6 questions for 6 creative directors from 6 major holding companies on 6-second ads

Six creative directors on six-second ads

The six-second ad is here, whether or not consumers or marketers are ready for it. YouTube unveiled its six-second ‘bumper’ ad format in April 2016, following research into the lowest optimal time a user watches, listens to and recalls an ad. Fox followed during the Teen Choice Awards, and it’s extending that to NFL games.

Some say it will lead to more focused ads. Others say it won’t work, while still others are on the fence. We wanted to know what the industry thinks, which is why The Drum asked six creative directors from the six major holding companies six questions on what they think of the new six-second ad trend. Not surprisingly, they all had different takes on the trend, though all agreed that the challenge is good for creatives.

Give us the good, the bad and the ugly of 6-second ads.

“Tighter restrictions force you to think in ways you otherwise wouldn't. Solving your way out of a box can lead to some really interesting executions. So, in that way, I think it’s exciting to see what people will do. The bad and the ugly – a lot of brands will feel the need to shout in your face or cram a lot in to make the most out of the short time. Or more likely, you’ll just see a lot of nothing – logos without an idea. It all just becomes video graffiti.” – Greg Hahn, chief creative officer at BBDO New York

“The good – you can tell a lifetime in six seconds. The bad is thinking you can tell stories in the same old ways, just shorter. The ugly – a one size fits all silver media bullet.” – Laura Fegley, executive creative director, Colle+McVoy

“Six seconds is a long time if a piece of content isn't good. It's a short amount of time if a piece of content is good. I hope to make short six second pieces of content.” – Harry Bernstein, chief creative officer, Havas.

“Good: A new format and set of challenges for creatives. Challenges raise the bar and make us more inventive and clever. Wunderman has a lot of resources available starting with brilliant proprietary data that we can use to make certain our clients get the most measurable bang for their six-second bucks. I want to get in there with great insights and lots of testing. They’ll look great on the Apple X. Bad: Like any other format, people may try and just cut other stuff to create a six-second edit. I think much of that will be awful. The ugly: If people decide to use six-seconds because they think it’s going to be cheaper and faster versus more powerful and effective. This would yield garbage.” – Lincoln Bjorkman, global chief creative officer, Wunderman.

“I picture myself as one of The Onion's person-on-the-street interviewees, here, and I'm saying, ‘I always felt ads were about 24 seconds too long.’” – Jeff Kling, chief creative officer, Fallon.

“As our attention spans grow shorter the 6 second ad will grow in popularity. Like any form of media, it will only get good when we understand how to use it and not apply our 'rules' from longer forms of storytelling to the new six second format.” – Taras Wayner, chief creative officer US, R/GA

What do you think of the six-second ad trend?

“I love it. I love all new forms of storytelling. I love seeing what creatives do with it. I love the challenge. It's great for creativity.” – Wayner

“It actually feels less corruptible than a :15. When the 15 became the media unit darling, there was a lot of push to make 30s and cut them down. 15 seconds almost gives you too much time and the temptation is great to try and cram 50 pounds of messaging into that 5 pound box. With six seconds, there’s really no choice but to be single minded. It’s actually pretty pure – a challenge yes, but an interesting one.” – Fegley

“I picture bewigged, powdered Victorian novel fans declaiming, ‘The short story will never work!’ And feature film studios declaring TV won't work. And TV declaring YouTube won't work. And Vines won't work. And Snapchat won't work. Ask anybody ever. Nothing will work. Brevity suits the modern inattention span.” – Kling

“This is more of a conversation about how we communicate. People used to have phone conversations and write letters, then conversations turned to text messages, mail turned to email, blog posts turned to 140 character tweets, and Instagram and Facebook posts that lasted forever turned into disappearing snaps. Advertising has held onto 15s, 30s, 60s and brand films (aka director's cuts) and just put them on YouTube. Snapchat was the beginning of a new zeitgeist. I think advertising is the last to the party with YouTube 6-second ads.” – Bernstein

“We love a challenge. There is a lot we can do in six seconds with the right partners, the right data and the sharpest insight.” – Bjorkman

How hard will it be for creatives, who have been accustomed to longer-form, to adapt to six-second creative?

