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Why Adland Leaders Are Calling For More Short-Form Ads

Apple's creative chief Tor Myhren suggested that there is a need for “better short-form content” - we explore why that may be the case

By conor nichols

Just a few years ago, it looked as though ads were set to get shorter as six-second adverts began to emerge to meet the needs of online platforms and social media sites. At the time, questions were asked about the possible stories that could be told in such a condensed period. Was that the end of the standard 30-second campaign? Definitely not.

In 2024, that conversation has begun again after things have seemingly gone in the opposite direction. Instead of getting shorter, ads have been getting too long, claims vice-president of marketing communications at Apple Inc Tor Myhren and Film Lions president at this year's Cannes Lions festival. It's perhaps a surprising development.

Why does he believe this? Well in that category, not one, but two Grand Prix were given out to Marcel Paris for Orange's 'Women's Football' and Accenture Song Sydney for the Sydney Opera House's 'Play It Safe'.

A host of UK-based agencies also took home Gold, Silver and Bronze awards - Mother for its Uber work, adam&eveDDB for its FrontLine19 film and Black Dog Films for its Evoka campaign.

However, despite the high standard of film entries, while explaining the jury's decision, Myhren took time to criticise the length of the majority of films that were entered into the category.

“There was a lot of long-form content, but 99 per cent of them were too long,” he noted. For Myhren, the transition of films from television to online means that films not only need to be attention-grabbing but also shorter, because viewers have more choice in whether they wish to watch them.

“We were hard on judging the long-form films and many documentaries because they weren't great,” Myhren said. “The vast majority were long-form, which highlights the need for better short-form content. Short form is concise and a powerful way for brands to tell their stories."

Does this mean then that more ads need to be shortened? Or that the quality of short-form ads needs to improve? Or both? And are short-form ads really any more effective?

Short-form ads hit the sweet spot

Despite the length of entries, 30 seconds remain the average length of time of a TV or online ad.

According to Lindsey Clay, CEO of TV marketing body Thinkbox, neuroscience shows that length still hits the sweet spot for eliciting the strongest levels of memory and emotion.

A study commissioned by the trade body found that approximately half of all ads are half a minute long. "In the real world, 30 seconds is the standard TV ad length,” Clay explains. “As the great John Webster proved, the 30 is a fantastic canvas for creativity but it requires skill, craft, and discipline – and given TV drives more than 50 per cent of ad-driven profit, it deserves determined focus."

For Cannes, thanks to the internet, anyone can produce a film of any length, stick it online, and enter it. Hence long, unrestrained, gorgeous films most people haven’t seen.

Lindsey Clay, CEO of Thinkbox

As a result, Clay agrees with Myhren’s call to improve short-form content, applauding any renewed focus on improving the “bread-and-butter work” that makes a difference to brands and businesses.

“Just because you can indulge, doesn’t mean you should,” attests Clay. “But equally, the opposite is also true: however hard you try, you’re never going to produce brilliance in the two-second view that most online video ads receive.”

Also in agreement is Rob Reilly, global chief creative officer of WPP: “We need to be relentless. We need to put the rigour back into making breakthrough 15, 30 and 60-second pieces, as they are not going away.”

Despite that, Reilly believes that this year's awards were one of the most balanced years in a long time, with short-form campaign wins coming from across purpose, technology, innovation, and humour. “Nothing dominated, which made for a highly curated and varied show,” Reilly adds.

For Dara Lynch, CEO of D&AD, short-form ads can cut through and engage viewers on a meaningful level. The judges' decisions for the 2024 D&AD awards displayed a 54 per cent increase in shortlisted and Pencil-awarded work in short-form categories compared to 2023.

“Examples such as ‘Women's Football’ by Marcel for Orange, which won big at both D&AD and Cannes this year, demonstrate how you can capture audiences with tight editing and a fast-paced story arc to deliver a compelling message," says Lynch.

Long-form ads can be just as exceptional

The fact that quite a few of the awarded campaigns in the Cannes Film category have long run times suggests a discrepancy. Notably, the Sydney Opera House 'Play It Safe' stands at four minutes 22 seconds, while Mother and adam&eveDDB’s campaigns, (Uber One ‘Best Friends’ and Frontline19 ‘Sicker Than The Patients’), each last three minutes and 15 seconds long and two minutes long, respectively.

