Bryan Bartlett

Six-second video ads aren’t just a hot new trend—they’re the future of video advertising. As GumGum and Adweek discovered earlier this year, a majority of marketers find unskippable six-second spots to be more effective than longer ads. With companies like Google, Fox, Facebook and Michelin all hopping on the bandwagon in the last year, the momentum’s picking up. Welcome to the age of six-second ads. 

A good six-second spot abides by the principles of any video ad: it’s relevant, it tells a story, it has a clear call to action, you know the drill. But with all the benefits of brevity come unique challenges as well. Here are a few best practices for six-second ads, recommended by masters of the form. 

1. Don’t try to do everything

Less is always more, but in six-second ads it’s, well, more more. Focus is key: as Google cautions, you can’t tell a complicated story in six seconds, but you can tell one part of a story spread across multiple ads. Or you can use one ad to “highlight a single product or feature,” then capture the rest in other spots—like a pointillist painting for the 21st century.

2. Use as few shots as possible

"You just have to learn to economize,” advises 5 Second Films’ Jon Salmon. Ask yourself: what is the minimum number of shots you need to tell a single, memorable story with a distinct CTA? How much of the necessary information can you consolidate into a single shot?

"The first shot in a short form video carries the burden of telling you all the information,” Salmon says. “Who are our characters, what are they doing, and where? We should be able to gather that in the first two seconds so we're not disoriented for the rest.”

"We try to feature a key visual in the first few frames, either the brand or recognizable asset,” adds Patrick Whitnall, Head of Content, ANZ at Publicis Media.

Sometimes even a single shot is all you need. "Visually, a lock-down shot with no panning or cuts also adds to the delivery,” says M+M Agency’s David Burrows. “Remembering the ad will be on mobile most likely viewed inside an app means keeping the imagery big, simple and easily viewable as well."

3. End before it’s over

Perhaps the most important thing you can do with six seconds is leave the viewer wanting: to click a link, to learn about your brand, to see the product in action, to watch the ad again, whatever it may be. One way to do this is to end the video in an unexpected place—before a scene reaches its natural conclusion, for example, or just before the product is shown in its fullest glory. 

"We've often found the fact that our films end abruptly as an asset, because if the premise is compelling enough, you're always left wanting more,” Salmon says. “Leave a question with the viewer, so that when the ad is gone, they're left wanting more. Don't over-explain your ending or product, leave something to the imagination. But most of our experience has been with jokes, as most people naturally resist being sold to, but everyone likes to laugh. So if you can package your ad with a joke, it makes your marketing more enjoyable to the viewer."

4. Target, retarget

Another advantage of brevity is that it makes it easier to pinpoint promising leads and guide them down the funnel. “The cool thing about short videos like this is that you can retarget the people who watched the entire video but didn't complete your call-to-action,” says marketing consultant James Pollard. “I've found that doing this drives cost-per-lead down and it helps the video become more effective. I think part of the reason for this is that because the videos are short, people need to see it multiple times.”

5. Make it work without sound

As Digiday reported in 2016, consumers watch as much as 85% of online video with their phones or computers on silent. So while videos of any length should work without sound, this is especially crucial with six-second ads. After all, you don’t want the ad to end before the viewer realizes they’re watching your ad. 

“Although audio is a powerful medium, 6-seconds is a short period of time in which you can assume the viewer might not turn on their volume,” warns Online Optimism’s Cory Sarrett “You’re easily able to spread your message to someone without their audio on by including onscreen texts, but be careful not to over-do it. Captions are also great and can be easily logged on YouTube and other platforms."

And while it may be tempting to make up for the audio element by packing the video with action, moderation is key. 

“One can get caught up in making six seconds of content super dynamic with as much motion as possible,” says Andy Barbo, a content distributor for Outside Television. “I found that holding back on large, fast movements yielded a much better end result (a result more likely to get approved by the client). So when I do use any movements or actions I like to make them subtle and have them draw attention to the logo.”

Barbo is especially fond of one motion effect in particular. “Adobe After Effects has a fantastic embedded effect called Easy Ease,” he says. “It give any change in scale or movement a smooth, natural flow. For example, if you want a logo to slide in from the right and stop in the middle of the screen, Easy Ease will bring that movement to a gradual halt as opposed to a hard, static stop. The times I have not used this effect has been very rare and for very particular reasons.”

6. Know your platform

Every platform in the digital media ecosystem has its own unique characteristics. Advertisers should plan each shot of a six-second ad with those characteristics in mind.

"If you’re posting a video to be viewed on a smartphone, the shots should be different than if you’re filming for YouTube,” Sarrett advises. “This is because you should assume your viewer would see a smartphone ad, in the middle of playing a game or as a website loads, while holding it upright. For YouTube, the video will be viewed at a screen ratio of 16:9. Plan your shots accordingly, and/or prepare to make different cuts as necessary to be viewed on the different platforms.”

“Design for the behavior of the platform,” Whitnall agrees. “What works on snap vs Facebook means we have to create multiple 6-seconds for different platforms.”

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