Long format vs shorter duration ads: it’s about the impact

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I love short duration ads – the ones which are 20 seconds or under. The ad commercial is in any case a challenging audio visual medium – telling a compelling, engaging story that too with a business objective in 30-seconds is fascinating. And to do it in even shorter duration is no mean feat (Miller Lite ran 1-second commercials during Super Bowl in 2009). Shorter duration commercials also have an advantage from a media investment POV – the client can simply afford to run the spot more often, for a longer period of time.

In this context, long format commercials (one minute or more) are frowned upon as being impractical, ineffective, indulgent etc. There is truth in that. Most clients, especially those in FMCG simply put an embargo on anything more than 30-seconds for their TV ads. In highly competitive mass market categories, especially in expensive media markets, it does not make business sense to run long format ads.

The release of a 4-minute film for Fortune Cooking oil film recently, has stirred the debate again, some calling it impractical for TV.

I liked the ad. It is a simple story told well. The casting and acting was great and I did not find the film boring – it made an emotional impact. Would it have worked just as well in a short duration? That is subjective. A lot of elements come into play which make it impossible to view the issue in black & white terms (short duration is good, long duration is bad).

Impact, creativity, relevance, repeat value: even in this attention-span starved digital age, long reads have found acceptance in the online world. Many love the long-read format articles and fiction in properties like Atlantic, New Yorker, Wired, Techcrunch, Verge and so on. There are mobile apps which source long reads. The format goes against the grain of 140-character or bust attitude of digital natives. While we all understand the need for short, crisp communication, we also agree that there is place for long reads – as long as they make for compelling, riveting read. The caveat however, is that not long reads make for great riveting read.  

The same principle applies on TVCs too. Short duration ads automatically do not make for more sensible advertising. Most FMCG ads follow a cookie-cutter approach with strong category codes any way. Most of them are plain boring, mediocre ads depending on media muscle for impact & memorability. One of Indian advertising greats used to say to his clients: ‘don’t outspend your competition, outwit them’. But most advertising depends on media weight to deliver memorability and impact. On the other hand, the advantage of a well-made, clutter breaking, creative ad – irrespective of its format (long duration, double spread etc.) is that it’s impact is far greater than a run-of-the-mill ad. An example that comes to mind is the Amul topical outdoor campaign. The billboards have always been few and far between (in select vantage positions in each city). Many other brands have a carpet-bombing approach in outdoor. But very few brands can match the impact of the Amul hoardings – topical, creative and talked about. It has nothing to do with scale of the campaign. However, it does not mean that every long-duration ad is great for impact. Last year, I thought the Tata Sky ad was a tad indulgent. I thought the execution didn’t match the genre of TV shows it was trying to cue. Anyway, such views are subjective – as with all advertising.

Online video and its potential halo effect on the brand: a recent phenomena which has made a huge impact on brand communication is the online video – covering YouTube, online portals and several blogs. The lack of restrictions on duration when it comes to online video has its own set of challenges. Just because it is possible to make and air a 5-minute film, it doesn’t mean brands should do it. The chances of a consumer switching off, moving away and worse still, dissing it in public are higher here. However, the upside of a video being liked and shared is a very attractive proposition and brands pray that this happens. An online film created for Schweppes was a full 12-minute long and went on to garner over 10mn views; there are countless examples of viral hits which have gone on to create both online & offline buzz, like the Google Search ‘Reunion’ ad.

In the final analysis, it is not about duration of an ad or the size (half page vs. double spread) but about focus, relevance, creativity and impact.  The ad used by Sir Ernest Shackleton – a small classified ad, to recruit volunteers for his expedition is legendary and still talked about after all these years. 

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

We should also bear in mind that clutter-breaking creative doesn’t happen all the time. In my view, it is not just true of advertising but of all popular media. Most of the stuff that is out there in media – books, music, art, journalism…they are all routine, mediocre stuff. Very rarely do we find impactful, creative stuff that stands out from the pack. In advertising too that is the case.

While advertising folks should never set out to create communication with duration in mind (as a constraint), fact is, it does affect them subliminally. Every FMCG copywriter will reject an idea in her own mind if she thinks it warrants more than 40-seconds of air time. With diktats like product window and consumption shots also being forced on them, it is natural that most creatives is on expected lines. In that context it is nice to see a 4-minute film being created for a brand. Fact is, it may not see much (any?) airtime on television. I guess an edited version will run on TV. But given the buzz it is creating thanks to the full version being played out online, the impact has already been created.

Your thoughts? Do comment in.

Featured image credit: MegastarCow via photopin cc

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  1. RT @dupisandhu: True it’s about impact.Duration not relevant RT @bhatnaturally: Long format vs shorter duration ads:it’s about impact http:…

  2. My honest submission – the moment the ad starts you know what’s the end. There is no conflict. There is no drama then. The ‘daal’ has been glorified so much that the essence of grandma cooking it, pouring the lovely fortune oil into it- that’s not established.

    Fortune which still takes a second (maybe lower) place in the consumer life cycle does something like this, they need to realize that the one making the choice of the cooking oil doesn’t get to watch this ad.

    It’s doing the rounds of social media, but the middle class households where there is an oil consumption amongst the sunflower and fortunes of the world, will not be exposed to this magnum opus and therefore not result in volume increase. It is a great feel good factor for both the marketing person at one end and the advertising entity on another

    The texture, music, acting etc etc are all likeable but predictable. Incidentally, a shot of the oil being used sometime was needed. There are enough new markets being made, and not everyone may differentiate fortune from an oil Brand to a ‘daal’ Brand.

    • Thanks @samriddhd, valid comments about the film lacking in suspense or having a twist in the tale. The way I saw the film: it is a simple story about the ‘magic of home made food’. It has associations of simple goodness, taste, nostalgia, love and so on. Sure in such a context the brand is tenuous (as it is not ownable by any one brand) and the even the category link is tenuous. It can be claimed by several brands and even categories. I think they set out to make a watchable film that touches an emotion without category codes of consumption shots etc.

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