Buyers Question Future Of Short-Form Spots

It’s been almost a year since marketers such as AOL, NBC and BMW started experimenting with short-form ads—including five-second and even one-second spots—in a quest to stand out in the cluttered commercial environment. But questions about their effectiveness suggest they won’t become a standard part of the media mix any time soon.

So far, only two TV networks, Fox and MTV, and one major radio operator, Clear Channel, accept the smaller ads. And Fox only does so in packages that include longer spots.

“For these ads to really work on a widespread basis the whole marketplace has to adapt to it,” said Maribeth Papuga, svp, director of local broadcast, Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest. She added that they should be seen as a “creative option that’s part of a broader campaign.” For example, she cited client Public Storage, which used five-second radio spots in a summer campaign that also included longer radio and TV ads as well as outdoor. The shorter ads, she noted, simply reinforced the client’s tagline, “The real storage experts.”

Networks are reluctant to accept the shorter ads for several reasons. “We’re already being criticized for having too many ads on our air, and this won’t help,” said one network sales head. “You start selling fives, then you’re really in a commodity game.”

Some agency executives also questioned the value of the shorter spots. “If anything, U.S. clients are looking for deeper engagement, not more spots,” said Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of WPP’s GroupM. “It’s not a black-and-white issue, and there will be experimentation over the next few years. But the question is, do you offset efficiency with increased clutter?”

There are those, however, who see the value in these mini spots, in part because there’s no time to skip through them. Flashing a well-known logo like McDonald’s on the screen “can be communicational,” said Susan Nathan, svp, director of media knowledge at Interpublic’s Universal McCann. “People aren’t going to turn away from two seconds.”

And short-ad trials are increasing. For instance, agency sources said it’s likely that one or more film companies would use them in upcoming campaigns. And within the last month, NBC and Fox used five-second radio ads to help promote fall shows (Heroes and House, respectively, among others).

According to Tim Farish, vp, media, NBC Universal, the shorter-form ads “are working very well for us, not as standalone, but to tell a story” with other length ads.

Kaye Bentley, svp, Fox Broadcasting, said she also believes these ads have been effective, but admitted that “there really isn’t any way to measure their effectiveness.”

On the radio side, Clear Channel is leading the charge, with company reps making a presentation to West Coast clients on the benefits of shorter ads in Los Angeles last Thursday.

“A lot of research was telling us that shorter messages could be very effective,” said Jim Cook, svp, creative services, Clear Channel Radio. “We’re bombarded with messages and we won’t spend any time with things we don’t care about. We need to have concise emotional triggers.”

In June, Clear Channel sold one-second “blink” ads to BMW, which used them for the distinctive honking sound of the Mini Cooper. Cook said McDonald’s is also “extremely interested” in the shorter ads, and that they’re talking to clients in the auto, financial and entertainment categories.

Tim Spengler, chief activation officer at IPG’s Initiative, which placed AOL spots, said shorter spots would gain wider acceptance: “But so will longer spots. I think you’ll find clients embracing more interesting, strange tactical ways to break though. There won’t be a standard way.”