How long does it take to change someone’s mind about your brand in a video ad? Should you rush to tell your story to avoid getting tuned out, or should you embrace a longer format to build a more captivating story? Google partnered with Mondelez International to find out.
The standard TV ad in the “Mad Men” era was 60 seconds long. To bring more advertisers to the platform, networks first offered 30-second ads, and then 15-second ads to serve advertisers with smaller budgets. As a result, ad length became a function of price, not attention or effectiveness.
TV ad research has established that 15-second TV ads are roughly 75% as effective as 30-second spots.1 And they’re half the cost. So it’s no surprise that 15-second ads are so common on TV, and that 60-second spots are few and far between.
But what about length and effectiveness on YouTube? Previous research has shown that there is a consistent relationship between how long an ad is viewable and increases in brand awareness and consideration. And we’ve found that viewers are certainly willing to watch longer ads: The average length of ads on the APAC YouTube Ads Leaderboard in 2015 averaged over four minutes—an increase of 63% vs. 2014. And only one of the top ads in 2014 and 2015 were under a minute.
Does that mean that on YouTube, longer is stronger? In this Unskippable Labs experiment, we bring a little data to the art of storytelling and explore how the length of an ad can affect brand lift metrics. We partnered with Mondelez International and Droga5 to test real ads for Honey Maid.
A study in video advertising: “Go short or go long”
We tested three cuts of varying length using TrueView, YouTube’s skippable ad format. Then we measured how people responded to the ads in two critical ways: what people chose to watch (whether they watched 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or more; how long they watched the longer cuts) and how that impacted the brand (ad recall and brand favorability) via a Brand Lift study. All three ads celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month and feature members of the Gomez family, focusing on their experience as immigrants in America and their love of family. Each ad has a different balance of story, product, and brand.
Here are the three ads we tested:
The 15-Second Cut
The shortest version of the ad, with a voice-over from the father, includes scenes of the family together and ends with the brand’s logo and tagline. The product appears at the six-second mark, and either the product or logo is present for a total of five seconds, or 33% of the total runtime.
The short length of this YouTube ad will make it less skippable, without sacrificing the narrative or brand lift effectiveness. The balance of story and brand in a concise format will hold the viewer’s attention and create a connection to Honey Maid.
The 30-Second Cut
The longer cut gives more detail and dimension to the story, with scenes of the father heading to work and the family playing together. While the longer format adds more Honey Maid product shots, the relative amount of explicit branding is roughly the same as the 15-second version. The product first appears at the 11-second mark, and either the product or logo is present for 10 seconds, or 30% of the total runtime.
This video will draw viewers in with a more in-depth story, and is still relatively short. It is the best of both worlds—short enough to keep viewers entertained and long enough to create a meaningful impression.
The Long Cut (2:17 runtime)
The longest version adds further depth to the family’s story. In addition to the father, the viewer hears from the mother, daughter, and grandmother (who speaks in Spanish). Like the other ads, the themes of family and celebration are highlighted. The product does not appear until 1:17, and either the product or logo is present for only 12 seconds, or just under 9% of the overall runtime.
The long-form version builds tension by illuminating some of the Gomez family’s struggles, which adds a richness to the final scenes of celebration. The layered story that reveals more facets to the family will pull viewers in and keep them engaged.
Findings from “Go short or go long”
Here’s what we found when we looked at which of the three ads people chose to watch (and for how long), and how that impacted the brand:
1. Longer may be stronger.
The longer cuts were both watched more than the 15-second ad, with the 30-second ad the least skipped, and the 15-second ad the most skipped. While all three versions performed well above Mondelez International benchmarks, the 30-second ad had the highest view-through rate (VTR). In fact, its VTR was 30% higher than that of the 15-second spot.
The longer-form ads were also both more effective in lifting brand favorability than the 15-second ad. The extra depth and dimension of more complex stories created a more meaningful connection to the brand. For brands moving beyond simple awareness, a longer story may be necessary to persuade people to change how they think.
2. Connect length to goals, not just economics.
The 15-second ad was the only one to drive significant ad recall across all three cuts. For brands with a focus on awareness, the short format can be both effective and efficient. Shorter formats can raise awareness, keep the brand top of mind, and create signals that drive important behaviors such as search. But it’s worth pondering the gap in performance between ad recall and favorability. Is a knockout performance in ad recall important for brands if it doesn’t also impact brand favorability? Make sure what you’re measuring is connected to your business goal, and don’t assume that good performance in one area—like recall—is helping you in others. Ground decisions about length in your strategy; people will watch (and be persuaded by) longer stories.