“I still think you can and need to have an idea in six seconds. But it requires you to create specifically with six seconds in mind. You can't just retrofit a 30-second or even a 15-second piece into a six-second bumper. You have to treat it like a separate discipline.” – Hahn

“I did love making :90s (nostalgic…sigh) but this is totes exciting. The trick is to concept knowing this is the end goal. Start concepting for six at the beginning and you might get to a very different solve than the disaster of concepting for a 30 and then thinking that could work. It allows you to solve more creatively in a focused way. Plan for six, give it a hug and make it your own. Creativity is subtraction.” – Fegley

“Not.” – Kling

“This will reveal who is relevant and who isn’t. If you're a creative who has a smart phone and a finger you’re probably on Snapchat or using IG stories. You should easily be able to apply how you communicate with a friend to how you communicate your idea to your customers. The question I will ask myself is, 'Do I have the right kind of creatives?' The answer is yes.” – Bernstein

“Adapt is the key word. Every great shop and great creative must adapt every day. It’s what we do. The best will make something gorgeous and powerful.” – Bjorkman

“It shouldn't be hard at all. Any creative worth their salt should want to take on the challenge.” – Wayner

Can you realistically tell a brand story/sell a product in such a window, and are you advising clients to take these spots?

“Of course. It’s 180 frames. One image can tell a brand story or sell. You can send a message. You can connect with your audience. You just have to be, well, creative. And super sharp (planners and strategists get ready)." - Bjorkman

“It depends on the brief and the complexity of the message. Not sure I’d launch a brand this way. But then again, why not? We just need to be comfortable with ‘selling’ in very different, more visceral ways.” – Fegley

“Of course you can. If you can do it with a print ad or outdoor board then this should be very possible.” – Wayner

“Yes, and I would.” – Kling

“I think telling a brand story with any one piece of content is an outdated concept. A great idea is more than a tactic. Finding a cultural brand truth that is supported across multiple touch-points is how you engage consumers, drive action and drive sales.” – Bernstein

Will this trend kill creativity or revive it? How and why/why not?

“It's just another challenge for creativity. The true test for a creative used to be the billboard – can you make a point and make it creative in under 10 words. This you get sound, you get picture, you get music. You can paint quite a picture with 6 seconds of video.” – Fegley

“I think it will neither kill nor revive it. Maybe challenge it a bit, but true creativity will adapt.” – Bernstein

“The only thing that kills creativity is thoughtlessness. Creatives are creative and that never stops. Lots of things roadblock and dilute great work but not necessarily a six-second format. Any format in the wrong hands is scary. Trying to fit something into six seconds that does not belong there is a mistake. Believing a short format is a way to shortcut thinking, strip budgets or move faster won’t make great work or generate superior brand results.” – Bjorkman

“This will feed creativity. We need to take on these challenges and make new fun cool things. Anyone who feels it will kill creativity is not creative.” – Wayner

Is this a passing trend?

“No. It's here to stay. Six is sexy.” – Wayner

“I think trends are the new black. They’ll be there until somebody invents something darker. They aren’t going anywhere and neither will new ad formats.” – Bjorkman

“With the rate things are happening and the current discussions about AR and VR, we could be having an entirely different conversation in a month. There’s no way to predict if this is here to stay or evolve and mutate into something else.” – Bernstein

“As long as there are skip buttons and DVRs, we’re going to be looking for less intrusive ways to be, well, intrusive. The media belongs to the people now, we’re just trying to find ways to live in their world.” – Fegley

“I see six-second creative as being an addition to, not a replacement for, more longer forms. On the plus side, it’s another means of expression. But there will always be a need for longer forms. Whenever a new media unit or platform comes along, people always wonder if it’s the death of something else. I don’t think the circle of life is that cruel in the media landscape. As long as each form is doing a necessary job, they can coexist. Brands just need to realize you can’t expect to do in six seconds the same thing you can do in 30.” – Hahn

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Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

All by Kyle