The rise of the 5-second ad format

Last weekend saw soft drink giant Mountain Dew take their animated 5-second Vine videos away from social media platforms and into ‘normal’ TV broadcasts for the very first time. They aren’t the first global brand to experiment with the Vine-format – Dunkin Donuts and Virgin Mobile have both had a crack recently.

The adverts were simple stop-go motion videos, using the Mountain Dew bottles to recreate a skateboarding scene. The first advert ran on NBC – presumably during a skateboard-focused program – and the second, which ran at the weekend, has a NASCAR-theme and ran through ESPN’s coverage of the Talladega Superspeedway race in Alabama.

The format has been described as ‘snackable’ by AdWeek and a number of other commentators and is a reaction – or evolution – to the changing way that viewers are consuming TV. And being snackable, the production levels on the Vine adverts are low and thus potentially very cheap and quick to produce, allowing brand teams to be reactive to events. We’ve seen Oreo’s advertising and social media team react to the Super Bowl blackout during the blackout itself last year – short Vine or Instagram videos give creative teams the opportunity to do the same almost instantly.

This format delivers a solution that aligns with Kevin Spacey’s thoughts a few months ago that viewers want to ‘binge’ on TV, watching multiple episode or whole seasons in a short space of time, often a weekend or even a day. With that bingeing, the viewership wants access to that whole season in one go, and having that session continually interrupted by 90-second pockets of repeating ads is going to drive people to downloading the programs illegally. Perhaps the balance is these shorter formats?

Or perhaps there’s another idea completely? Rumours have also bounced around the internets for years that the much-anticipated and fabled Apple TV was going to have a standard aspect ratio of 21:9 (ultra widescreen) instead of the normal 16:9. This wasn’t in order to expand standard programs from 16:9, but to in fact have a space down the side of the screen to allow adverts to run continuously through programs. If this space did exist, five-second Vine-inspired loops might be ideal.

The challenge with this format, of course, is to build engagement and awareness in five seconds. But this is a massively exciting opportunity, mainly because of the story-telling opportunity that it presents. If consumers are sitting watching multiple episodes of a TV show, those episodes could have a parallel advertising narrative running through them. That would mean that your TV needs to drive the advertising itself, understanding what you’re watching and presenting the advertising accordingly. That’s a hideous thought for commercial TV channels with the limited understanding they have of who is watching them, but it’s an exciting opportunity for the likes of YouTube, Hulu and Netflix. How long before we tune in to see next episodes of a five-second Vine advertising marathon? What if those five-second clips are linked to an interactive component running on a second screen?

When Twitter arrived on the scene many users, advertisers and brands thought the 140-character format might be too restrictive to successful communicate engaging messages with. That’s not proved to be the case. The five-second advert will be the same. People will struggle to understand how to make the most of it at first, but eventually creative story-led communication will win the day.

Whether we’re developing huge, in-depth computer games, two-hour film epics, 30-second TV spots or five-second Vine loops, marketing and advertising is being driven by those that can present a story we engage with on multiple platforms. The five-second ad format is a new weapon in marketing that offers huge possibilities if done well.

Simon Dell
BY Simon Dell ON 21 October 2013
Simon is a former full-service agency managing director that ran for seven years and delivered for clients across Australia. He now runs his own digital consultancy SimonDell.com working with Australian businesses helping with online communication and creative strategies. Find Simon on Twitter at @IAmSimonDell, on LinkedIn at IAmSimonDell and Facebook at SwitchYourBusiness.