Less Really Is More: ARF Finds Six-Second Ads Get More Attention Per Second

Six-second ads on broadcast and network TV capture more attention per second than standard commercial units, according to an in-depth study released today by the Advertising Research Foundation.

The findings, which were presented during the ARF’s annual audience measurement conference in Jersey City, NJ, show six-second ads generate 8% more attention than 30-second ad units and 11% more attention than 15-second ones.

The study, which was conducted with researcher T>vision Insights using a panel of 2,000 households, representing 7,000 persons 2+ utilized technology measuring how long their eyes fixated on the TV screen and what content they were gazing at when the ads ran.

The analysis, which measured more than 100,000 unique airings -- including 3,000 six-second units on 70 broadcast and cable networks between Nov. 1, 2017 and April 30, 2018 -- found demonstrably better “lifts” in attention for the six-second units.

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The caveat, the study noted, is that the six-second units typically were placed in “premium” positions -- usually the opening spot in a commercial pod --  but the study’s authors also concluded that the shorter-form ad units likely perform better because “they are set up for success,” because they typically appear in “premium” programming, are usually stand-alone units, appear in the first position in commercial pods, and because of “the math of it.”

There likely also is a novelty factor, because six-second units are relatively new to television and only represent a small percentage of the ad units aired.

Even so, the findings are potentially significant, because understanding the communication value of shorter-form ad units has historically been the most sought-after research and insights on Madison Avenue, going back to the transition from 60-second ad units to 30-second ones.

12 comments about "Less Really Is More: ARF Finds Six-Second Ads Get More Attention Per Second".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 13, 2018 at 11:27 a.m.

     I'm a big supporter of TVision Insights so my comments are not directed at them---nor are they necessarily critical of this study. 

    As an objective person I would have several questions I'd ask before pondering the findings. First, were the various lengths for the same brands or were they for whatever brands were advertised? Obviously this might affect the findings. Second, what was the average ad/promotional clutter rate---in terms of unique messages as well as non-program time---in the breaks for each message length? In other words were the 6-second commercials in much shorter breaks and in what positions in the breaks relative to the '15s" and "30s"? Third, was any corroborative research conducted for identical brand campaigns that measured verified ad recall, message registration and/or sales motivation for the various ad lengths? Finally, what were the product category breakdowns for each ad length? Were they a fairly equal mix of automotive, technology, fashion, food, etc. brands or were there major diferences?

    These are questions---and I'm sure there are more----that anyone who is tasked with interpreting such interesting findings would ask. Hopefully we will get some answers from the ARF, which is known for its objectivity and research knowhow, to help us in our quest to learn more. Perhaps they are covered in a more detailed ARF report which I haven't seen.I hope so.

  2. Michael Atkin from Michael Atkin Communications replied, June 13, 2018 at 12:37 p.m.

    Ed, maybe this was the 6 second version

  3. Thomas Villing from Villing & Company, Inc., June 13, 2018 at 12:45 p.m.

    My first reaction to this headline was "well, duh."  But cyncism aside, a question I would have is how does the 6 second unit compare to the first 6 seconds of a :30?  It seems intuitive that there would be drop-off after the first few seconds.

  4. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, June 13, 2018 at 1:01 p.m.

    Simple question: what is the average for the six second ad versus the first six seconds of the longer length ads? 

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 13, 2018 at 4:30 p.m.

    Determining whether to use six-second commercials rather than longer ones---or, more likely, in concert with them----is not a media numbers decision nor does it rest with the time buyers, no matter what the CPMs may look like. It's a brand decision, made with the agency creatives in the context of what is being communicated in the ad campaign, what stage of the campaign is at hand, what rival brands are doing and other variables. Moreover, until the brand people and the "creatives" as well as the media planners are satisfied that six-second messages can get their point cross---even if it is only a reminder of longer commercials the viewer has seen-----don't expect a lot of interest at the advertiser level. To get at that, the sellers will have to research how well short messages perform in sales point registration and motivating power,  relative to their time costs and how this varies if the ads run in cluttered or less cluttered breaks. It's a very complicated sell and it can't be made only to time buyers nor will a single bit of evidence suffice. .

    I fear that most TV time sellers  lack the perspective to prep this with the real dcision makers as it  requires them to sell a concept that is alien to them. Negotiating with the agencies where the medium and its use of standard commercial lengths has been predetermined is what they have done---and quite well--for many decades. But getting into the ad impact area is quite another matter and this will require a real "sell"  --- to advertiser CMOs, brand managers, agency creatives and media planners---people who normally are never dealt with. Not an easy task by any means.

