Shortcut to success or a fast road to nowhere? Six creatives discuss six-second ads

From left to right: Mick Mahoney, Matt Gay, Rebecca Rumble, Nathan Mallon, Laurence Thomson and Laura Jordan Bambach.

Are six-second ads a quickfire route to advertising success or a shortcut to nowhere? Six creatives have their say on the worth of the six-second format.

Laurence Thomson, chief creative officer, McCann London

Decades ago, in the heady days of the internet before your Facebooks and YouTubes, I came across an artist’s work. He placed a camera in hundreds of different locations at the same height and angle, set the timer for five seconds then pressed the shutter and ran away.

While I liked the result (not in a thumbs-up emoji way, just a plain old like), ask yourself: how far did he really get? When you look beyond the various different backgrounds and settings, he had only gotten so far in each image. I realized that initial ‘like’ was misplaced – they were inherently mundane, just a concept done over and over again. The sheer number of them made them interesting, but on second glance they became a wallpaper.

That’s kind of how I feel about the six-second ad. Its format is storytelling decoupled. It can only get you so far. It serves purely as a reminder of a feeling of a product. It’s an eyeworm, an extended blip, blink and you’ve missed it, pop for pop’s sake format. It’s not an in-depth, serious or poignant format; it’s a fun quick reminder. I’m not saying it doesn’t have a role, but the only way to really use six-second ads is within a complimentary rich mix of media. In isolation it is rarely used well. Unless you’re Oreo or Geico and you absolutely smashed it by making a virtue of the six seconds, you shouldn’t expect it alone to change a dial on your brand.

Daniel Bonner, global chief creative officer, Wunderman

“Bless me with the freedom of a tight brief,” goes the old saying. They are words (or thereabouts) I have uttered on frequent occasions and are highly appropriate for any discussion over a time-constrained format such as the six-second video. Does it work? Well sure. I mean, it can. If you need it to. In a one-way, linear, communication media, time is just one restraint and every single media channel and format has worked with a multitude of constraints since the dawn of time. Restrictions, rules and boundaries are the exact measures that cause ingenuity, courage and creativity to flourish. Is it the future of advertising? No. Does hyper-short, fragmented and atomized content have a role to play across numerous platforms and channels? Yes.

Matt Gay, creative director, Adam&Eve/DDB

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard ‘six second ads are the future’ in briefings or read it in articles over the past few months. It certainly has a role to play and undoubtedly offers new and exciting opportunities for creatives. It also encourages brands to be single minded in their messaging which can only be a good thing. And we know you can write a strong brand message for short dwell time – posters used to do it in three seconds! What troubles me is the belief that consumers switch off from longer formats because they’re too long. It’s nonsense. The audience switches off because the content isn’t engaging, entertaining or moving – because the idea’s not strong enough. If the idea in a six second ad is weak it won’t engage either. Idea is king. Always has been and always will be. That’s the future.

Laura Jordan Bambach, chief creative officer, Mr President

No single media has ever been ‘the future of advertising’. Practically every new format I’ve worked with over the last 20 years has made some claim for that crown only for it to be bestowed on the next shiny new thing. It’s the way of progress. Rather than asking whether six-second video works, we should be spending more thought on what clients’ needs are in the first place. Really scrutinize who the audience is and how much we need to articulate in the pursuit helping our clients’ brands to grow. If the answer is online video, then we have clients for whom long form content works incredibly effectively – like Miele. There are others where playful, short, pop bursts of film are the right choice – like Ballantine’s. The most important thing is to plan the video accordingly as there’s nothing worse than trying to do a six-second cut-down of a piece of film shot in the wrong aspect ratio/speed/framing, or simply stitching short films together to make a super-edit without planning the end result before the shoot.

Mick Mahoney, chief creative officer, Ogilvy UK

When it comes to six second video, it’s a workable format as part of a wider marketing mix but it isn’t the future of creative. Platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, for example, are increasingly turning towards longer form video, seeking TV-type content. Relying solely on six second video will not tell the full brand story or elevate your creative output in isolation.

Behaviors are changing on all platforms for the next generation of consumers. For instance, YouTube now has 85% of teenagers as regular users with the site now the second biggest search engine. The trend of audiences wanting short content are obsolete when it comes to Gen Z – viewers are actually eschewing quantity in favor of deeper, richer video experiences.

Rebecca Rumble, associate creative director, R/GA

The introduction of Snap and Instagram forced us to rethink the way we consume content and how we create content. When you make content that is like wallpaper and doesn’t punctuate the feed, people can sense it is marketing and switch off.

If you look at the Nike London ad, it’s a great big two min TVC but the way they shot it was modular. Each scene was a meme in itself that everyone wanted to share or recreate or remix. As brands we need to stop shouting at our consumers and instead rethink how we use short form and how to execute. The six second format works best for capturing the attention of a generation that has several screens open all at once.

Are creatives running out of time to connect with their audiences? The Drum explores the future of the six-second ad.

Learn more about the future of short and longform advertising in The Drum's video issue, out now.

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