Are You Ready for 6 Second Ads?

With the NFL football season starting tonight, I should probably be asking, “are you ready for some football?!”
 
As much as I’d like to break down my predictions for this season (CliffsNotes version: Packers vs. Patriots in the Super Bowl), this is a marketing newsletter, so instead I’m going to focus on a big piece of marketing news related to football season.
 
This fall, Fox is offering six second advertising spots during football games (and also baseball games).
 
Why the change? And why so short?
The network is trying to: 
1. increase the odds that people actually watch the ads instead of skipping over them or channel surfing
2. capture the shorter attention spans of fans today (especially millennials)
 
Fox may also experiment with new, unique formats for the ads. One of the rumored positions is in a box next to a live feed of the game during timeouts. The goal with that move is to limit the overall commercial breaks for viewers.
 
Will any of this work?
I’m skeptical… People have become conditioned to stop paying attention during commercials, no matter what the program is they’re watching. Sporting events are one of the few things on tv that people actually still watch live, so there aren’t a lot of people DVRing through the commercials while watching a football game. Instead they’re using those breaks to refill their glasses and plates, use the bathroom, browse online, or check on the game that’s airing simultaneously on CBS.
 
The argument that short attention span is to blame for people not watching commercials is crazy. People watch 20 straight minutes of a football game without losing their attention. They watch an uninterrupted 60+ minute episode of Game of Thrones. But the reason they can’t watch a 15 or 30 second commercial is because of short attention span? Riiiight. People don’t watch commercials because they’re an interruption and the content isn’t what people want at that time. When someone sits down to watch a football game, or anything on tv, they don’t want to be interrupted by a commercial trying to sell them something. It doesn’t matter if the commercial is 6 seconds, 30 seconds, or 60 seconds. 
 
Some of the quotes in this NY Times article make the argument that six second ads can work because short video ads have worked on Facebook and Instagram. A line from the Times article that tries to build the case for six second ads reads, “Separately, Facebook said recently that people scrolling through its News Feed on their mobile devices watched video ads for 5.7 seconds on average once they automatically played. (Often, that’s without sound.)”

That analysis is missing a key consideration - context. When people are scrolling through a social media feed, they don’t have an expectation or desire to not be interrupted. It’s a stream of interruptions, and they go into it knowing that each update requires only a short period of attention, so they’re ok with seeing an ad here or there. Perhaps just as important, they have the control to bypass those ads with a simple scroll. They’re a little more forgiving with ads in a social media stream than they are with commercials on TV, which are bunched into blocks of two to three minutes, rather than six seconds.

Also notable, since many of those videos on Facebook are played without sound, are people really tuned into them all that closely? Seems like a stretch to use that stat about video ad viewing time on Facebook as the basis for a multi-million dollar ad campaign running during NFL games.
 
Will these six second commercials work? Only time will tell. It definitely feels like there are other ways to use marketing budget to more consistently and effectively capture a target market’s attention though.

-Kevin

Kevin York