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Six sells – Adam Ferrier on attention, measurement and the six second ad


Six sells – Adam Ferrier on attention, measurement and the six second ad


To clear up a year of experimentation with ad formats, Marketing speaks with Adam Ferrier about six-second ads – how they fit into a world of measurement, why they work, and when.

At June’s World of Unmissable event, consumer psychologist and Thinkerbell founder Adam Ferrier delivered an introductory presentation on six-second advertisements and films, as well as other marketing comms that deliver impact in limited amounts of engagement and time.

Why six seconds? “Very often it’s all you have,” he said.

According to Ferrier, “every single piece of creative we create is all about trying to change people’s behaviour,” and there are only two ways to do it: increase their motivation, or make it easier for them to do it.

“Motivation is creating a desire that someone is likely to act upon. Ease is around creating mental and physical availability and making it easier for your brand to be chosen over the other.”

For those in the audience, he offered a reality check: “99.9% of the time your consumer does not give a flying rats about your brand. They don’t care, they’re thinking about something else completely.” This is the ‘passive consideration’ stage.

“Then something happens. There’s a trigger. The trigger doesn’t occur for your brand. The trigger occurs for the category: I need a drink, I want a new car, I’m hungry, I need nappies, I want a home loan.”

The role of 99.9% of communications, he said, is to get the brand and message stuck into their head at this stage.

“What we need to do from most of our media buy is grab mental availability, so the brand sticks into their head when the category needs get hit and then, hopefully, to make it easier for them to buy your brand over somebody else.”

“Six seconds – or less – is probably enough to do that,” he said.

“If you constantly want to be in their head, you can take a second and a half, you could take a few milliseconds.”

Ferrier paraphrased Byron Sharp’s recommended use and spread of an annual media budget. “You should take your media budget, divide it by 12, and spend approximately one twelfth of your media budget every month. Sophisticated, hey?

“That’s how to make things easier. Be in people’s heads. Create saliency. Whenever the category needs get triggered, your brand is available.”

Marketing speaks with Ferrier about how short and simple communications fit into marketing, and what’s going on in the six-second landscape.


Marketing: What are the strengths and weaknesses of long and short form content?

adam_ferrier_150 BWAdam Ferrier: There’s a fair amount of evidence that lots of advertising works via what’s roughly called ‘low involvement processing’, where you don’t have to be consciously engaged with the communications in order for the communications to have an effect.

Marketers, I guess at some level, have known this for a long time. It’s about getting impressions in the consumer’s mind. And so, back in the day when media was very, very cheap, most ads were 60 seconds long and they were effective. Then, TV advertising was able to chop that down to 30 and to 15, and both of those are effective as well.

What has been interesting with digital video and where that’s heading, is stretching how short an ad can be versus the level of effectiveness it has. If you take on board the idea that lots of advertising works via low involvement processing, then the ad that we’re seeing can be pretty short in order to still have an impact.

In an analogue media world, these conversations would not have been had, because it was just really hard to have an ad under 15 seconds play out and then be researched. Apart from a few rare ‘stunty’ kinds of thing, they weren’t the norm. It feels like technology is catching up to the science a little bit and starting to investigate – and it’s certainly still early days – but it looks like shorter form ads can have similar effectiveness at doing a certain job in the communications mix than longer form ads.


Can short form ads work on their own, or should they form part of a media mix?

Byron Sharp talks about laws of marketing, and I still can’t quite get my head around something as complicated and nebulous as marketing and human behaviour having hard and fast laws that apply under all conditions. The context of every marketing challenge is so different.

It kind of depends on what your current brand is, who’s consuming your brand, the relationship they have with it, and so on. So, I wouldn’t necessarily subscribe to saying there’s one way to do things, but what I do find useful is the whole concept of people having passive consideration for your brand when they’re not really in the market and active consideration for your brand when they’re evaluating it.

After that it becomes a matter of looking at ways of building retention, where once they’ve purchased they want to keep on purchasing your brand, and dividing things into those three clusters.

I think the concept of low involvement processing, or topping up salience in the mind is probably most effective at the passive consideration stage, which is where people spend 99 percent of their time – when most people, most of the time are not thinking about you.


Do you lean towards the long form or short form format?

I lean towards a mix of both. One of the things that’s troubled me is I’ve always believed that action changes attitude faster than attitude changes action, and if you can get people to act or interact or talk or pass on a certain message… You know, you can loosely call that ‘fame-based’ communications that generates its own sense of momentum in the media.

That’s the Holy Grail, but I think in and of itself it’s hard to do that continually, day in, day out, en masse. That kind of communications needs to be supported with doing the simple stuff and maintaining saliency for as long as possible, through being always on or always visible or audible to the consumer. So, a lot of the time, having a combination of the two seems to work well.


Many believe attention spans are declining. Are these short form communications more likely to work as we try to secure the attention of a disengaging audience, or has there always been potential?

I don’t think there’s much evidence to suggest we have a lowering attention span. I think our attention spans are pretty much what they’ve always been, but it’s a pretty hard thing to measure. What’s interesting is there’s so much data available now. It’s kind of like data is a little bell that keeps ringing and getting your attention, and then we keep on focusing on optimising on stuff that has a direct response or a measurable response.

This leads us into one form of communications, which is response-driven communications, where you can measure if it’s working and who’s responding or not. Then we try to spend a lot of our time optimising that, potentially at the expense of broadcast communications that are harder to measure.

If you believe the likes of Byron Sharp and so on – that the value of broadcast communications in maintaining saliency with the mass market – then it feels like that is being forgotten about with the obsession over data and performance-based media. But this is a complicated thing.

You can get simple and wonderful into six seconds or less. What’s interesting is that everyone’s well and truly aware of the value of static media, but also, where outdoor as a concept is heading, and how it can be even more contextually relevant and create value for the consumer in current, contemporary, relevant situations is interesting.




Further Reading:

Ben Ice

Ben Ice was MarketingMag editor from August 2017 - February 2020

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