30 June 2023

Understanding the relationship between ad length and effectiveness

The rise of connected media, the explosion of short-form video creative, the increase in on-demand viewing… in today’s media landscape it is hard to escape the fact that attracting attention to advertising is harder than ever, and as such we cannot assume that all of our ads are going to be seen or heard. Client Lead, Gareth Rees, investigates the supporting evidence for ad length across media platforms and assesses and communications planning implications of this debate.

With the proliferation of video platforms across all global media markets showing no signs of abating, consumer attention is getting squeezed more and more than ever before, with our audiences now exposed to around 5,000 ads every day. This, in turn, has led to significant growth in the consumption of short-form video content, let alone ads.

In such an environment, it is more important than ever that we act as trusted advisors to our clients and agency partners to understand the role for communications across all platforms, with the length of our advertising being critical in delivering against our core communications objectives.

There has been no shortage of research efforts to help support our thinking in this area - most of it genuine, some of it clearly driven by those with a vested interest! Once again, as communications planners it is our responsibility to cut through these motivations and extract the critical insight that can inform our recommendations.

From an efficiency perspective, there is a growing bank of evidence that we should not immediately default to 30” assets across all channels, including traditional TV environments.

A US and UK study by research firm Lumen and measurement provider TVision found that a viewer who pays attention to a few seconds of a short-form digital or TV ad could be more impacted in terms of recall or choice than someone who views the same duration of a longer commercial.

This makes sense given that seeing four seconds of a six-second ad versus four seconds of a much longer ad means seeing most of the messaging, branding and whatever else the advertiser wants the audience to see.

This is supported by separate research from MediaScience and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute who concluded that a six-second ad delivered unaided brand recall at about 60% of the impact of the traditional 30” asset. When cost factors are taken into account this potentially represents a significant efficiency.

However it is also clear from this finding that the creative “arc” or storyline is just as critical, demonstrating the importance of working hand in hand with our creative partners when making decisions about copy length.

It also highlights the critical role that the environment plays when discussing copy length implications. Ads delivered in TV environments against full screen, high attention, high quality content are very different to those presented on low attention, mobile screens in a scrolling context, for example, even if they are exactly the same length.

GroupM’s Addressable  TV company, Finecast, commissioned attention research company, Amplified Intelligence, to understand the drivers of attention across TV and online video platforms and how these impacted short-term advertising strength.

The study demonstrated the increase in attention elasticity (the ability for an ad to hold the attention of an audience) was much larger for TV platforms versus online, and greater still for addressable versus linear TV. Thus the case for longer-form ads is much greater on these platforms, as attention can be held for much longer.

As well as the choice of platform, the study also showed the importance of audience (with active attention rising steadily up to age 55), and creative message (ad relevance significantly improved performance).

It is perhaps intuitively clear that short-form content should be matched with short-form ads. Advertising has always represented an implicit trade off between the brand, the media owner/distributor, and consumer - with this principle in mind, a balance has to be made as (for the most part) consumers are not going to accept long-form assets where they do not belong.

We should, however, take a step back to assess why this is. Is it a measure of the quality of the advertising itself, or more likely a reflection of the challenges that many short-from content platforms have in retaining the attention of their audiences for more than a milli-second before they doom scroll onwards?

It has certainly been a trend over the last few years to determine how much these short-form principles could be applied to the full-screen TV experience, whether through linear/cable airtime or Video on Demand / Connected TV platforms - however this has not been met with universal success.

In the US, this led to a big push from TV networks at the end of the last decade to incorporate 6 second assets into their inventory, in part to mitigate against the revenue drain heading towards the likes of YouTube and Facebook. There are signs that this trend was relatively short-lived in a network TV environment, however, with Fox Sports not selling a single 6 second spot in this year's Super Bowl, citing concerns about “clutter.” Perhaps one size fits all is not always the way forward.

In light of these changing trends, perhaps it is also time to remind ourselves of the benefits of longer-form advertising (30”+) that led to this becoming the dominant format in the first place. Research from UK TV trade body, Thinkbox, concluded that there are three principle benefits of longer ads over shorter executions:

  • Longer ads act as memory ‘anchors’
  • Longer ads enhance image memory
  • Brand awareness decays faster than brand perception

In conclusion, we offer two guiding principles to help navigate this challenge when advising our clients and responding to briefs:

  1. Understand your objectives - there is clear evidence that short-form ads deliver media cost efficiency, and that this extends to efficient building of ad recall and brand awareness - but is this enough for your brand and campaign needs?
  2. Understand your context - who is the audience you are talking to, what platforms are you going to reach them on, and what content will the advertising appear alongside? Ensuring the copy length (and message) is appropriate to the environment will be critical to both capturing sufficient attention and ensuring that the audience takes out the desired output.

Once you have worked through these  principles, using a holistic AV planning process that ensures that we factor in all of these elements, then the answer may well be a compelling combination of both short and long!