March 2020 (Vol. 60, Issue 1): CREATIVITY
The Effects of Commercial Length on Advertising Impact: What Short Advertisements Can and Cannot Deliver
Knowledge about the effectiveness of short commercials on television—six seconds or less—is growing, thanks to studies such as this one. Given the novelty of this field, however, the work appears to have only scratched the surface. As the authors of this study acknowledge in their conclusion, their research “offers empirical guidance to advertisers about how, when and where to use short advertisements,” but at the same time it “needs replication and further extension.”
Six-second ads did not exist when this study’s experiments were designed, so Duane Varan (MediaScience) and Ehrenberg-Bass Institute researchers Magda Nenycz-Thiel, Rachel Kennedy, and Steven Bellman conducted laboratory testing of their models against seven-second ads—half the length of 15-second commercials, which at the time were the more common short ad on television and online. Six-second ads in the last decade were used widely in digital video but were aired on TV only as recently as 2017.
The authors compared the effectiveness of seven-, 15-, 30- and 60-second versions of the same commercials for their brand recall, advertisement liking and brand attitude, with additional biometric measures. Their results showed that seven-second ads were “almost as effective (measured by unaided recall) as 15-second” ads, and were “60% as effective as 30-second” ads.
That finding “confirms and extends a diminishing returns explanation for recall and other measures of effectiveness,” such as ad liking. Moreover, short ads can “provide an efficient option if used with the knowledge of what they can and cannot deliver,” the authors write. Longer commercials allow more time to tell a story, however, and take viewers on an emotional journey, which increases brand recall and ad liking.
The authors first presented their work at an Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) conference in March 2018, where the ARF also presented its own study—on best practices for capturing visual attention of six-second commercials. The latter, published in the June 2019 edition of the JAR (Wolf and Donato, 2019), reached similar conclusions in that short ads can be effective but require special strategies to achieve the desired impact.
Meanwhile, the Varan et al. study also sought to “further document moderators of short-advertisement performance,” such as the effects of early branding. That creative-execution tactic had eliminated the disadvantage of shorter length in a prior field study (Newstead and Romaniuk, 2010). Team Varan also investigated:
- The effect of ad length on younger vs. older viewers, because previous research had showed that younger viewers, such as millennials, may be more responsive to shorter ads.
- The impact of clutter. Shorter ads allow media networks to show more ads, which increases clutter.
Among the practical takeaways:
- Short commercials can deliver effectiveness efficiently, because commercial length has diminishing returns, but clutter should be minimized.
- Short ads seem a sensible tactic to increase continuity of a campaign in conjunction with longer copy, at least for established brands.
- Short ads can overcome their exposure-time disadvantage with smart scene selection and branding.
- Short ads require simple, straight-line stories and are used best as reminders in an “always-on” reach campaign.
- A “burst” campaign, which may be appropriate in some conditions, such as events and launches, could use high-repetition seven – or six-second ads to create awareness, for less cost than 30- or 15-second ads.
- These results suggest that the effectiveness of short ads is not confined to younger viewers, to mobile devices or to short-video contexts, such as YouTube.