In about the time it takes to set a world record for solving a Rubik’s cube, a goldfish to get distracted or for you to watch 75% of a rodeo bull-ride in real-time, companies want to impact you with their advertising campaigns. The 6-Second Ad is a by-product of our busy, segmented lives. Completely unheard-of 10 years ago, the prevalence of mobile formats for consuming the wide spectrum of streaming media and the ubiquitous pre-roll ad on platforms like YouTube have given rise to shorter and shorter formats for commercials. For voice over talent, performance in these commercials calls for an evolving, nuanced delivery style. Here’s how to unlock the power of a 6-second ad.
A Quick Ad History – The Value of 6-Seconds
It seems we’ve come full circle. The first television commercial to air was less than 10 seconds long. An ad for Bulova watches that aired on July 1, 1941, was a simple image and voice-over. Fast forward a generation or three and we’ve come back to this concise format. A quick history of how the 6-second ad became a thing: Dictated by broadcast media who sold commercial time in synchronous units, the 30-second (and occasional 15 or 60 second) format that had become an advertising standard and commercial time had to add up to fit around the content (aka shows). YouTube viewers consume content asynchronously, so commercials sold on the platform were not bound by the same constraints.
In 2016, YouTube introduced the 6-second video ad, a length deemed long enough to get a message across and short enough to be tolerable. These video ads, in addition to requiring less video budget to create, also non-skippable, offered advertisers a captive audience for the duration (or a certain time frame) of the ad. Four to six seconds quickly became the arbitrary non-skippable time limit and creatives responded with 6 second complete cut-downs of longer campaigns. These ads are priced by CPM (cost per mille, which means thousand) and advertisers pay per 1,000 impressions (or potential of an ad being seen). That may sound like a lot of impressions until you consider YouTube has over 1.9 billion monthly active users. And given that YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine and the second most popular website after Google, those impression numbers can mount quickly.
As well as a few more things going for it, the 6-second format is perfect for mobile. The spots pop up but aren’t overly invasive and are over quickly. The short duration allows brands to plant a seed before building momentum. After introducing consumers to their brand with a 6-second spot, brands are more likely to keep their attention with a longer story when they launch 15 or 30-second spots. Advertising on YouTube garners a level of attention 84% higher than that of TV ads and 6-second spots capture 8-11% more attention per second than 15 or 30-second spots. They also help drive brand awareness with, according to Google, a significant boost to that awareness resulting from 61% of all 6-second bumpers. So let’s talk about this type of brand of storytelling and what to keep in mind as a voice actor.
Most ad campaigns tell a story. The 6-second format is storytelling simplified. Limited by time, of course, not everything is spelled out for the viewer. Successful 6-second spots leverage existing knowledge and culture, such as character archetypes, genre tropes, existing brand associations or characters, and allow them to infer the information.
This storytelling style isn’t new. Flash fiction and the six-word story, most famously “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” get to the point quickly and with a healthy serving of pith. But often a 6-second ad is an introduction to a longer campaign. Often creatives look at this as a lift – and will “lift” or take away one line of a longer spot to fill in the 6-second format. In this incidence, the line they lift will be the key takeaway from the longer spot. For voiceover artists and other performers, this is a good clue to make certain the connection between messenger (or client), performance (what you do) and receiver (or listener/viewer) is made.
If creatives have different scripts for their 6, 10, 12, 15, 30, and 60, this is a blanket campaign to cover all online (and perhaps broadcast platforms) and the theme that runs throughout reveals what is most important for them. Instead of being limited by time, campaigns build on a central theme or storyline, piecing it together over a series of different ad lengths. Done well, audiences even look forward to each piece.
Like a 6 second ad, other social media or pre-roll ads will front load their spot with as much finesse and story and art as they can – to keep people from clicking away after the (“skip this ad after 4 seconds option”). It’s a great parallel to the 4 second rule for voice actors – when we make sure those first 4 seconds of any audition we send in are our best, sweetest, and most captivating. With no time for lengthy explanations, we are obliged to say what we mean in the most succinct and compelling way possible.
Great Acting is Key for Voice Over, Even in 6 Seconds
It’s tough to bring out the whole human experience in 6 seconds, but great voice over acting is still at the core of the performance for these 6-second spots. The voice over style of course must match the content and “getting” (aka script analysis) is key to this understanding. Often, these short ads are quick, light, humorous, smart or down to earth. Rarely is there enough time to conjure the inspirational in 6 seconds, however well-written, shot and told, it can work. Whether as part of a larger storytelling campaign, or a micro-story all their own connection is required. Look for turning points. They can happen on a dime, and if seeded within the 6 seconds, they do. As a long-time voice over professional I love the challenge of creating memorable moments within the limitation of this format. How about you?
Stefan Borowicz says
I think it’s a fascinating format and a gauntlet thrown to be sure!
I think the stakes are huge to tell a micro-story, turning point and all in 6 seconds, particularly for an unknown product or service and the ultimate professional challenge. If it’s a short version of a longer campaign for a familiar product, it would seem like you could rely on familiarity triggers more, the same way a musical motif can conjure an entire story (like the old United Airlines commercials using Rhapsody in Blue motifs–anytime you heard it, you thought “United Airlines”.)