Is six seconds enough time to tell a brand story? It is for Fox, the first broadcaster to follow YouTube’s ‘bumper’ lead

Joe Marchese spoke with YouTube at Cannes Lions

Fox Networks Group has announced plans to emulate YouTube’s six-second ad format on broadcast, in a bid to maximise user experience alongside revenues by “respecting people’s time”.

Fox will offer up the new brief format to advertisers initially on digital on-demand before eventually rolling it out across its linear TV properties.

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. According to Google's managing director for YouTube and video solutions, Debbie Weinstein, nine out of 10 bumper campaigns are driving “significant increases” in ad recall, with an average improvement of 38%.

As such, Fox has decided to follow suit beyond the bounds of digital. It’s a leap of faith sure to test both its account managers and its advertisers’ creative teams, however Joe Marchese, president of advertising revenue for the group, believes it’s an important step towards creating a better user experience for its customers.

“We are in the storytelling business, not necessarily the advertising business,” he said at a press conference at Cannes Lions. “We’re in the advertising business as long as it allows us to tell our stories to more people. When it becomes a detriment – when it starts to turn people away – it hurts our storytellers.

“Unfortunately we haven’t found the right mix of ad products yet, but one of the things we’re looking at is how to make the most of people’s time. We don’t have to use as much as possible; we can get creative and tell the message in a short form way.”

Having worked in media his entire career, Marchese admitted “it used to kill me” when someone would ask why TVCs had to be 30 or 60 seconds long. “I’d be like, because we trade tens of billions of dollars around it and we need standardisation. But now, what I like about the six second ad so much is what we’re saying is people’s time is precious, do the most with it.

“Maybe not every toilet paper needs to have a 30 minute telenovela piece of branded content to make you fall in love with it. Maybe they need six-seconds to tell you the price of the toilet paper and get it sold. So why don’t we start respecting people’s time?”

Marchese added that it won’t be easy rejigging broadcast scheduling to slot six-second formats into a linear programming format, but clarified that his team has already started looking into ways to make it work. As for on-demand platform? “It’s easy,” he said.

For creatives, the six-second spot is both a seemingly impossible exercise in storytelling and exactly what the industry needs to finally crack the mobile space. YouTube was originally “particularly concerned with taking [the format] out to the creative community”, according to Tara Walpert Levy, vice president of agency and media solutions at Google/YouTube, having been a proponent of the traditional ad length for so long.

“But for the most part I’ve found partners saying, actually, creativity loves constraint,” said Levy. “So we’re incredibly pleased with the uptake and interest and investment from the creative community.”

One of the most critically acclaimed ads of 2015 was US insurance brand Geico’s Unskippable, which riffed off the idea of a six-second spot before it existed. In the ad, a laughably traditional family dinner scene is interrupted seconds in with a voiceover telling users: “You can’t skip this Geico ad because it’s already over”. However at the point you’d expect the film to end, the actors stay paused mid-dinner and in shot – apart from the family dog who proceeds to cause chaos on the dinner table.

For Renato Fernandez, chief creative officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day, the six-second ad is a challenge, but one no more unsolvable creatively than traditional 30 or 60 second spots.

“When you think about it, there’s not enough time for you to develop a proper story [in six seconds],” he said. “But 30 seconds is not enough time as well, and 60 seconds is not enough time as well. What you need to do is be selective.

“Agencies and clients are less relevant for the audience than we were before considering the new medias. For example, on Netflix and Spotify you cannot find advertising at all. So we need to stop bullshitting and believing [engaging consumers on mobile] is easy … and change the game and adopt to this new reality. For me this whole logic is super exciting.”

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