Over the years, advertisers have seen the effectiveness of long-form videos in brand building and storytelling. But in today’s era of multi-screening, short-form videos are becoming the industry standard in capturing audience’s waning attention. So where does this leave video ad creators—short or long? Here’s the thing: they both work, and they work best together.
Over the last five years, nowhere has the rise of mobile-first consumers been more apparent than in Malaysia, and more broadly, Southeast Asia. With 88% of the population now owning smartphones, mobile has become Malaysians’ primary access point to the internet today.1 And while connection to devices and time spent online have increased,1 attention spans have not.
To address this trend, the industry has shifted toward short-form videos, such as the six-second bumper ads. Between the first two quarters of 2017, the use of bumper ads has increased 70% globally,2 and nine of the top 20 ads on the Bumper Ads Leaderboard this year originated from APAC.
Many of the brands that have shifted to short form have conducted studies demonstrating increased brand awareness and consideration due to short-form videos. However, long form has always been the preferred video ad format in Malaysia, with brands taking advantage of the longer duration to build emotional and complex narratives that drive long-term brand engagement. As a matter of fact, five of the top 10 ads on the Malaysia YouTube Ads Leaderboard halfway through 2016 were over two minutes long. But, with attention spans finite3 (or even decreasing) and screens small, is long form by itself a long-term solution?
In short, all signs point to long and short forms each having a place in the marketer’s toolkit. However, each form must respect consumers’ preferences at the specific stage of engagement.
During the early shifts to digital, the power of digital channels was that they provided a deeper level of engagement, inviting television audiences to choose to lean into brands that resonated with them by leading them online to find out more. For example, a traditional 30-second TV spot could lead to an optional, more engaging piece online that expanded the brand narrative with the audiences who had voluntarily chosen to seek out more about the brand.
With a billion hours globally of watch time each day on YouTube,4 it’s clear that consumers’ appetite for digital video is not slowing down. Brands need to ensure that they apply the same strategy that enables them to build and earn meaningful attention online. The strategy of forcing views of longer ads may not only disrupt the viewer's experience, it can also make building a lasting relationship impossible.
For example, we’ve seen that 30-second unskippable ads have a 35% higher abandonment rate than skippable formats.5 Consumers today have strong preferences and the power to act on those preferences. If ads don’t resonate or they’re not relevant, viewers will not pay attention.
Make short videos unskippable for awareness, long videos skippable for further engagement
First, a brand must respect consumers’ preferences by building awareness with short form and inviting deeper interactions with longer form. This means that the initial outreach is with skippable short form, such as six-second spots, to deliver awareness and amplification of the brand message, while being minimally obtrusive. Then, give the audience that’s seen your initial short-form ads a choice to view a longer brand message with a skippable format.
This pairing of lengths and sequencing leads to a win-win. Audiences have a positive experience with the content they are initially viewing, and marketers ensure their campaigns are efficient by only paying for ads that reach the customers who choose to watch them.
Success takes multiple forms
When Netflix APAC launched “Orange is the New Black” across Asia Pacific, it took a concerted strategy to tease, amplify, and echo across ad lengths. Prior to campaign launch, it tested 30-second and 15-second skippable ads, along with six-second unskippable bumper ads. All three ad lengths performed well in the test, achieving a +50% lift in ad recall. The bumper ad drove the highest product awareness with a 19% lift, well above the 10% lift that’s considered a hard-to-exceed benchmark. The interplay of formats allowed Netflix to engage, re-target, and re-engage its audiences in the lead-up to the show launch.
To launch its new Spicy Korean burger, McDonald’s Malaysia took a similar approach as Netflix by using shorter 12-second ads to tease and build awareness paired with a 46-second spot that invited further viewing. The content was inspired by Korean dramas and built out a series of videos based on the different characters which allowed viewers to go deeper into the story. Ultimately, the longer spot drove over 5X more views than the short-form video and had a 20% higher view-through rate than the industry benchmark.6 McDonald’s had so much success with its launch campaign that its stores actually ran out of the new burgers.
Celcom, a long-standing Malaysian mobile telecommunications company, sought to use a series of short videos over the course of the month of Ramadan to build emotional connections with its customers. The 30 short-form videos led to a longer story that was released after Hari Raya. This campaign led to over 8.3M views, 3.3M of which were of the nearly four-minute end-of-campaign video.
Celcom’s use of long and short videos allowed it to extend its campaign, keep its viewers engaged over the course of Ramadan, and more importantly, drive strong ad recall with a 13% uplift, with the strongest being among males aged 24–34. The campaign directly impacted the business, driving a 337% increase in post-paid signups and 30K redemptions of its 1GB Video Walla Hari Raya video offering.
It’s easy to get started, no matter the size of your campaign
No video or limited assets? Start with short form for fast, cost-effective development
Leading beauty brand Clinique faced a challenge because only top-tier launches benefited from a full range of creative assets. This left its team needing a to find a way to do more with less. Six-second bumper ads tend to perform best when they have a singular focus, which is a technique that Clinique’s creative team already used for its print ads. So, it decided to test a new approach that would transform print ads to bumper ads, therefore saving creative resources, time, and money.
Clinique launched three ad variations, and the topline results showed a relative ad recall lift of 69.4% and product awareness lift of 26.1%, which Clinique considered best-in-class for the beauty category. “Balloons,” the version that most closely resembled its original print ad, was the top performer of the three, driving a 42.8% relative lift in product awareness. Among Clinique's target 18–24 year-old audience, “Balloons” delivered a 93.7% relative lift in product recall and a 41.7% relative lift in product awareness.
Ready-made assets available for multiple marketing channels? Use non-skippable, short-form ads to amplify skippable long-form ads in campaigns
Fox Networks Group Asia (FNG), one of the most notable TV networks in the world, wanted to establish itself as a leader in the digital revolution amid increased competition. FNG took a very thoughtful approach to the rebrand of Fox Movies Premium to Fox Movies, mixing ad lengths and focusing on sequential storytelling. The brand started with 25-second skippable ads targeting movie lovers. Then it launched one-minute long trailers, again targeted to movie lovers. This combination of well-thought-out formats and targeting led to viewers watching 55 out of 60 seconds of their trailers on average.
FNG also used remarketing to reach viewers of previous ads with specific call-to-action videos. Just before new titles were launched, FNG would broaden its reach using YouTube mastheads and six-second bumper ads to maximize reach and amplification. This layered strategy led to incredible brand gains. The bumper ads achieved 23% incremental reach among movie lovers, and brand favorability also took off, increasing by 19% in Hong Kong.
The bottom line: planning, patience, and adaptation pays off
In a world of limited attention, successful marketers will build their brands incrementally over time, starting with small grabs at attention across a broad audience and then working their way up to larger requests across those who want to lean into their brand messages. Harvard Business School professor and brand consultant, Thales Teixeira, calls this the ladder of engagement. As Teixeira points out, there isn’t a magic formula for earning a potential customer’s attention. However, one thing’s clear about today’s campaigns: they provide marketers with a wealth of data in real time. The brands that ultimately earn consumers’ attention will do so by having strategies that are customer-centric, adaptive, and aimed at long-term engagement.