Video marketing: Can brands tell a story in just six seconds?

YouTube is replacing 30-second videos with 6-second 'bumper ads', but does this spell revolution or evolution for video marketing? We ask the experts...

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Video marketing has a long history stretching back some 70 years.

The first TV commercial was a 10-second spot for Bulova watches way back in 1941. The ad featured nothing more than a map of America overlaid with a watch-face and a voiceover that said, “America runs on Bulova time”. Short and simple but the brand and its message was crystal clear.

By the 1950s, TV advertising had evolved to such an extent that ads were commonly around 60 seconds in length. But this period marked the golden age of video marketing when whole families would gather around the TV for their evening entertainment. There was no internet or smartphones to distract, and no way of fast-forwarding through ads like there is today.

READ MORE: This is what you should be doing to make your Twitter video ads stand out

Nowadays, marketers can only dream of such an engaged nationwide audience that would sit glued to the screen to absorb a minute-long brand message. When even YouTube announces it is to ditch 30-second unskippable ads you know the battle to get your message out there has just become that bit harder.

The video giant announced in early 2017 that it would be removing 30-second ads by the end of the year. Brands are to be restricted to six-second ‘bumper’ slots, which were introduced last April and which Google describes as being “ideal for driving incremental reach and frequency, especially on mobile, where ‘snackable videos’ perform well”.

But is it possible for brands to tell their story in the space of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it six seconds? We asked six social media experts for their views, and the results were emphatic…

Can brands tell a story in six seconds?

Seth Silver, SocialControl

“The idea of six-second video content is not a foreign concept to social marketers. In fact, we’ve been creating ‘micro-content’ for quite some time now. The challenge will be for those not familiar with the way social media content works best and the fact that you have three seconds or less to grab the viewer’s attention.

“With the right creative strategy, my guess is that advertisers will begin to see much higher click-through-rates on a six-second video ad vs. a 30-second one. As the industry continues to put more pressure on the social networks for performance driven advertising this is a critical move by YouTube to ensure its monetisation model progresses with the least opportunity of failure.”

Rachel Hadley, Likeable

“Brands can definitely tell their stories in six seconds of video — they just need set realistic expectations. Instead of telling big, aspirational stories that do everything at once, they need to tell small, concise stories that do one thing very well. In this way, YouTube’s shift is smart, because it encourages brands to focus on discrete goals and messages.

“Instead of checking every box in pencil, they can check the most important box in pen. Attention spans are shrinking, but that doesn’t mean people watch less video content; it means they have less patience when videos tiptoe and meander around the point. The quicker brands can tell their stories, the better.”

READ MORE: 7 golden rules for producing brilliant live video campaigns

Harry Tattersall Smith, Harkable

“In an era of diminishing attention spans, ad-blockers and general public disdain for anything that gets in the way of cute cat videos, the ability to deliver quick cut-through has never been a more valuable skill for brands. The question of whether or not brands can tell their story in six seconds is perhaps best answered by Vine: a medium that forced marketers to truly appreciate the importance of making every second count. Initially, it bamboozled brands, but arguably spawned some of the finest marketing creativity and innovation.

“Its sad demise left a gaping six-second creative hole, but it’s one that will inevitably be filled by the return of short-form specialists on YouTube. It’s when major social platforms make sweeping changes that we see the cream of the creative crop rise to the top. But it’s about more than simply having a good idea. In the modern digital age, the more reactive and innovative brands are those that adapt telling their story with new media formats. Ultimately though, if your audience isn’t engaging within six seconds, whatever the medium, as a digital marketer you’ve failed.”

Callum McCahon, BornSocial

“Of course it’s possible, it just requires a completely fresh approach. I’m a strong believer that creativity needs to stem from an initial understanding of the context. In this case, the context is a six-second video, shown before people get to the content they are intending to watch.

“I only see this as a constraint if you’re creating video for longer form, perhaps for a TV spot, and then trying to chop it down. That’s never going to be effective, because you’re not creating for the right context – you’re trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. The brands who will see success with this format will spend time understanding the context, and then create their content specifically for it. A one size fits all approach no longer works with social video.”

READ MORE: How to produce outstanding content marketing campaigns

Luke Brynley-Jones, OST Marketing

“The one thing that Vine, sadly now defunct, clearly demonstrated was that, with a little ingenuity, there’s an awful lot you can convey in six seconds. I expect digital marketing teams will relish the opportunity to do the same on YouTube. We’ve certainly seen some phenomenal results for our clients from short, animated video clips of between 6 and 15 seconds.

“The question for me would be whether YouTube includes any hidden features that facilitate creativity. I doubt, for example, if the founders of Vine had any idea that enabling videos to loop would foster such amazing creativity – it effectively turned six-second clips into endlessly repetitive (and often hilarious) videos.”

Stephanie Abrams Cartin, Socialfly

“In our digital age, attention spans are shorter and time spent on social media longer, leaving brands with smaller screens and shorter periods to share their messages. In the case of YouTube’s bumper ads, brands are allotted six seconds to leave a lasting impression. YouTube is the central hub for video content and brands using bumper ads have an expanded audience, and the knowledge ads won’t skip due to impatience.

“Brands can make the most of this small screen of opportunity by telling a story over the course of multiple videos that keep viewers engaged. At Socialfly, we highly recommend identifying influencers who align with your brand’s values to build instant recognition in the shortest amount of time. Brands should be sharing their ads on all social media platforms to reach all audiences and demographics. As long as there is an audience willing to watch, brands with a clear understanding of their message and purpose can tell a compelling story, no matter the time constraint. YouTube, consider your challenge accepted.”

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