6-Second Commercials Are Dumb

There are a lot of things you can do in six seconds.  TV commercials should not be one of them.

Here are just a few of the reasons why:

  • Any time TV networks try to change ad formats or lengths, there is one basic reason: money. If a network can charge half of a 30-second commercial for something that is only six seconds, they can reduce ad clutter and become significantly more profitable.

  • In an environment where commercial avoidance is easier than ever, making ads even shorter is not the solution. Roughly 40% of the typical original scripted prime-time series is not viewed live. I’ve conducted research that has shown commercial brand message recall is about three time greater for programs viewed live than on DVR. I have little doubt that this disparity would be even wider for six-second spots, which you wouldn’t even notice if you fast-forwarded through them.



If you are able to buy five six-second commercials scattered throughout a program, it could have more impact than a single 30-second commercial simply because five locations have a better chance of not being fast-forwarded than one. But paying more than one-fifth the cost of a 30-second commercial is ridiculous — until the networks can demonstrate the impact warrants a premium cost.

And impact does not mean eye-tracking, a dubious way of measuring attentiveness. It means people actually watching and remembering the message.

  • What works online, when you’re leaning forward watching YouTube and find any advertising to be intrusive, will not necessarily work well when you’re leaning back watching television.  The two media are viewed very differently, even by younger viewers.

  • The argument that millennials in the YouTube generation have shorter attention spans, is the same rationale once used about the MTV generation.  It was largely not true then, and it is largely not true now. Or rather, it has less to do with content duration than with the pace of the content. This might have some relevance for programming, but not for commercials (The idea that millennials do not have the attention span to sit through a 30-second commercial is nonsense, as anyone who has millennial children can attest.)

  • Six-second spots are essentially billboards. Their effectiveness might be limited to sports events, which are mostly viewed live, or teases/intros to longer spots later in the same program.

Experimenting with new ad formats is always a good thing.  But there is not yet any compelling evidence as to how effective six-second TV commercials are relative to 15- or 30-second commercials – essential to justify any premium cost beyond one-fifth of a 30.  

9 comments about "6-Second Commercials Are Dumb".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 22, 2018 at 8:11 a.m.

    You are absolutely correct, Steve, about the networks' true motives----its taking in more money from advertisers than they are now getting, not making TV a better experience for the viewer. However, not to worry---not yet, anyway. All we are seeing is some experimenting with an eye towards determining what kind of CPM premium can be gotten for 6-second spots, who might be interested and to what extent. It isn't a done deal by any means.

    Even if there is stronger interst in using "reminder" shorties than you or I believe, the problem for the sellers is how to schedule these and in what kinds of breaks. If they try to create many extra breaks populated only by 6-second commercials what would these look like? Would they contain 4 or 6 or 8 short spots with the brands rotating in each of the break' positions? Will there be enough non-competitive brands using 6-second ads to allow for many short breaks with 4, 6 or 8 spearate messages? And would viewers really tolerate such a bang, bang barrage of sales pitches? How many of them would be recalled or have a selling impact? Or are we assuming that the 6-second commercials would be slotted in regular breaks, along with "15s" and "30s" as well as PSAs and promos? Unless the number of longer commercials was significantly reduced, viewers would now be bombarded with a bewildering array of separate messages of varying lengths in each break. Is that a good idea? And wouldn't the 6-second spots get "lost" in such a break? Or is the solution to that problem to give them the first and last position---as these are most likely to be watched? But wouldn't that annoy the advertisers using longer messages? etc., etc.

    Ultimately, the decision to use 6-second messages in most cases as reminder support for campaigns using longer  presentations rests with the brands and the agency 'creatives" ---not the time buyers. However the latter come into play when the questions of CPM premiums and ad positioning are taken into account. If the sellers insist on charging , say 75% of their 15-second CPM for 6-second spots which are available only in certain programs and dayparts, this may dampen interest; however, if the short spots have the potential, in terms of scheduling flexibility and GRP availablilty, to attain broad reach and they are priced at 50% of the "15" CPM, that might make them more attractive. All the while the sellers will have to weigh the trade-offs and determine whether the totallity of their GRP sales, with varying amounts of long and short ads yields, them the desired ad revenues. 

    Stay tuned.

  2. David Tice from Hub Entertainment Research, June 22, 2018 at 11:13 a.m.

    Steve, I don't necessarily disagree with a lot of your points, but it would have been nice to have seen this opinion contrasted with actual research on linear 6s that the ARF released last week. Their first look was positive on 6s, although they do point out that so far 6s have generally been put in very favorable programs/pod positions.

  3. Eric Fischer from HJA Strategic Consulting, June 22, 2018 at 12:30 p.m.

    Agree with Steve, it's a money grab -- it always has been, is and will be.  Where I differ is it may be short-sighted to dismiss or advocate for a particular length of commercial without understanding what is being promoted.  As we've seen in the past 30 days, research on this topic can reach completely different conclusions.  The :06 ad, or any length of time, needs to be coupled with the type of product/service being promoted.  A :06 spot could be very useful for certain products where liitle or no explanation is needed (ex: a sequel to a sucessful movie franchise...just use the :06 to let people know the release date), but not useful for a message that requires a bit of nuance.  I'm sure there will be more research done on this topic, but would like to see a bit of contextual relevance added to this work for it to be truly insightful.

