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Do shorter ad lengths measure up in digital?

Longer advertisements are still more effective than shorter formats for the same brand, when used as a pre-roll for digital video clips

The 30-second TVC is under siege! For years now, digital media executives have advocated for marketers to make shorter ads, or ideally, design ads specifically for digital platforms. This is largely due to the belief that audiences, particularly younger Millennial viewers, won’t tolerate 30-second TVCs on web or mobile.(1) Indeed, with Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and even Fox advocating for very short ads, many now say that 6 seconds is the new 30!(1)

The question of shorter ad length has been tested many times in academic and industry research for broadcast TV – finding almost universally that the longer 30 second advertisement is about 25% more effective than a shorter 15 second spot in terms of key measures like recall.(2) But do those findings translate to short-form digital video?

We tested a mix of different ad lengths for four recent advertising campaigns covering fashion, beverages, automotive and publishing as part of a larger study looking at online video. Each respondent was exposed to either a long version of the creative, or a cut-down (short) version of the same creative, which was placed as an unskippable pre-roll before a news video clip (1 – 2.5 minutes in length). Following their exposure, respondents were asked key questions about the advertising, including whether they could recall it, and whether they liked the ads.

Longer ads had higher recall and were liked more

Across the ads we tested, longer formats were more often recalled and had higher likeability. Specifically, we saw that (similar to broadcast TV research) that unprompted recall for the longer ad was 31% higher than the shorter (cut-down) version. We also found that likeability was higher (+20%) for the longer ads.

Longer advertisements had higher recall and were more liked

As well as showing improved effectiveness measures, we found that message comprehension was similarly higher (+8%) for the longer advertisements.

Millennials and Gen X showed no difference in effectiveness

One of the reasons we have seen the shift to shorter digital ad formats is due to the younger skew in audiences that watch this content. That is, it has been purported that “Millennials who have grown up with short-form video content respond better to micro ads [as compared to] older generations, and are more likely to find them enjoyable and of a high quality.”(3) But what does the data say?

The results from our study do not support that Millennials have a better (or worse) recall response to shorter formats, as compared to Gen X, nor to they seem to like/enjoy them more. That is, while there were different overall responses to the ads, both generations saw similar increases for longer ads in terms of effectiveness, when compared to the shorter ones.

Recall and likeability of longer ads was higher for Millennials and Gen X

What does this mean for advertisers and media owners?

This research demonstrates that longer video advertisements – such as the 30-second TVC – can still be relevant in a digital “short form video” world. There is no suggestion that a shorter ad is preferred by Millennials, so those looking to speak to this group shouldn’t opt for shorter messaging simply due to the age of their target market. Indeed, this could also support a case for advertisers to leverage existing TV assets on digital platforms, and re-purpose more funds to media rather than creative versions.

Of course, there are many reasons why a longer advertisement may not be suitable/relevant for an advertiser or media owner. Typically, these longer ads are higher in cost, and leveraging shorter ads could enable an advertiser to access more placements to reach a target audience. It may also be more appropriate to use a shorter format depending on the advertising message, especially if it’s used to reinforce a broader campaign. From the media owner side, it is crucial that the ad length is suitable, relative to the length of the content clip. We must ensure that there’s a fair value exchange of time for the user, and that a longer ad format not be placed in front of a very short content clip.

Nonetheless, these reasons have effectively nothing to do with the medium, and whether the ad is targeted to Millennials. So assuming that it is right for the budget, campaign and surrounding content, we find that shorter ads don’t quite measure up to longer ads in terms of ad effectiveness.





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