Cheil’s Russell Schaller: making the most of six seconds

Have you got a second? Thought not. Advertisers are all too familiar with a negative response from consumers, weary from being perpetually bombarded with content – so much so that the Internet Advertising Bureau defines a viewable impression as one where 50 per cent of an ad appears on screen for more than one second.

It’s a pretty low bar, but one that is becoming increasingly hard to hit. Add to that the fact that Facebook defines a video view as a desultory three seconds and, as Andrew Robertson, worldwide president and CEO of BBDO, pointed out during his presentation at Cannes Lions, long-form content is now looking like anything that’s over 15 seconds.

Robertson presented some interesting theories around how to get the most out of the little time available to brands, but the truth is that only great creativity is ever going to win out.

Although there’s no reason why you can’t pack great creativity into a split second – speedy advertising doesn’t have to be a miserable tale of cutting back and limiting your message. It can actually be quite a lot of fun to take on the challenge and face up to the discipline, and there are always a few principles and parameters that can help focus the mind and make a virtue out of what might be considered by some as a vice.

The best writers are often the most economical with words, and although a novel won’t work in six seconds, you might be able to tell a (very) short story in that time, especially in digital: we all read text that flashes up on screen much more quickly than we read the printed word, and much faster than we can listen to speech.

And the principle of simplicity and of being sparing with your expression and of creativity applies to every format – all the way back to William Morris and his rule that everything you own should be either beautiful or useful.

Robin Wight, who was one of Robertson’s mentors in his early days, had some good advice that he cooked up even before the arrival of the internet. He wisely suggested that instead of taking a film and shortening it, it’s better to think of a poster and make it move.

That way you can play with adding in creative touches and coming up with ideas that will appeal to the audience, like bringing a print ad to life rather than compressing a movie into a commercial. It’s a way to make the format your friend rather than your enemy, which has been done to great effect by brands like Dunkin Donuts, whose “snack sized ad” campaign featured characters who knew their time was running out.

Or Australian department store Myers, which pushed the idea of FOMO as a sales tool to its limits by giving people six seconds to click on an offer of a substantial discount. The products were targeted using sophisticated data, and if the consumer didn’t click, the offer was gone forever.

The ephemeral nature of online advertising isn’t so different to print ads. You can flick through a magazine very fast, and drive by a motorway hoarding at whatever speed you are prepared to risk, and both these media have inspired some of the best, classic advertising that is still held up as a gold standard today.

Now that Instagram and Facebook are mainstream ad platforms and effective ways to interact with consumers, Wight’s advice is even more relevant. Users scroll through an average of 300 feet of content a day – that’s the height of the Statue of Liberty – so to get them to pause for even six seconds on a brand is a monumental challenge for marketers. But it’s one to relish, as long as you approach it in the right spirit.

Russell Schaller is ECD of Cheil London.

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