Does Video Length Matter In Online Video Advertising?

29.10.2012 by David Waterhouse

So you want to create an ad that will be shared across the web, but you are not sure how long to make it. Should it be less than one minute? If it is longer than two minutes are web users less likely to share it with their social networks? Is there an optimum length? Does it even matter how long it is?

Well, in the world of social video advertising, size does matter – but maybe not in the way you think. You would imagine that the average web user would rather have a red-hot poker rammed in their left eye than sit through a four-minute-minute ad. After all, these are the days when consumers pick and choose what they watch with a nonchalant flick of their DVR remote. These are the days when a 15-second pre-roll ad can drive even the calmest and most patient individual into a frothy ball of uncontrollable rage.

However, if you look at the length of most popular online video ads of all time, a very different picture emerges. The average length of the Top 10 most shared ads of all time is a 4 minutes and 11 seconds. Yep, just short of five minutes (sort of). Now, I know what you are thinking: it's the Kony factor that has driven up the time. Stick the charity Invisible Children's 30-minute video in there and of course the numbers are going to fly up. Kony 2012 was a one-off; a global phenomenon that is not a good yardstick for commercial brands trying to make it big online.

Well, what if I told you that that figure actually does not include Kony. In fact, if you did include it, the length would increase to a mammoth 6 minutes 12 seconds. Indeed, even without Kony, half of the top 10 are more than three minutes long, including Abercrombie & Fitch's Call Me Maybe spoof, while four are more than four minutes 57 seconds. Two, including the highly successful Gymkhana 4, created by DC Shoes, are more than nine minutes.

In fact, look at the top 50 and a pattern develops: the shorter the ad, the fewer shares it tends to attracts. For example, the average length of the 11th to 20th most shared ads of all time is 2 minutes 30 seconds; videos 41-50 it's 1 minute 45 seconds. The top 50 average (again not including Kony) is 2 minutes 54 seconds.

So what does this mean? Well, firstly, the attention span for social video advertising is considerably longer that of a traditional 30-second TV spot. It’s not surprising. Recent scientific and academic research has found that the number of shares a video attracts, whether it is user-generated or commercial, is linked to the strength of emotion it elicits from its viewers. The stronger the emotion, the more likely it is going to be shared. So it’s hardly surprising that longer ads are more likely to wring out people’s emotions. Thirty seconds is barely enough time to do anything. Sure, it's long enough to introduce a product, but is long enough to tell a story?  

More significantly, it shows that people’s attitudes to advertising have changed. Rather than being interrupted by a brand, they want to be engaged by one. It’s a change that more and more advertisers are beginning to embrace. They know the days when they would just buy some airtime or ad space and blast it out to a supposedly captive audience have long gone.

These days, they know that to reach out to their target audiences online they can’t just put their TV ad on YouTube and hope for the best. Instead, they are embracing the opportunity to become content creators - and it is these brands that are reaping the rewards online.

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