The Long and Short of It

Quick. You’ve got one second to get your brand message across. Or, if that doesn’t work, why don’t you take a long leisurely five minutes? Those in-the-middle :30 spots are for dinosaurs.

Okay, so perhaps it hasn’t gotten to that point yet, but advertising does seem to be migrating to two opposite poles. It’s getting shorter, and it’s getting longer. You’ve got the short, attention-getting, awareness-building, but not-too-intrusive ads on the one hand. Then there are the long-form, immersive, brand experience efforts. Each has an important role to play in the mix.

A recent USA Today article chronicled the rise of the incredible shrinking advertisement, attributing the trend largely to the rise of ad-skipping technology like TiVo and other DVRs. As the logic goes, a :05 TV spot, such as those reportedly being aired for Honda’s new Fit hatchback, is more likely to inadvertently slip past even a vigilant operator of the DVR remote control. AOL apparently tried the :05 tactic earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Clear Channel Radio, already an outspoken advocate of shorter stop sets and commercials, has been trotting out examples of what it calls “Blinks,” one-second radio ads consisting of a well-known brand jingle or phrase, such as McDonald’s “I’m Loving It” or Intel’s tones. The company has also reportedly been selling :05 ads.

Even online, the conventional wisdom says interruptive ads such as pre-roll on video or full-page Flash animations should be :15 or shorter. It’s just too easy to click away if one grows frustrated with the detour away from the desired content.

When does short work? When you’ve got an established brand — like McDonald’s, or Intel — or when you’re trying to tease a longer more in-depth effort. It’s an attention-getter or a reminder, but isn’t sufficient to tell an entire story in and of itself. Short works wonderfully as an interest-piquing lead-in to a long-form branded-entertainment initiative on the Web.

One great example (and, yes, I know it’s not for a real product) is the way the creators of the “Lost”-related alternate reality game (ARG) teased various Web sites during broadcasts of the show. Now, I can’t cite statistics, but I’m willing to wager that the same geeks who endlessly debate “Lost” online are also big fans of DVRs. And yet the :15 spots for the in-game “Hanso Foundation” were crafted in such a way (with a lengthy-enough static image to register even when fast-forwarding) to catch viewers’ attention, even though they aired in the middle of a commercial pod. They most certainly drove online chatter and traffic to the ARG sites.

And short isn’t solely for offline media. Entertainment brands like NBC have (belatedly) gotten hip to the fact that making available snippets of content from shows like “Saturday Night Live” actually helps, rather than hurts, the longer, more in-depth content available on TV.

Still, online and on-demand, because of their time-shiftable nature, are best at delivering the other end of the spectrum — the long, utterly-engaging opt-in experience. Countless companies are building sites designed for stickiness nowadays, and a whole bunch of them actually deliver pretty entertaining stuff. Volkswagen’s “Gypsy Cab Project” has that voyeuristic allure of Taxicab Confessions, but without the sex acts. Land Rover’s Go Beyond TV is as entertaining as some Discovery Channel programming. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit watching TurnHere documentaries, some of which are commercial messages.

But for these long-form entertainment sites to be successful, people have got to know they exist. Sure, PR works sometimes, but it’s not 100 percent reliable, so, in this new media reality, you’ve got to do some advertising for your advertising. Can you give out your microsite URL in one second? Short and long, it all works together.

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