Six-second videos: same challenge, new format

What exactly is a six-second video? At Y&R Austin, we view it as a welcome challenge to us and our clients. Why? At the end of the day, when all the data is sifted through and all the fancy media placements are purchased, we are still tasked with crafting intriguing stories for our brands. This is a constant in advertising, dating all the way back to the three-martini lunch and full-page newspaper ads with tightly kerned Garamond type. The need for great storytelling remains. It’s just the where, how and how quickly that seem to change with great frequency.

Every day, more and more consumer interactions are happening on mobile devices or home assistants like Alexa. These devices are tailored to serve up morsel-sized pieces of content in a steady, never-ending stream. And since the human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish, us marketers will be lucky to get even six seconds to plead our case. We better make it snappy.

Our ability to tailor content based on which Cardi B video our target just watched has never been greater. Words like “nimble” and “optimize” are frequently used. But for us, the ultimate takeaway is to be relatable. Finding those universal human truths and bringing them to life has always been at the heart of great advertising (and great storytelling). And while data might tell us that a particular consumer prefers babies and Labradors in her content, we all tend to gravitate towards similar themes — freedom, friendship, rebellion, togetherness, etc.

Six seconds is obviously pretty fast, but not so fast that we can’t be relatable, authentic and effective. Sure, it takes a bit of discipline to cut away all the extra fat and filler that we’re used to with longer formats. But if we stick to finding that one pure emotion that best represents our brand, we can make some fantastic content. We challenge brands to experiment with the six-second format. See if you can be sentimental or funny or optimistic in six seconds. Ultimately, the six-second video is a marketer’s tool and, much like a great headline, can be brilliant, cutting and concise — if used correctly.

And just in case you thought the six-second format was some revolutionary new way of communicating, there was actually something very similar happening in literature about 100 years ago — but back then they called it “flash fiction.” Maybe the greatest example of which is a “six-word novel,” attributed to Ernest Hemingway:

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