January 8 | 2020

Shortcutting video: 2-second ads are more effective

Menno van der Steen, Chief Data & Tech Officer Mediabrands

In 2019, Mediabrands Marketing Sciences and Sanoma conducted extensive research into the effects of short viewing behavior and ultra-short advertisements. Message and brand transfer were measured by means of EEG and eye-tracking. It turns out that an ultra-short spot is able to convey the brand, product and message much better than the first seconds of a regular spot.

In collaboration with the neuroscientists of UnRavel Research, a broad number of ultra-short branded videos were tested. With a 2 second spot, 90% of viewers recognize the product (versus 46% after the first two seconds of the original long commercial), 98% see which brand it is (versus 47%) and 70% understand the message (versus 25%).

There are several factors behind this behavior:

People skip advertising

Many video messages from advertisers are clicked away after a few seconds. That’s a shame because after being on the screen for 2 seconds, you have to pay for it, according to the widely used IAB standard. Is it possible to communicate something in 2 seconds and if so what? And is that just as valuable and meaningful as a longer message?

Generate impact with short, shorter, shortest …

On average, 20-30” spots on Facebook and Instagram are viewed by 39% of viewers for just 2-3 seconds. Procter and Gamble’s CEO Marc Pritchard indicated in AdAge that the average online ad viewing time is only 1.7 seconds. And that only 20% of advertisements are given attention for longer than 2 seconds. The new sport in advertising will become how to convey a message in a very short time.

Suppose you have made a 30 or 60″ video commercial, how do you ensure that the story is communicated as well as possible in the first 2 seconds? Or even better, the whole story is told? And which elements do you have to keep when editing down that 30″ video to a 6″? Luckily Neuroscience can help in this process.


Two studies on the impact of ultra-short advertising

The first study investigated the effect that the first two seconds of regular video expressions have on consumers. What do people pick up from the first 2 seconds of average online video ads before they swipe away? 

It shows that without a product and brand identifier, on average only 25% of people understand the message. So if you use a regular commercial online, a large group that sees this commercial for the first 2-3 seconds will have no idea what it is about. This means that an advertiser pays for nothing and throws money away. In short, it is a no brainer that you should optimize the first seconds of all video ads.

The second study is a neurology study in which ultra-short 2″ and 6″ edits of regular video advertisements have been tested using EEG and eye-tracking on brand recognition and engagement. Two editing strategies were tested. In one version, regular expressions have been edited on the basis of “human” insight. In the second version, neurological insights have been used. This resulted in two sets of ultra-short videos: human edits, where a creative team determined the most engaging and meaningful images of the longer expression, and neuro-edits, based on insights from neuroscience.


What does the Shortcutting Video study teach us?

 A brand identifier is essential in the first seconds

If a long video expression does not have a brand (or product) identifier in the first 2 seconds, the effect is that with short exposure, more than 90% of people have no idea what it is about. They cannot provide feedback on a product, brand or message.

Advertising length matters

Advertising length is by far the most determining factor in the explicit and implicit measures of advertising effectiveness. Although the long commercial is king in the explicit transfer of product and message, 2 seconds already proves to be very effective for activating a brand and thereby stimulating attention and positive emotion. 


Edit short messages and optimize the first seconds of long spots

Compared to just the first 2 seconds of a longer existing spot versus a special edit, the difference in effect is huge. With a 2-second spot, 90% recognizes the product (versus 46% of the first two seconds of the original spot), 98% sees which brand it is (versus 47%) and 70% understands the message (versus 25%). This is a huge improvement and very valuable!


Neuro-insight helps to make the right choice when editing

Interpreting neuroscientific research is challenging to say the least. The neuro-edit leads to the highest product and brand recognition for both the 2 and 6-second spots. This is probably because the neuro data easily designate the most optimal brand identifier. 

In terms of message transfer, the human edit wins in the 2″ version. With the 6” edit the neuro-edit is again more effective to communicate the message. The neuro-edits are also rated slightly higher by the viewers. Interestingly enough, if we look at neuro metrics (desire and commitment), then the human edit beats the neuro-edit.

Brands can also be built with short expressions

Although short commercials score relatively lower on classic measures of advertising valuation such as originality, fun, and recognition, we actually see the highest degree of attention and attraction in the brain. This is also reflected in the highest score on brand recognition for the 2-second ads. 

The 2-second video is not the ultimate means to convey a complex message, but it certainly does good things to effectively grab attention for the brand and to charge it positively. The future of video advertising is short, combined with long (but the latter is a different subject that we will research more in 2020).


New creative challenges

The domain of forced ad exposures, where we know people will skip, ignore or swipe as much as they can, is a new creative arena. We are convinced that there is a place for great advertising in ultra-short formats.

The human brain is capable of recognizing and processing a lot of information in 2 seconds. Especially after seeing other assets from an advertiser. With a short trigger, memory is re-activated and come to life. 

Modern-day creatives will have to redefine the thinking behind effective ads and storytelling online. We already know how much creativity is in animated GIFs and TikTok filters and boomerangs. Time to bring these into more conventional domains as well!


To recap: things to consider

Wonder what to do with the research results? Create a toolkit with a range of edits to further test the impact on your campaign:

  • Short ads telling short stories
  • Short ads triggering the recall of longer stories
  • Short ads seducing into long content 


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