5 minutes may be the new long-form in mobile video

In mobile, conventional wisdom says shorter video is better. In just the past few weeks, several snackable campaigns have made trade headlines, including HBO’s 10-second Twitter tease for Game of Thrones, and Gap’s Instagram “micro-series,” which stretched an entire meet-cute across a dozen 15-second vignettes.

But long-form video has its champions, too. As connection speeds improve and audiences grow accustomed to streaming House of Cards during their morning commutes, advertisers and publishers see more wiggle room with length.

So which tactic works better for mobile ads? Our industry partisans weighed in.

It’s not the length, it’s what you do with it

This spring, Geico garnered a lot of industry buzz with its so-called “unskippable” pre-roll YouTube ads that laid out the brand message in the first five seconds. (The last few were a freeze frame with a humorous tag.) It was a crafty play to reach viewers who would rather skip and buffer than sit through an extra 5 seconds of advertising.

In-feed video, where video autoplays silently as users scroll past, also puts those first few seconds at a premium. “You have to kind of punch [viewers] in the face,” said Tom Dunlap, chief production officer at agency 72andSunny.

“In general, consumers’ attention spans have diminished substantially. The ability to communicate an idea in short quips is more effective,” said Megan McCurry, SVP Media, DigitasLBi. “We still have to have conversations to remind [creative teams] that those first five seconds is critical.”

Short-form video is where close-up framing, large text on screen and calls to action reign supreme, as in the GM/OnStar example below. Funny bits and how-to videos work well via short-form. Repurposed TV spots don’t, McCurry said.


Still, short-form may not be the place to try to tell your entire brand story.

“It’s hard to deliver much of anything in 5-6 seconds,” said Ted Ward, Geico’s vice president of marketing. Geico’s ads worked because its brand value-15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more–is so well-established even its 30-second spots admit, “everybody knows that.”

“It’s easier for a brand like ours where we do a lot of advertising,” he said.

More is more

In the early aughts, advertisers were falling over themselves trying to emulate BMW Films, a web-based series of 10-minute films directed by top Hollywood talent. Now, publishers are reviving the longer-form approach, and advertisers are following. At this month’s SXSW festival, TV maker Vizio premiered a 14-minute documentary at SXSW to show off its 4K technology.

Both of those examples fall within the IAB definition of long-form: 10 minutes or longer. But with social media pushing online video to 15-seconds and shorter, even a 2 minute ad is starting to feel incredibly long on a mobile device.

“You don’t get the depth of something [in shorter formats], and you could make the argument that people are craving that in this ADD-culture,” said FCB Chicago chief creative officer Todd Tilford. “With more emotional stories, it’s always nice to spend more time to get people to react to it.”

“The Game Before The Game,” from Beats by Dre and ad agency R/GA, with its sweeping airborne shots of Rio de Janiero and pounding bass soundtrack, “Jungle,” feels epic by online standards, despite being only 5-minutes long.

Short-form as a stepping stone

Ultimately, it’s not the size of the video, but the strategy behind it that matters, says FCB Chicago chief creative officer Todd Tilford. While he acknowledges one would be an “idiot” to ignore research pointing out the effectiveness of shorter video content, embracing it as an infallible rule would be just as foolish.

“Whatever length is going to get you there most powerfully is the best approach,” Tilford says. “You can start worrying about those ever-shifting platforms, but that can get in the way of a great strategy, which trumps those five seconds or two seconds every time.”

One such strategy is to use short-form to whet consumer’s appetite for more interaction. “[Short video] is a gateway,” 72andSunny’s Dunlap said. “What short-form video does, especially in the mobile space, is it gives us a gateway to longer-form content.”


The Carl’s Jr. ad above, created by 72andSunny, does just that, moving from an in-feed execution to longer form content and then, giving users a chance to interact with more video.

“It’s producing content that speaks to them and they can get excited about,” Dunlap said. “If you can get someone to watch beyond five seconds, that’s the win.”


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