The long and short of videos

This post is sponsored by YouTube Malaysia.

Over the years, advertisers have seen the effectiveness of long-form videos in brand building and storytelling. But in today’s era of multi-screening, short-form videos are becoming the industry standard in capturing audience’s waning attention. So where does this leave video ad creators – short or long?

Here’s the thing, they both work and they work best together.

Over the last five years, nowhere has the rise of mobile-first consumers been more apparent than in Malaysia, and more broadly, Southeast Asia. With 88% of the population now owning smartphones, mobile has become Malaysians’ primary access point to the internet todayAnd whilst connection to devices and time spent online have increased, attention spans have not.

To address this trend, there has been an industry shift towards short-form videos, such as the six-second bumper ads. Between the first two quarters of 2017, the use of bumper ads has increased 70% globally, and nine of the top 20 ads on the Bumper Ads Leaderboard this year originated from Asia Pacific.

Many of the brands that have shifted to short form have conducted studies demonstrating increased brand awareness and consideration due to short-form videos. Fueling this further, YouTube has announced plans to sunset unskippable traditional 30-second spots.

However, long form has always been the preferred video ad format in Malaysia, with brands taking advantage of the longer duration to build emotional and complex narratives that drive long-term brand engagement. As a matter of fact, five of the 10 ads on the Malaysia YouTube Ads Leaderboard halfway through 2016 were over two minutes long. But, with attention spans finite (or even decreasing) and screens getting smaller, is long form alone a long-term solution?

Better together

In short, all signs point to long and short forms each having a place in the marketer’s toolkit. However, each form must respect consumers’ preferences at the specific stage of engagement.

During the early shifts to digital, the power of digital channels was that they provided a deeper level of engagement, inviting television audiences to choose to lean into brands that resonated with them by leading them online to find out more. For example, a traditional 30-second TV spot could lead to an optional, more engaging piece online that expanded the brand narrative with the audiences who had voluntarily chosen to seek more about the brand.

With a billion hours of watchtime each day globally on YouTube, it’s clear that consumers’ appetite for digital video is not slowing down. Brands need to ensure that they apply the same strategy that enables them to build and earn meaningful attention online. The strategy of forcing views of longer ads may not only disrupt the viewer’s experience, it can make building a lasting relationship impossible.

For example, we have seen that 30-second unskippable ads have a 35% higher abandonment rate than skippable formats. Consumers today have strong preferences and the power to act on those preferences. If ads do not resonate or aren’t relevant, viewers will not pay attention.

Make short videos unskippable for awareness, long videos skippable for further engagement

First, a brand must respect consumers’ preferences by building awareness with short form and inviting deeper interactions with longer form. This means that the initial outreach is with skippable short form, such as six-second spots, to deliver awareness of the brand message, while being minimally obtrusive. Then, give the audience that have seen your initial short-form ads a choice to view a longer brand message with a skippable format.

This pairing of lengths and sequencing leads to a win-win. Audiences have a positive experience with the content they are initially viewing, and marketers ensure their campaigns are efficient by only paying for ads that reach the customers who choose to watch them.


Success takes multiple forms

When Netflix Asia Pacific launched Orange is the New Black across Asia Pacific, they took a concerted strategy to tease, amplify, and echo across ad lengths. The campaign included 30 and 15-second skippable ads, along with six-second unskippable bumper ads. All three ad lengths performed well, achieving a +50% lift in ad recall. The bumper ad drove the highest product awareness, with a 19% lift, well above the 10% lift that is considered rare to exceed. The interplay of formats allowed Netflix to engage, re-target, and re-engage their audiences in the lead-up to the show launch.

McDonald’s Malaysia took a similar approach to Netflix, using shorter 12-second ads to tease and build awareness, paired with a 46-second spot that invited further viewing when they launched the Spicy Korean burger. The content was inspired by Korean dramas and built out a series of videos based on the different characters, which allowed viewers to go deeper into the story. Ultimately, the longer spot drove over five times more views than the short form and had a 20% higher view-through rate than the industry benchmark. McDonald’s had so much success with its launch campaign that their stores ran out of the new burgers.

