Spring 2018


Six Is the New 30

Is the micro ad, prevalent during recent marquee sporting events, a passing fad or a wave of the future? Some experts weigh in


Much of what director Brett Froomer has seen in the six-second realm has been whittled down from longer ads. (Photo: Courtesy Brett Froomer)

Fans of The Walking Dead saw six-second ads for Xbox in front of episodes of the AMC zombie drama last fall, and viewers of the recent Winter Olympics caught mini-commercials for Toyota during that marquee sports event on NBC. These come on the heels of snacksized spots in 2017's Teen Choice Awards and this past season's Major League Baseball and NFL games on Fox.

If predictions from media watchers are accurate, six-second commercials will be even more prevalent in the year ahead as television networks experiment with their ad formats and brands seek to grab consumers' ever-fleeting attention.

Commercial director Grady Hall has noticed the trend but admitted to having mixed feelings about the short-form commercial, which he thinks can be an entrée to more substantial work but doesn't count "as a full engagement."

"It's a moment, a hook, a tease," says Hall, whose 2016 campaign for Turkish Airlines around the Euro Cup started with a 30-second hero spot but also featured three-to-10-second snippets he shot that showcased the sponsor brand's in-flight amenities in a sports stadium setting. "It's more than a beat, but it's not storytelling in the traditional sense with character development, a beginning, middle and end."

With viewer numbers falling and cord cutting on the rise, television networks are searching for ways to improve the on-air experience, shorten ad breaks and engage multitasking, meme-conditioned ad-skipping audiences.

Broadcasters are increasingly splitting the physical screen, airing short-form ads on one side while programming continues on the other. Research has found that the tactic holds onto audiences and drives ad recall.

"It's more robust than a 'sponsored by' tag," says Sean Muller, CEO of ad tracking firm iSpot, "and the networks aren't completely tuning away from the content."

Six-second ads can also be effective when they're used as quick stand-alone breaks, Muller says, like Toyota did as part of its overall sponsorship of the Olympics coverage.

There's an obvious creative challenge with micro ads, adds Muller, "but our data shows that you're not getting less of the consumer's attention, even though there's less time to deliver a message in a meaningful way."

It's no wonder that short-form spots have migrated to TV, experts say, since "bumper" ads have been the norm on YouTube and elsewhere in the digital world for years. Studies say they've been successful on linear TV, and networks are reportedly charging at least as much for a six-second ad as for a :15.

Brands including T-Mobile, Mars, Duracell and Amazon have been early adopters of the format. And tiny commercials have also made noise in prestigious places, with six-second ads having a showcase for two years running at the Sundance Film Festival.

Even so, Hall can't resist taking a jab at the format, saying, "We're doing six-second ads because five seconds is way too short, and who has time to watch for seven seconds nowadays?"

Hall, who directed Katy Perry's Roar and Beck's Wow music videos and campaigns for Netflix and Lexus, recently prepped for a mini-commercial that would involve "4.8 seconds of story and 1.2 seconds of package/logo" for which he planned to "focus on a single scene" of the larger spot to make "a really great highlight, a shareable moment."

Brands that have adapted the micro-ad format include, from the top, Toyota, a primary sponsor of NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics; Amazon; M&Ms; and Duracell, which took advantage of the split screen to hold the viewer's attention during the 2017 World Series

Another director, Brett Froomer, hasn't been impressed by the six-second ads he's seen, mostly because they're cut-downs of longer spots he's created, becoming "an editorial function" and not a director's design or vision.

"I have yet to be presented with a storyboard for a six-second spot," says Froomer, a veteran of Radical Media now with Froomer Pictures Ltd. who's directed campaigns for Arby's, Taco Bell and Budweiser. "I'll see the six-second spot that's been cut later, and it's fancier than a GIF but not as sophisticated as a :15. It's not the way I would've done it."

That "repurposing," as he calls it, has become common, as advertisers want more pieces of content in every imaginable format for digital, social, print and other channels. Budgets, meantime, aren't necessarily growing to keep pace with the frantic demand.

"Asking for as much content as possible as quickly and cheaply as possible may not be the way forward," Froomer says. "Clients will end up looking like everyone else."

Adds Tom Dunlap, chief production officer at L.A. ad powerhouse 72andSunny: "A six-second spot is not an island. It needs to lead you to a longer message, something that can be more strategically impactful."

Froomer imagines a consumer-led change from what's happening now, when viewers eventually become accustomed to the micro-ad format and its novelty wears off.

"They'll start to say, 'I'm not interested in that anymore, it didn't entertain me,'" Froomer says. "That's when vision, experience and filmmaking craft will mean something again."

Hall says it's a struggle to make the format "something that imparts a brand's personality and gives back to the viewer."

Should the mini-ad be a spoiler, revealing the visual effects or the punch line of the 60-second hero spot? Or should it mimic the now-defunct media star, Twitter's video sharing app Vine, where stunts and pratfalls were the well-watched order of the day?

One thing's for sure in that compressed time frame. "You can't try to do too much, but you certainly can't be boring," Hall says. "Or you'll end up being like a banner ad that no one remembers."


Feature stories about the craft and challenges of directors and their teams in episodic television, movies for television, daytime drama, reality, sports, news, variety, childrens, commercials and other television genres.

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