“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Anyone who has ever encountered this emotive Ernest Hemingway “story in six words” understands the power of brevity. This principle has recently been carried through to video advertising with the arrival of the 6-second spot, which is giving short-form, snackable content new meaning for audiences and marketers alike. So, what is 6-second video advertising, and why is it proving to be so exciting?

YouTube’s Bumper Ads Initiative

In January 2016, YouTube kicked off the new advertising format at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Called “Bumper ads,” the motivation behind the new format was to create short, unskippable stories that are mobile-friendly. A driving factor was the discovery by comScore that Millenials’ attention spans extend only to 5 or 6 seconds, and the majority of their online time is spent using smartphone apps. The format was an official acknowledgement of the storytelling revolution, and a nod to the problem of content overload that plagues audiences today.

The advantages of 6-second video ads are that they:

  • Get directly to the heart of the matter in as concise a fashion as possible
  • Are mostly viewed on a mobile or second screen
  • Are often viewed without audio, so visuals are important
  • Communicate quickly, are fun to watch, and ask nothing in return.

Given that video advertising only works if people actually watch it, tailoring ads to match the target audience’s viewing habits and preferences is vital to ensuring its success. This didn’t happen in a vacuum—pre-roll ads are a big part of the inventory on YouTube. Most people come to YouTube to view something else, and a 15-second pre-roll ad can be a real pain especially if it precedes a short(er) clip. Since YouTube belongs to Google, the search giant has taken note of the fact viewers generally skip the ad after the first 5 seconds.

Cross-Channel Adoption

Where Google leads, others follow. Since its launch, the 6-second video idea has gained traction on other channels, including:

  • Facebook, which intends to start testing 6-second pre-roll video ads in 2018 in its video feed, Watch. That’s in spite of Mark Zuckerberg’s statement in July 2016 that the company didn’t think pre-roll advertising would “provide a good user experience.” Instead, the social media platform focused on mid-roll ad breaks, which have proved to be less than profitable.
  • Live TV, where in October 2017 AMC began offering 6-second slots during the eighth season of The Walking Dead. As one of television’s most popular programs, the series is a good place to test the theory of shorter is better, competing as it does with sites like Netflix, Hulu and other streaming options offering paid, ad-free viewing. Fox Sports also recently introduced 6-second spots during live sporting events, with the intent to sell them during the NFL season.
  • Twitter, which rolled out #Fuel in 2017, a “rapid-response” hub that helps marketers put together concise, impactful video content in various lengths and now also offers 6-second spots for advertisers.
  • Facebook-owned Instagram is rolling out Instagram Stories, which will offer short videos viewers can swipe up to dig deeper into a brand and view embedded websites, apps and other options.

The new 6-second ad format is a response to consumers’ increasing intolerance for interruption advertising. Back in the 1980s when 15-second commercials made their debut, they were seen in the same light. By reducing the timeframe brands have in which to make an impression to 6 seconds, platforms “force” them to get to the point in a powerful and emotive way. This High Diver environmental ad is a great example of how effective the medium can be. And it’s working: a recent study led by Google found 90% of bumper ads drove brand recall, while 61% improved brand awareness.


Apart from the fact that it works, a great advantage of this new format is that the infrastructure, purchasing processes and metrics to measure are already established. It’s just a new size offered on the same platforms as before. And given the shorter run time, advertisers can enjoy lower costs for the placements.

Six-second video advertising is also yet another indication of how the TV and video advertising worlds are converging. Television remains the best option for achieving reach and frequency, and millennial-targeted brands that have traditionally focused on social media advertising will be able to use the same content they created to reach a whole new audience—at a lower price. The ads are so fast-paced they aren’t intrusive, and the cost factor is currently an additional benefit.

The Take-Away

Audiences aren’t going to give advertisers 15 or 30 seconds of their time unless they capture their interest, and the new 6-second video format creates an environment for marketers to do that with concise, compelling messaging. This reduction in financial outlay could result in opening the door to a host of new TV advertisers, which is a win-win situation for all players.


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