Lastly, Celcom, a long-standing Malaysian mobile telecommunications company, sought to use a series of short videos over the course of the month of Ramadan to build emotional connections with its customers. The 30 short-form videos led to a longer story that was released after Hari Raya. This campaign led to over 8.3 million views, 3.3 million of which came on the nearly four-minute end-of-campaign video.

Celcom’s use of long and short videos allowed it to extend its campaign, keep its viewers engaged over the course of Ramadan, and more importantly, drive strong ad recall with a 13% uplift, the strongest among males aged 24 to 34 years old. The campaign directly impacted the business, driving a 337% increase in post-paid signups and over 30,000 redemptions of their 1GB Video Walla Hari Raya offering.

It’s easy to get started

The stories that marketers can tell with videos are no longer restricted by length, therefore, it’s easier and more cost-effective than ever to incorporate digital video into campaigns. The most advanced brands are now using long and short to tell a richer story, over a longer period of time, whilst respecting viewers’ preferences. But, even smaller marketing teams with limited assets can get started easily at a minimal cost. So, how does a marketer get started?

  • Limited to no video assets: Start with short form, which is fast and cost-effective to develop

Leading beauty brand Clinique faced a challenge because only top-tier launches benefited from a full range of creative assets. This left their team needing a to find a way to do more with less. Six-second bumper ads tend to perform best when they have a singular focus, which is a technique that Clinique’s creative team already used for their print ads. So, they decided to test a new approach that would transform print ads to bumper ads, therefore saving creative resources, time, and money.

Clinique launched three ad variations, and the topline results showed a relative ad recall lift of 69.4% and product awareness lift of 26.1%, which Clinique considered best in class for the beauty category. “Balloons,” the version that most closely resembled its original print ad, was the top performer of the three, driving 42.8% relative lift in product awareness. Among Clinique’s target audience ages 18 to 24 years old, “Balloons” delivered a 93.7% relative lift in product recall and a 41.7% relative lift in product awareness.

  • Current assets made for multiple marketing channels: Plan a campaign based on broad reach non-skippable short-form ads paired with skippable long-form ads

Fox Networks Group Asia (FNG), one of the most established TV networks in the world, is a great example of a brand that has great creative assets. Amid increased competition, they wanted to establish themselves as a leader in the digital revolution. The first step was a rebrand of Fox Movies Premium to simply Fox Movies, and they chose YouTube to communicate this update.

FNG took a very thoughtful approach, mixing ad lengths and focusing on sequential storytelling with an engaged audience. They started with 25-second skippable ads targeting movie lovers. Then they launched one-minute long trailers, again targeted to movie lovers. This combination of well thought out formats and targeting led to viewers watching 55 out of 60 seconds of this trailer on average.

FNG also used remarketing to reach viewers of previous ads with specific call-to-action videos. Just before new titles were launched, they’d broaden their reach, with YouTube mastheads and six-second bumper ads to maximize reach. This layered strategy led to incredible brand gains. The bumper ads achieved 23% incremental reach among movie lovers, and brand favourability also took off, increasing by 19% in Hong Kong.

The bottom line: planning, patience, and adaptation pays off

In a limited attention world, marketers’ strategic capabilities will have to be sharpened to ensure their brands earn the attention they seek. The successful teams will do this by building their brands incrementally over time; starting with small requests for attention across a broad audience, and then working their way to up to larger requests across those who are most likely to want to lean into their brand messages.

Harvard Business School professor and brand consultant, Thales Teixeira, calls this the ladder of engagement. As Teixeira points out, there isn’t a magic formula for earning a potential customer’s attention. However, the one thing we do know to be true is that today’s campaigns provide a wealth of data, in real-time. The brands that will ultimately earn attention will do so by having strategies that are customer-centric, adaptive, and aimed at long-term engagement.

Find out more about YouTube Week here.

The writer is Daniela Putz, industry manager, Google Malaysia.



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