3. Don’t leave your brand for last.
If you are telling longer stories, don’t leave your brand to the very end. Even for the most compelling ads, you will lose some of your audience as the story unfolds.
For example, only about 15% of viewers watched the longest video ad all the way through2—which is more than 2X typical benchmarks for consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) videos of this length3—but still a limited subset of everyone exposed to the ad.
The brand did not appear in any form until the 1:17 mark—meaning that viewers who skipped before that point had no chance to connect what they were watching to Honey Maid. To maximize the connection to the brand, find ways to create that connection as the story unfolds. But don’t just pop your logo up. Our research about creative choices shows that this reduces the view-through rate. Instead, create the story in a way that weaves the brand throughout.
The good news for all of us is that attention spans aren’t simply shrinking down to nothing. A great story can still grab and hold an audience, even with the skip button ever-present. The challenge is the same now as it was in the beginning of advertising: to figure out how to blend story and brand successfully. This has never been tougher, as we’re now competing to reach people who are hit with thousands of messages a day from every direction. This media pressure can lead brands to feel like everything needs to be faster, faster, faster. But, as this experiment showed, making ads shorter doesn’t get them more attention—it may get them even less. With a great story, brands can take the time to create a connection and change a mind.
What Virtual Reality Will Mean for Advertising
VR for everyone
Virtual reality used to be the stuff of science fiction. Today, it’s become a true reality. Why now? For one, the ubiquity and quality of mobile devices. With a simple piece of cardboard, we can now turn our smartphones into virtual reality headsets. Google has shipped millions of Google Cardboard viewers to help bring the VR experience to everyone. And, viewer in hand, there’s no shortage of content to watch. Every single video on YouTube can be viewed in VR, making it the world’s largest library of VR content.
This is giving many people all over the world their first taste of VR, and mainstream interest is growing; global search interest for virtual reality on Google has grown by nearly 4X in the last year.4
The technology has the potential to change our daily lives—from how we communicate to how we spend our leisure time. It’s early days, but it’s already happening, and now is the time for brands and creators to understand what it all means.
The promise of VR
Film used to be the most immersive storytelling medium. But even with the best, highest-resolution TVs, you’re still just watching. You’re not there. The promise of VR is what the industry calls “presence”—the feeling that you’re really somewhere else. VR cameras like Jump can capture the entire experience of a place—every corner, every angle. In the not-so-distant future, cameras like these will be capturing experiences all over the world. What does this mean for audiences? How about access to the best seats in the house at any event—floor seats at the NBA playoffs, a box at La Scala, front row at the Beyoncé show? Or the chance to visit the most beautiful places on earth, from the comfort of home? It’s the closest thing we have to teleportation, enabling deeper engagement than has ever been possible.
VR can also create a time machine of sorts. If we start recording the most interesting things that happen this year, then 20 years from now, we’ll be able to go back and experience it like we were there. These could be major global events or personal moments—a birthday party, a wedding, a first day of school. We’ll collect these memories like we do photographs—able to relay or relive them in an intensely vivid way.
At Google, Cardboard was our first step toward this future. Soon, our VR platform Daydream will enable even more powerful, mobile, high-quality experiences with a headset that’s comfortable at an accessible price. We’re also building mobile apps for VR like Google Play, Maps, and YouTube. To get a better sense of what VR is exactly, YouTube is actually a good place to start.
360-degree video vs virtual reality
On YouTube, we made a big, early bet on 360-degree video. This means viewers can see the video from every angle just by swiping or moving the phone or tablet around—no headset required. Uploads of 360-degree videos continue to grow and have doubled over the past three months.5 Brands are forging the way, using 360-degree video to film big events or get creative with ads. BMW used this technology for an ad featuring a 360-degree car race. The “School of Rock” musical created a 360-degree music video. AT&T simulated a car crashto drive home its phone safety message.
Virtual reality takes the 360-degree video experience a step further by adding depth. When viewed with a VR headset—not far from those red View-Masters you might have used as a kid—images become three-dimensional, which adds to the feeling of immersiveness. On top of that, spatial audio lets people listen to audio from all directions, just as in the real world.
The story is everywhere
For content creators, the potential of 360-degree video and VR is immense, but it’ll require a shift in thinking. VR lets viewers be active participants; they can look wherever they want. As Google’s principal VR filmmaker Jessica Brillhartputs it, the story is everywhere. So, rather than telling a story frame by frame, filmmakers need to build entire worlds.
This makes VR and 360-degree video an incredibly powerful tool to create empathy. When a viewer feels like they are there, they have a greater sense of the situation. Messages become more impactful.