Clay notes: “For Cannes, thanks to the internet, anyone can produce a film of any length, stick it online, and enter it. Hence long, unrestrained, gorgeous films most people haven’t seen. Genuinely brilliant ‘long form’ (like Kim Gehrig and Tim Minchin’s piece celebrating Sydney Opera House) will thankfully always break through, but it’s exceptional.”

While creative excellence can take many forms, and ebbs and flows with the times, there is a flurry of short-form content online and in people's feeds making it increasingly difficult to create something that truly stands out, argues Lynch.

“There has definitely been a rise in long-form ads, as seen at D&AD’s 2024 Awards, which was notable in our entertainment category with examples including Pencil winners 'Sammakorn NOT Sanpakorn',' Fuzzy Feelings', 'FOMO Forever' and 'Shot on iPhone: Little Garlic'. These films showcase the power of long-form to entertain and educate consumers.”

Despite his support for short-form ads, Reilly acknowledges the value in long-form content as well: “It is a great sign for our industry that so many countries delivered, including the first Grand Prix for Singapore and Vaseline. Orange took technology to a new level, supporting women's soccer. CeraVe taught a master class in influencer marketing by creating an immersive, integrated three-week-long campaign that snowballed into a big Michael Cera conspiracy. The campaign culminated with a 60-second gem shown during the big game. Coca-Cola also had its most awarded effort in Cannes history, 'Coke Creates.'"

Ultimately, while long-form ads have their place and can be exceptional, the industry must balance the creative possibilities of long-form content with the effectiveness and efficiency of short-form ads. As Clay, Lynch and Reilly suggest, echoing Myhren’s sentiments, improving the quality of short-form content is crucial for brands to tell their stories compellingly and concisely.

The opinions of creative agency leaders

Helen Rhodes, executive creative director at BBH London

30 seconds is my favourite of all the time lengths. Perfect for singing to my plants, driving with my eyes closed, and making sweet, sweet love. On occasion I like to partake in all three of these bitesize activities at the same time. However, that said it is also a pretty great time length for ads too.

My favourite commercial of the Super Bowl was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ‘YESSSSSS!!!!!’. A ridiculously exaggerated emotional rollercoaster. A masterclass in getting to the point and squeezing as many jokes in a short time frame as possible. And a brilliant example of having a simple idea and then pushing it to the limit. The world needs more hilarious ads with hula hooping dogs and men ramming their heads in walls or the equivalent. To this I say 'YESSSSSS!!!!!'.

Dan Watts, executive creative director at Pablo London

For many people long form ads are a bit like directors cut movies.

You’re like, ‘that’s great…but I can’t quite be bothered’.

Once upon a time we were all taught about editing. Reducing. Simplifying. Whether that’s a brief, a headline, a print ad, a deck or indeed a bit of film…you need get to the point quickly.

Landing a surprising idea, in a surprising way in 60 seconds is hard. In 30, even harder. But when you do you get Cadbury ‘Gorilla’, Guinness ‘Swimmer’, Old Spice ‘The Man’, McDonalds ‘Estate Agent’ and so on and so on. Stuff we all properly remember even all these years later.

Of course you can make amazing ground breaking work in longer formats. But remember - the average attention span is now clocking in at a massive 8.25 seconds. Put a pound sign in front of that and it’s the average budget. So best make sure you can do a 30 seconder that’s as banging as that 12 minute opus for butter.

Pablo González de la Peña, executive creative director at Accenture Song

I agree with Tor. In my opinion, two forces have collided.

On one side, there’s a bit of self-indulgence. YouTube and digital formats have given us freedom to create longer content. However, restrictions in length compel us to be more selective about what truly needs to be included in a film. Limits force us to identify the fat and trim it. Without them, we tend to indulge.

On the other side, the whole world is speeding up. Social media and shorter content have trained our brains to understand narratives faster. In fact, the classic 60-second ad, which was ideal a few years ago, is starting to feel a bit too long. Have you felt that too?

When people grasp more in less time, yet we stick to longer content and merely adapt it into shorter formats, their quality inevitably drops.

I just watched the Jason Bailey interview with Eric Kallman for the second time. It’s on YouTube (stop what you’re doing and check it out). It’s such a joy to see two advertising superstars passionately discussing the power of 15-second ads.

Skittles, Little Caesars, Fruit by the Foot, FedEx, McDonalds … They all have created some of the most iconic advertisements in 30, 15, and even 6 seconds. If Tor is saying this now and agencies are listening, I can’t wait to see the barrage of funny 10-second ads coming.

