

Duncan Southgate is global brand director, Digital at Millward Brown