On YouTube, creators are using the medium to create truly transportive experiences across sports, news, education, and fashion. Viewers can feel that tickle in their stomach when sitting in the cockpit of a jet in an acrobatic air squadron. The New York Times puts viewers in the shoes of displaced childrenaround the world. Virtual field trips let teachers take students places a school bus can’t. Fashionistas can get a front row seat at the latest runway shows from Jason Wu, Hugo Boss, and Dior.
Artists are doing mind-blowing work with Tilt Brush, our new VR app that lets a user paint in 3-D space. It does away with the flatness of the page and lets an artist step into the drawing, as Disney animator Glen Keane describes it. “That doorway to the imagination is open a little wider,” he says.
Four questions for brands interested in VR
Virtual reality is no longer a novelty. It has real applications for brands today. But is it worth pursuing?
Here are some questions brands should consider before investing in VR technology:
Will VR give viewers an experience that they otherwise couldn’t have? The subject matter should truly take advantage of the medium—transport people to a place, immerse them in a world, and compel them to explore.
Could you give shoppers a better feel for your product? According to a study from Ericsson ConsumerLab, shopping was the top reason worldwide smartphone users were interested in VR, with “seeing items in real size and form when shopping online” cited by 64% of respondents. This doesn’t just apply to retail brands. Cadillac is already using VR to create virtual dealerships.
Will your recording environment be rich with things to see? If you’re shooting in a simple white room with nothing on the walls, probably not. If you’re at a sports event or a music festival, there’s likely plenty to see.
Will viewers want to continue watching beyond the initial “That’s cool” moment? It can be a challenge to get viewers to stick around after a minute or so. Make sure you have a compelling hook that will keep them engaged.
It’s now been just over two years since the launch of Google Cardboard. What started out as a small project undertaken by a couple of people at Google’s Cultural Institute in France, has become the beachhead of VR’s invasion of the mainstream, with more than 5 million Cardboards now distributed around the world.
And while Cardboard brought instant scale to the technology side of the VR equation, YouTube has been doing the same for VR content. Starting with the launch of 360 Video in March 2015, YouTube embarked on a rapid series of innovation in both technology and formats, most recently launching 360 Live Video, and 360 TrueView for advertisers. With the recent support of Cardboard mode for iOS, watch-times have increased four-fold, expanding the global availability of VR even further.
“We’ve got great devices, but at the end of the day, nobody buys devices, they buy experiences – so we care very, very much about creating great content for these platforms.”
A new platform is only as good as its content, and as Aaron reminded the audience, ‘people buy experiences, not devices’. With that in mind, Google has invested heavily in Jump, which combines camera technology, cloud-based image stitching, and distribution on YouTube, all in one uniform specification. Vastly simplifying what used to be a process with many moving parts, Jump promises to democratise the creation of VR content, opening up the medium to a whole new audience of film-makers. Already, hardware partners like GoPro have started working with Jump, producing camera rigs that will work seamlessly with the new standard.
YouTube has also been driving the growth of VR content through partnerships, working with Buzzfeed, the New York Times, and the NBA to bring VR video to popular categories like news and sport. Jump cameras have also been installed in YouTube Spaces around the world, in cities such as London, Los Angeles and Sao Paolo, allowing YouTube’s most innovative creators to collaborate and get to grips with the new technology.
Most recently, at Google I/O in May 2016, the future of mobile VR for Google was announced. Building on the model established by Cardboard, Daydreamtakes things further, with more comfortable headsets designed for long-form viewing, and an intuitive handheld controller to deepen interaction. The YouTube UI is being completely rethought for this new medium, bringing 360 and VR content to the forefront, and making full use of Daydream’s enhanced feature-set.
With its scale in technology and content distribution, partnerships with great storytellers and film-makers, and the innovations of Jump and Daydream, YouTube has kept hold of its head start, and is a clear leader in Virtual Reality. But in closing, Aaron reminded the audience that first doesn’t mean finished – there’s definitely a whole lot more to come from YouTube VR.
YouTube data, U.S., August 2015.
Google, Custom Brand Lift Survey, U.S., September 2015.
Communicus Inc., “15 Second vs. 30 Second Commercials,” October 6, 2014.
Google data, brand reference point calculator, U.S., 2016.
Google data, CPG benchmarks for TrueView by length, U.S., 2015.
Google Data, Global, May 2016.
YouTube Data, June 2016.
Article Courtesy Google – Google APAC, on ‘In Video Advertising, Is Longer Stronger?‘ Written by Creative Director, Google.
Article Courtesy Google – Google APAC, on ‘What Virtual Reality Will Mean for Advertising‘ Written by Head of Partnerships, VR at Google.