  6. John Grono from GAP Research, June 13, 2018 at 5:08 p.m.

    That is a crazy way to analyse it, and indeed, misleading

    A human's minimal attention time-span is around 200ms.   Let's run 200ms ads because they would have the best 'per second' attention.   If a 200ms ad had (say) 25% attention then their 'attention per second' wiuk be 125% - which of course is impossible,

  7. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, June 13, 2018 at 5:15 p.m.

    @John Grono: I don't think it's a crazy way of doing it. It's just a way of doing it. I'm sure the ARF will do more research on the subject, and this was just a benchmark to answer the underlying question: What is the relative value of a :06 vs. a :15 vs. a :30. The ad industry has asked those questions of :60s, :30s, and :15s for decades, and I don't think there's ever been a sufficient answer. In this analysis, they're using a scientific process to measure actual eye fixation of duration. The index is based on how much attention people pay relative to the full duation of each ad. Seems like a good way to come up with a common denominator: % of ad getting attention.

  8. John Grono from GAP Research replied, June 13, 2018 at 5:25 p.m.

    Well Joe we will just have to agree to disagree.

    Yes I have been wrestling with the :60 vs :30 vs :15 issue for a couple of decades.   Now throw in the :06.

    The key thing is that the relationship between duration and attention is non-linear.   The per-second analysis is predicated on a linear relationship.

    When I was part of the team that built Austrlia's MOVE (outdoor audience) the AVERAGE attention to a billboard at the 200ms threshold was a tad over 30%.   Yes, using a linear relationship, static billboards would have an attention per second of around 150%.   That would be everyone who went past the billboard plus the other half of the population who were nowhere near the billboard.   QED.

  9. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 13, 2018 at 6:23 p.m.

    Guys, it's dangerous to confuse attention---even visual "eyes-on-screen" attention---with impact. You can only say so much in a six-second message, you can only use interest sparking devices and other executional elements for a few seconds---much less than in a "15" and certainly far less in than in a "30". The idea that a typical six-second message will be more presuasive ----as opposed to being more readily tolerated by the viewer---is mind boggling. Most likely the average "6" will generate 65-70% of the verified message recall of a "15" and even less compared to a "30". That's been the experience when advertisers shifted from "60"s to "30s and, again, when "15s" came into  prominence. In the latter case, despite rosy predictions that all commercials would soon be "15s", that never happened as too many brands found that they needed both lengths to get a convincing message across. Also, and most important, in both prior cases, the advertisers insisted that the CPMs for the shorter commercials were pegged at half of the longer ones. Since the shorter ads got 65-70% as much recall, this was seen by many as a good deal for the advertiser---despite the  extra ad clutter if brought to most breaks.

    The current plan---to the extent that it's a serious plan----calls for advertisers paying considerably more than half the "15" CPM for a "6". That's not going to work for the sellers unless they can demonstrate an average motivational lift for the shrot ads that provides the advertiser a cost efficiency benefit over longer messages on grounds that they care about--namely selling power.. This is a most unlikely scenario, though I can see selective use of very short messages in special breaks as a possibility---but in a limited number of cases and only for certain kinds of promotional campaigns.

  10. Zachary Schroll from adidas, June 14, 2018 at 9:03 a.m.

    This study speaks more to the value of premium positioning.  In addition :06 ads often have a lead in which makes this study flawed at best.  Unless you build a strong creative concept built around :06s (havent seen many) or advertise on a platform where anything longer creates a bad user experience, I’d advise against them.

  11. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 14, 2018 at 12:03 p.m.

    Zachary, now that I've learned more about the study, I think that we should look at it as only the beginning of a research and analytical process that will eventually explore the selling prowess of various ad lengths in varying exposure situations and, hopefully, for different types of products/services and commercial executions. In other words it has not been established by this or any other study that six-second commercials are more effective than longer ones, nor how best to use the various lengths in combination or in particular sequences. All of that has yet to come. My own take is that six-second "reminder ads may have some value in concert with longer messages---but only at the right price. I don't see TV switching to six-second messages as its "basic" unit---despite all of the hype.

  12. John Grono from GAP Research replied, June 14, 2018 at 10:36 p.m.

    Ed, totally agree that attention <> impact.   For starters, impact can be affected by things like ... price and price relativity, competitor activity just to name two.   But in the narrow scope of TV advertising attention is vital and alll evidence to date is that it is positively correlated to duration.

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