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Gone in 6 seconds – debunking bumper ad myths

September 2021

This is a self-funded case study using our Advertising Testing solution.

The 6-second, non-skippable “bumper” ad format presents a unique (sometimes exciting, sometimes daunting!) challenge for marketers – a brief window of opportunity to capture viewer attention and convey a message. Their length naturally leads many marketers to believe that telling a story and eliciting an emotional response simply isn’t possible in the same way it is for more traditional placements – and “bumpers” subsequently get lumped into the short-term, “tactical” bucket as a result.

However, it’s our belief that “bumpers” – like any other digital placement – can still do a job for the brand in the long-term (as well as the short). Therefore, you won’t hear us talking about how to get people to place an order, visit a website or any other immediate behavioral response – you can already find a deluge of opinions on that topic with a quick google search!

So, you’re probably thinking – “that’s great, but how?” To answer this question we looked at pairs of 6” and 15” ads from the same campaign for four U.S. brands – Ziploc, Energizer, Liberty Mutual, and Discover. Our goal was to understand how the “shorter” executions performed compared to their longer equivalents, where they were stronger or weaker, and what learnings marketers could apply for future creative development in the digital space.

As always, to do this we used our 3 C’s framework:

  • Captivate: Does it stand out and grab attention?
  • Connect: Does it instantly recall the brand?
  • Compel: Does it motivate behavioral change?

Can an ad emotionally resonate in just 6 seconds?

Energizer’s short and simple story grabbed people’s attention through its spirited and colorful characters, with the 6” cut proving even more captivating than its 15” counterpart. Focusing on back-and-forth between the Energizer Bunny and kittens entertained viewers and built an upbeat tempo – while not requiring upfront narrative context to be clearly understood.

Watch the Energizer 15" ad here and the 6" ad here.

Best 6 second bumper ads - Ad Testing - Energizer

Is showing the logo/product throughout a 6 second ad necessary to achieve good branding?

This approach is a sure-fire way to guarantee the brand will be seen. Ziploc kept its iconic bag (featuring the logo) visible throughout their shorter cut and the brand was more easily identified as a result. Even without the extra narrative elements of the 15”, key messaging around the product’s intended usage was still clearly conveyed.

Watch the Ziploc 15" ad here and the 6" ad here.

6 second bumper ads - Ad Testing - Ziploc

Why do ambassadors, characters, and mascots provide advertisers with greater flexibility for shorter placements?

Ambassadors are an embodiment of the brand’s personality and values, having the benefit of being recognizable without requiring any other supporting contextual cues – bypassing the need for the brand to play a structural role in the story.

As the focal point of the ad, the Energizer Bunny typified the lively tone the brand seeks to project – not only aiding attribution, but also fostering positive feelings. In contrast, Liberty Mutual’s Emu (and Doug) were much less visible and recognizable in the 6” cut – overshadowed by the abstract narrative. This subsequently limited attribution.

Watch the Liberty Mutual 15" ad here and the 6" ad here.

Best 6 second bumper ads - Ad Testing - Liberty Mutual

Are there any watch-outs when stitching together a story through multiple executions?

The digital advertising ecosystem provides marketers with increasingly sophisticated ways to track individuals for the purpose of content scheduling and re-targeting. However, assuming people have been exposed to – and absorbed themselves within – other campaign touchpoints is fraught with danger. In an increasingly fragmented media environment (a cliché, we know!) it should never be assumed that people are any more inclined to engage with advertising than they need – or are forced – to be. And this applies equally to “offline” channels as it does to “online” (albeit we’re not sure those terms even still mean anything…).

Therefore, all advertising should work independently – meaning that, regardless of length, the story is coherent and a clear impression is left about the brand. Liberty Mutual’s 6” spot assumed pre-existing familiarity with the overarching campaign and subsequently caused confusion – resulting in people taking away little from the “bumper” compared to the 15”. In contrast, while Discover cut down much of the narrative for its shorter spot, it was still comprehendible while tying back to the broader campaign.

Watch the Discovery 15" ad here and the 6" ad here.

Best 6 second bumper ads - Ad Testing - Discover

Do 6 second ads need to convey a “message”?

Firstly, does any advertising need to deliver a “message” to work? We don’t think so, but – at the very least – advertising does need to seed an impression or idea about the brand in people’s minds. While Ziploc was successful in delivering a single-minded message around ‘keeping food fresher for longer’, Energizer’s hyperactive and ever-reliable bunny proved equally compelling by just making people feel good about the brand. Importantly, for both ads viewers were just as clear about what they were trying to say about the brand compared to their 15” counterpart.

What’s the learning for marketers?

Much conversation around short-form video focuses on how the “rules” for success differ – with the primary recommendation being to plaster the brand throughout so it can’t be missed. And this holds a lot of truth – for brands without any distinctive assets to reply upon, creating a story which gives the brand a structural role is borderline impossible in 6 seconds. Therefore, featuring the logo/product prominently is the only viable alternative.

However, this further reinforces why brands like Energizer – who have worked tirelessly to build-up universally recognized ambassadors – again reap the rewards when it comes to shorter-form content; people’s expectations are instantly framed when the bunny is seen, and a level of residual positivity triggered. Given the “bumper” placement should largely be viewed as an opportunity to build mental availability and reinforce a simple campaign idea, brands who invest in long-term devices are afforded another tremendous advantage in this format.

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