Telling a Story in 6 Seconds

Ad formats need to evolve with changes in viewing habits and technology, especially video. YouTube has announced a new “bumper” ad format aimed at smartphone users who skew towards short-form video consumption. Bumpers are a six-second pre-roll ad unit, and are an important milestone in the evolution of mobile video.

YouTube’s product manager Zach Lupei describers bumpers as the “Haiku” of video ads. Much can be accomplished in three lines and 17 syllables, so six seconds of HD video is a vast canvas in comparison. This is a high-impact and unobtrusive way to get the audience’s attention. YouTube says early results have shown a “strong lift in upper funnel metrics like recall, awareness and consideration”, which sounds like a good start.

Can six seconds contain a beginning, middle and an end? I’m betting there are creative folks out there who are already working on this challenge. No doubt it will be an award category at Cannes in the near future. Certain types of content lend themselves well to the abbreviated format. For example, Atlantic Music created six second clips for the band Rudimental, which is enough time to showcase the melody and leave the listener wanting more.

For a bumper to be effective, it should brief, to the point and of course, vertical. Repurposing web video doesn’t do this format justice. Brands should unleash their agencies’ creativity to really get the most out of it. Vertical ad units need vertical content and while there’s limited availability today, Snapchat and Elisabeth Murdoch’s new company Vertical Networks are leading the charge in terms of content production.

Something that could hamper effectiveness is mobile network constraints. Users will be impatient if the six second ad takes five seconds to start streaming. Millennials have a notoriously low tolerance for buffering, only prepared to wait milliseconds for video to start playing. This could be solved by preloading the ad units, allowing an instant start at the highest quality. Predictively preloading a day’s worth of ads when the user is on wifi would increase fill rates and is something the industry needs to start exploring as the majority of video consumption heads to mobile.

Smartphones are the primary media platform of a whole generation, particularly when it comes to video #streaming. Mobile deserves its own unique ad unit, like every other platform. Six-second ads are a step in the right direction, but to be successful, they can’t be simply a recut derivative of other campaigns/platforms. They need to be built from the ground up to take advantage of the creative possibilities imposed by the time and screen-size restraints. It might even be the start of a whole new way of storytelling.

P.S. Now I can’t resist attempting a Haiku. Yes I know it’s lame but I’m on a long flight. Feel free to add your own versions in comments.

A video, searched.
Vertical ad, fleeting by.
I resume watching.

Mark Adams is CEO of Incoming Media, a startup based in Menlo Park, CA and Sydney. We’re enabling new business models for mobile operators and OEMs using video and intelligent network utilization.

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