  4. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp, June 22, 2018 at 2:03 p.m.

    I'm not sure I agree.

    We tend to want to talk about things like this in terms of black and white; yay or nay. But I can see good reasons for advertiers to want to put spots in front of my 81 year-old mom, and in front of my 14 year-old daughter. The strategies for reaching these two ladies should in no way be the same. My mom watches most of her TV the old fashioned way-- live and linear-- and generally doesn't fast forward. My daughter lives on Snapchat and thinks "watching TV" is Netflix on an iPad. As her generation comes of age, qiuetions about 6-second spots will become moot; they are grpwing up with institutionalized ADHD, and very soon advertisers will find that if they want to message millenials and beyond, they'd better become facile at shorter messaging. 

    As I think I mentioned yo you in a comment on Facebook, if the two of us were younger, I'd say that in our careers we'd see the debate about 3s versus 6s.

  5. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, June 22, 2018 at 2:35 p.m.

    I think a lot of people have it backward.  For example, when I go to the movies with my wife and millennial son, my wife and I haven't seen most of the commercials they show because we DVR almost everything we watch on linear TV.  My son, on the other hand, watches the commerials and is familiar with all of them, as are his friends.  The idea that millennials have attention spans too short for 30 second commercials is gibberish.  They said the same thing about the MTV generation and 15s vs. 30s.  Where the attantion span comes into play is in the slow or fast pace of a program, certainly not in 6 second vs. 30 second commercials.  And my main point was in the effectiveness and cost differential. 

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 22, 2018 at 3:13 p.m.

    What amazes me about the discussion regarding 6-second TV commercials is the lack of consideration for what points these short messages could actually convey and their selling effectiveness. I realize that many "creatives" are inherently reluctant to "embrace" very short  commercials without any real experience wtih them nor a backlog of ad impact or testing research to guide them. That's what happened at first with "30s" and, later, with "15s". But the creatives learned and both lengths have become basic units for TV. I think that 6-second commercials may be a different matter, however and the initial "eyes-on-screen" study in the ARF presentation noted something that we might find interesting. Yes, the 6-second commercials led the other lengths by about 8-10% in the average second "eyes-on-screen" metrics, but just as was true with "15s" and "30s", older adults were more likely to have their eyes focused on the screen than younger ones. Yet many people are assuming that the opposite will be true due to the "shorter" attention spans of millennials and Gen Z types. Food for thought?

  7. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, June 22, 2018 at 4:29 p.m.

    I've never liked "eyes-on-screen" metrics.  First time I saw that was when networks were trying to convince agencies that viewers were paying attention when fast-forwarding through commercials.  I've never seen anything that correlates eyes-on-screen to ad recall.  And average second eyes on screen metrics to compare attentiveness to different commercial lengths is  just nonsense.  Having eyes focused on the screen is more of a function of multitasking than commercial length.  While there are probably quite effective and creative ways to use 6-second spots, you'll have to prove they are worth any type of premium price.

  8. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, June 25, 2018 at 7:40 p.m.

    A lot of "leaning back" is done on YT and other digital only platforms.  A lot of content from these platforms are watched on large, flat screen TVs and that shouldn't really matter.  Consumers watch plenty of 6 second spots which turn into 30 or 60 seconds spots.

    TV creative and the buying/selling process has been incredibly slow to adapt.  Stop blaming networks.  Be proactice.  One piece of creative across 30 networks doesn't work anymore.  Time to roll up the sleeves.

  9. John Grono from GAP Research replied, June 26, 2018 at 6:17 p.m.

    I agree Steve.

    The only sensible use of "eyes on screen" is about efficiency and nothing to do with effectiveness.

    Eyes-on-screen duration measurements are best used as a minimum threshold to accept that a 'viewer' even had a congnitive chance to have message take-out.   For example, 1,000,000 people "see" the ad for any duration.   But only 900,000 see it for the minimum threshold (whatever that is set at).   Only 900,000 have a chance of 'getting the message'.

    It is then down to the 'creative power' of the ad, the affiliative placement of the ad in context with the programme content, and then the attention of the viewer as to what the effectiveness of the ad is likely to be.

    'Simple' ads would probably work as a 6-second (e.g. a 'reminder' ad such as "Sale Ends Thursday") whereas a brand building ad would really struggle.

    The two things I first learned in the agency were:
    * How do you write a good 30-second brnd ad?   Write a good 15-second ad then give it time to breathe by making it a 30-seconder.
    * Good media planning and buying can enhance a good ad - but it can't save a bad ad, but conversely, bad media planning and buying can destroy a good ad and nothing saves a bad ad.

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