Let's Get Beyond the 30-Second Online Ad

I just returned from Cannes Lions with a slight aversion to the Carlton terrace (in one day,  eight hours straight, 12 meetings and more bottles of wine on the bill than could possibly have been consumed!), a wonder at the amount of different attention-seeking marketing techniques (from Bentleys to helicopters) and a single unanswered question that I asked in practically every meeting: 

When will people finally stop believing they should create digital ads that are 30 seconds in length?

Considering the amount of data that seemingly goes into every digital advertising campaign  I can’t find anyone who can tell me where the data behind this decision has come from.  

Thirty seconds on TV, brilliant. Who doesn’t have their favorite 30-second spot?  

And when digital advertising was young, I could understand why it made sense to use the Internet to extend the reach of TV creative.

However, as it is now the second largest medium of advertising, we can’t really fall back on the excuse that the creative was made for TV and just ported over to the digital campaign.  

I walk past digital billboards in London every day with one star or another looking at me, tapping the screen or trying to get my attention.  I don’t see the TV ad hastily trying to get through 15 seconds of content in the three seconds I walk past, I see bespoke, engaging content, made to measure.

Brands have an appetite to make long-form video. I look at brands’ YouTube channels every day, and they are just starting to make content that goes way beyond 30 seconds.  

I see ads from a bank offering me advice on how to get a mortgage or a coffee brand telling me the best places to visit around the world or a simple toilet spray. 

None of these are under a minute, let alone 30 seconds.  

Red Bull showed us how Felix Baumgartner fell 120,000 meters in 720 seconds. If it were a 30-second video, he would have only fallen 147. The difference between falling from the edge of space and the top of the great pyramid… It’s not hard to see which one is more exciting.

So, as an industry, what haven’t we done to inform our clients what the best length of content is for them to create to get the best impact?  

It likely won’t be a one size fits all because the content isn’t either, a particular oddity of Internet programming.  A 30-second pre-roll certainly doesn’t work before a 15- second sport clip, but neither does it allow for the full storytelling potential that digital offers. 

Unlike TV consumption, where the users are passively watching content, repurposed 15- or 30 -second television spots don’t always perform well in an online environment where users are actively consuming. 

Research supports the fact that advertisers value completed views over click-through rates, with brand recall being much greater if the entire ad was watched.  

As more people are sticking around to watch longer videos up to five minutes in length (says the IAB), then marketers should be able to create effective spot lengths and use the time to deliver their message through emotional storytelling. 

It’s time to let go of the 30-second notion and embrace long-form advertainment that tells a story, builds a reputation and leaves a lasting impression.

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