I leave you with the wonderful piece for Telstra by the incredibly talented Australian agency Bear Meets Eagle On Fire.

Hannah White, managing director at New Commercial Arts

As Mark Twain said much better than I would, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Whether letter or ad, I agree with the sentiment.

Now I do believe there is a role for powerful long form content; done well it can drive huge buzz and engagement for our brands. But the reality is that online or not, the typical way to ensure more people see a film is by nailing the shorter time length. Our industry is not hard enough on ourselves when it comes to this balance. As someone watching Christmas ads from mat leave last year, rather than seeing the long form film break on industry websites, I found many celebrated ads didn’t translate into 30”. Some made little to no sense at all.

Ultimately it isn’t one size fits all. Sometimes 60” or less is the best possible way to execute an idea – I think this is often true of humour, whether that’s Mother’s Uber Trains or our Nationwide ads. But sometimes a story really does benefit from an extra 30” – thinking about how it also translates brilliantly into short form is surely the way to approach that.

Rob Meldrum, head of creative futures at EssenceMediacomX

The way to tell stories in ads really depends on the context in which the audience finds them - broadly whether the ad is skippable or not. As the pendulum swings back towards more forced ad views via CTV platforms like Amazon and Netflix, there will be more opportunity to use traditional brand story creative - in a forced view scenario there is less need to deviate from the traditional build and reveal story arc. 

Although the view might be forced, the ad still needs to be engaging. As viewers have the power to switch to a mobile screen in an instant, tweaks to the arc are required. The story cannot build with intrigue alone; it needs a strong early hook to keep viewers from diverting their attention elsewhere.

In a skippable social environment it comes down to audience value. The hook should instantly convey the value proposition to the viewer; which could be anything from entertainment and exclusivity, to information and utility. It really doesn’t matter if it’s an ad or not, our brains make split second decisions on whether we like the story. If not, the viewer’s gone.

There is however a different way to tell a brand story with influencers. Viewers are more likely to recognise the people and accounts they like, stop scrolling and watch their content. And if it’s authentic, there’s no reason a brand or product can’t play a prominent role in the content - landing whatever message is required. A great example of this is a recent partnership between Eating With Todd and Trainline. His account is full of wonderful food content, and with Trainline he had the perfect excuse to travel around the country finding new places to eat. 

However you look at it and regardless of the type of story arc that’s used, it all comes down to one rule - the ad needs to be all killer and no filler.

Emily Marr, chief production officer at Leo Burnett UK and Publicis London

There’s no question: we need to get better at short-form. As we do battle in today's attention economy, concise and impactful storytelling has become an essential weapon for our arsenal.

With the increasing amount of content available online, viewers generally have shorter attention spans and are quick to skip ads that do not immediately grab their interest. Simply put, this gives us less time to capture and reward interest so instead of just insisting that we need to make our long-form ads more watchable, we must also now embrace additional ways to help us cut through.

Effectively, this means developing new expertise. Many brands struggle to convey their message or emotionally engage within a limited timeframe, simply because they are treating the endeavor as an afterthought, rather than a distinct discipline in its own right.

It’s time for us all to correct this and learn some new craft-skills. A new, more rigorous, insistence on single-mindedness. New faster forms of storytelling, outside of the traditional arc. A better understanding of the role these executions fulfill within the campaign narrative. Tighter editing to make every second count. And an open-mindedness to what technology can teach us about optimising all of the above.

Andre Sallowicz, creative partner at AMV BBDO

I think that Tor Myhren made an excellent point. We all know that people's attention spans are getting shorter, so short-form content under 60 seconds is way easier to digest and more user-friendly. Short videos are perfect for this because they deliver a powerful message in a concise format.

Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat are designed for short content, and their algorithms love short, engaging videos that are easy to share and watch. Mastering the art of creating these engaging short videos can significantly boost reach and engagement.

While short ads are super effective, long ad content still has its place in a good marketing mix. Long-form content lets brands tell deeper stories, explore more complex themes, and create stronger emotional connections with their audience.

To learn how to create short format content, one thing I like to do is watch a bunch of Hollywood movie trailers—they're short versions of the films and really have to sell the movie. Sometimes, they're even better than the movie itself! It's a great exercise, and we can learn valuable lessons about pacing, storytelling, and emotional impact that can be applied to short-form content.


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