Brand interest in both long-form and super-short digital video revved up in 2017, a duality that is likely to endure in the months ahead as strategies gel around capturing the attention of online consumers.
In 2017, marketers spent 2x as much on online video than they did on TV ads, according to a recent report from Magisto. While standard 30-second ads aren't going away, brands are increasingly experimenting with a wide array of video formats that push extremes length-wise. Video ads lasting less than 10 seconds are grabbing the attention of younger demographic groups that many brands covet, and their cross-platform ability is a significant bonus, suggesting shorter ads will proliferate in 2018.
However, long-form shouldn't be counted out. With the rise of VR and a trend toward consumers spending more time watching video online, there's a whole new opportunity for brands to fully immerse viewers into a story while keeping the product placement subtle. Below, Marketing Dive takes a look at last year's standout examples on both ends of the length spectrum, and the lessons marketers can take away as they ramp up their video production:
The long view
The best brand videos over 90 seconds evoke some sort of emotion or deeper meaning. They give people a reason to actually watch a video in its entirety — not always an easy accomplishment in an age when attention spans are getting shorter. The content draws viewers in with an interesting concept or prominent celebrity and tells a fleshed-out story. With some of the best ones, it can be hard to tell if the content was even created by a brand. These videos act more like mini-movies, where the product being promoted blends in and doesn't have to be in viewers' faces at all times.
As interest in longer videos grows, there is a need for fleshed-out industry standards for how these formats are bought and sold as advertising. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and 4A's (American Association of Advertising Agencies) are attempting to address this with an addendum to their terms and conditions around long-form video — the first such update since 2009. The new guidelines are aimed at reducing delays and expenses commonly associated with preparing multiple, custom agreements, a current industry norm.
Marriott's "Two Bellmen" series is an oft-cited example of a brand finding success with a longer video format. In the series, the product being promoted — in this case, a Marriott hotel — serves as the location that's integrated into the story in a way that feels seamless. But the benefits here can be relevant to all kinds of marketers.
"We have clients that swear by long-form video," Adam Cohen Aslatei, senior director of marketing at Jun Group, told Marketing Dive. "We see chart-topping video completion rates of 90% plus with 3% to 6% of people taking a post-view action."
Many of Jun's pharmaceutical and entertainment clients prefer the long-form format, while retail, CPG and QSR clients have become interested in short-form videos, Aslatei said.
Stretching things out
Lowe's, in one of the most interesting long-form ads of 2017, capitalized on two trends for its Black Friday campaign: escape-the-room games and DIY shows on platforms like YouTube. In a 17-minute video, teams of DIY influencers try to build their way out of an escape room using only Lowe's discounted products, hidden throughout the room, and one tool each was allowed to bring along. The result attracted a wide audience, with over 5.7 million YouTube hits.
To capitalize on the holiday period, Old Spice similarly took its wacky ads to the next level with a video titled "Ye Olde Exploding Yule Log." Ripping on traditional sentimental holiday ads, the video — which runs almost an hour — is filled with explosions, brand spokesman Terry Crews and flat-out weirdness. That mix of absurdity and humor appeared to be a bid to attract the millennial crowd, with plenty of GIF-able moments to share on social media.
Short and sweet
Successful short videos need to be both interesting and strike a chord with viewers in 10 seconds or less, which is a challenge. For brands, the format makes sense because it can be used on all sorts of platforms — YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. However, this format isn't ideal for all businesses and mainly works for established products or ones that make an impact fast. Such ads are also often best catered toward the types of younger crowds that jump around between different platforms.
One appeal of the format for marketers is the creative ways a series of super-short ads can be strung together to either lead up to a big reveal or combine into a longer story. They take on an episodic quality in this way, making viewers excited to see what comes next. Brand-building tech lab MadValley Group has found that short video ads that don't require sound to communicate a message and that are vertically-oriented and shareable are proving successful on social media.
"On the video front, we are seeing a big uptick in social video," Sanjay Pothen, CEO of MadValley, told Marketing Dive.
Working with the video agency Neeba, MadVally used social video to help HP activate its sponsorship of the Black Hat information security conference in Las Vegas, pointing to short video's potential in the B2B sector.
"Our video team cinematically documented and edited footage after each day of the three-day conference," Pothen said. "These short-form videos highlighted the experience at Black Hat. These videos were then posted on HP's social channels. The next day, we ran analytics on these videos and used the learnings to inform the next day’s production strategy."
Such examples highlight short-from video's ability to rapidly evolve to engage a brand's audience, Pothen said.
No time to waste
The best short ads make the most out of what are extremely limited time constraints, but just because the length is truncated doesn't mean the volume or reach has to be. For example, Yoplait created 32 different six-second ads to retarget viewers who had seen a longer video with messaging customized to their online behavior.
Duracell also tried its hand at short-form video content last year. The brand's six-second spots made YouTube's leaderboard for the top bumper ads and gained traction with viewers by keeping things simple and iconic, using a sound associated with the brand and basic imagery to get its point across.
In the end, whether brands choose to go long or be brief, real success will boil down to the strength of the storytelling.
"[The] video has to tell a cohesive story, an engaging story, and be targeted to the right person on the right platform," Jun Group's Aslatei said.