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'Snackable' Branded Video Was All the Rage a Couple of Years Ago. Is It Already Dead?

Agency execs worry about shift to longer social ads

Short-form content seems to be taking a back seat to longer ads. Getty Images

When Dunkin' Donuts ran Vine-made ads on ESPN during a Monday Night Football broadcast in September 2013, it seemed as if the era of "snackable" video was upon us. Brands were going to create volumes of very short, pithy clips that engaged modern, digital consumers who craved brevity.

It was going to be different from TV's 30- and 60-second mind-set born from decades past, and marketers were going to show what they'd learned from a GIF-happy online world. But the industry seems to have hit the pause button on the promise of social video.

Marketers have scaled back their attempts to gain traction with Vine content: Tubular Labs' research revealed that only 32 percent of brands posted to the Twitter-owned app in the fourth quarter of 2015. Snapchat, which previously only allowed 10-second clips, is now letting Hollywood brands do 60- and 90-second video ads. And Instagram, once known for only permitting videos of 15 second or less, is running one-minute videos for advertisers. 

So, is snackable video already dying off?

"[It] isn't dead," said Matt Rednor, CEO of Decoded Advertising. "It's just been hard for brands to crack. Now that online video is being measured and compared to TV, with studies being run by the likes of Nielsen, brands and their agencies have resorted back to the traditional lengths of 15 and 30 seconds. The platforms have perpetuated that, too, loosening their restrictions to make their offerings more friendly to advertisers. But just because we can, doesn't mean we should."

The shift away from brief clips is wrongheaded, according to several agency execs, who point to recent studies. For instance, Kinetic Social last fall concluded that 25 percent of viewers complete 15-second videos, but only 19 percent do so when the clips are 30 seconds. When the spots are a minute long, the completion percentage drops to 9 percent. A 2013 University of Massachusetts report found that viewers were 3 percent more likely to finish 15-second ads than they were to finish 20-second ads, which in turn are 4 percent more likely to be viewed in their entirety than their 30-second counterparts. 

"We know that consumers prefer shorter, more snackable content," said Monik Sanghvi, chief strategy officer at Organic. "[But] it appears that platforms are simply moving closer to the demands of their advertisers rather than their consumers."

John Caruso, partner at MCD Partners, said lengthening social video ads "has very little to do with what's convenient or preferable for users and everything to do with appealing to marketers and competing for advertising dollars. Let's face it: If you give marketers more space, they'll gladly fill it up—and some brands may view this as a convenient alternative to producing custom units."

Instagram offering one-minute ads was "the logical move of a media platform searching for revenue rather than a comment on content trends," said Ken Kraemer, CEO of Moment Studio. "If brands just jam their TV spots into these units, they'll fail."

Someone needs to tell that to Anheuser-Busch, which is repurposing its Budweiser Super Bowl spot on Instagram after it airs on Sunday. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is running a 60-second version of its 30-second Big Game spot on the social app. 

"Asking people to watch a longer-form piece of content then like [or] share the content and then perhaps clickthrough to the site, may be too much," said Lindsay Williams, vp of media and analytics at Rokkan. 

Marketers should be wary of dismissing the branding impact of short-form video, suggested Topher Burns, group director of distribution strategy at Deep Focus. He also mentioned that marketers need to create channel-specific content if they want it to resonate with audiences. 

"On digital, people are consuming both longer and shorter types of content—they're drifting from the classic two-minute YouTube video to the 23-minute episode on Netflix and the 10-second news GIF on Snapchat," Burns said. "This bifurcation shows that people are getting better about curating their digital experiences. They want to sample a lot of information quickly and then are willing to invest more heavily in the experiences that they favor."

Caruso of MCD largely agreed, saying, "Instagram and Snapchat are not TV. They're inherently social, interactive and originally ad free—so we shouldn't approach these ads in terms of recycling existing units or maximizing length and exposure."

As long as media buyers purchase longer-form social ads, it seems that snackable video will be relegated to back-seat status—for better or worse. 

"If brands created short-form video the way their consumers do they would find much more success," said Joe Liebman, global strategy director at Tribal. "Brands and agencies need to learn to consume content the way their audiences do—i.e., have experts on teams that consume content as if they were the target. Then they can create things that fit seamlessly into that world."

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