Brand Messaging Gets Short and Tweet


In the Burger King 15-second spot above, there’s no verbal product description, just a quick ditty about “The ultimate breakfast platter. That’s what I call delivering.”

It’s a zippy example of how brand marketers are shrinking their messaging, with the 15-second spot fast becoming the standard length for what used to be a 60-second spot and then the 30-second spot.

As attention spans (particularly online and on mobile) shrink and consumers adapt to 140-character messages, so too do marketers’ ad budgets and, no surprise, actual commercials.[more]

“It used to be that the most valuable thing on the planet was time, and now the most valuable thing on the planet is attention,” says John Greening, associate professor at Northwestern University’s journalism school and former EVP at DDB Chicago, to the Associated Press.

Just for a benchmark, Wal-Mart has increased its 15-second ad production nearly 30-fold, to 148,000 last year from about 5,700 in 2005. Overall, 15-second commercials jumped more than 70% percent in the five years to nearly 5.5 million in 2009, according to Nielsen. 

Even the big guns like Procter & Gamble are favoring shorter ads, doubling P&G’s output of 15-second spots to 299,000 in 2009 over 2008.

Some 34% of national ads are now a rapid-fire 15 seconds and about 5% a viewing audience will opt out; but that number jumps to about 6% tune-out for 30-second spots and 6.5% viewer loss for 60-second spots, according to Kantar Media.

Technology is the major contributing factor as DVR’s enable fast-forwarding, mobile media demands snack-size bites of information and video, and virtually all things digital feed our shrinking attention spans and optimize our choice impulse.

“Shorter ads can be just as effective as longer ones. Viewers can form new associations — say, knowing about a discount — in a few seconds and then recall that information in just one second. People can’t help soaking up the message,” comments Deborah Mitchell, executive director of the Center for Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin, to AP.

Think of them as the Hamburger Helper in a brand marketer’s toolk kit, as shorter ads stretch the marketing budget, costing an average of $20,000 less per spot, according to Nielsen. “It becomes a very seductive thing to get your message out there at half the cost,” says Mike Sheldon, CEO of Deutsch LA.

Anheuser-Busch, for its part, prefers airing four 15-second ads for Select 55, than one 60-second ad. “With Select 55, we were trying to establish the notion that this was the lightest beer in the world,” says Keith Levy, a marketing VP at the brand, about commercials such as this:

ESPN, which distributes its content and promos across multiple digital touchpoints with sports fans, has mastered the 15-second format. Here’s a promo (from its award-winning This is SportsCenter series by W+K) featuring the University of Oregon duck at work at ESPN HQ — not a word is spoken, just a few wistful quacks:

Our brains have been well trained by advertising and marketing to quickly imbibe the key attributes of product messaging in shorter and shorter bursts. In the time it took to read this blog post, you could have watched five 15-second ads. Quack.