Why Long-Form Ads Are the Wave of the Future

Short Films, Music Videos Featuring Products Engage Viewers With Brands by Providing Entertainment

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Since Lady Gaga's nearly 10-minute video "Telephone" made its debut a few weeks back, it's garnered 28 million views on YouTube, been watched on MTV.com nearly 500,000 times and shared on Facebook and tweeted directly from the pop star's site some 150,000 times.

LET'S MAKE A SANDWICH: Gaga pauses to whip up lunch with Wonder Bread, Miracle Whip.
LET'S MAKE A SANDWICH: Gaga pauses to whip up lunch with Wonder Bread, Miracle Whip.
The video-slash-short film is easily one of the most-popular pieces of longer-form content in recent times, boosting visibility for brands like Miracle Whip and dating site PlentyofFish.com that made appearances in the video. But it's also just one in a growing batch of examples that signal marketers' desire to engage with consumers for longer than the standard 30 seconds.

"We've definitely seen an upswing in longer-form ads," said Matt Miller, president and CEO, AICP. "While advertisers are looking for efficiencies in short-format/multiple platforms, they are also looking for new ways to engage consumers. ... One way to do that is through short films and fun pieces that create awareness of the brand, and reward consumers."

While long-form certainly has precedent -- from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in 1983 to BMW Films in 2005 -- industry-watchers all agree there's been a spike in such pieces. Kraft Foods recently created a 27-minute crowdsourced film to advertise its Lacta chocolate bar in Greece; electronic brand Philips collaborated with Ridley Scott Films to create "Parallel Lines," a set of short movies that acted as a global ad campaign to tout the cinematic viewing experience offered by Philips' range of TVs; and U.K. grocery store chain Waitrose ran a three-and-a-half-minute spot that took up the entire span of commercial breaks and featured the country's celeb chefs Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal. That's in addition to the laundry list of luxury fashion brands -- from Oliver Peoples, Pringle of Scotland, Opening Ceremony and Rodarte -- that are increasingly using movie-like ads featuring celebrities donning their clothing and accessories.

"We all are learning the rules, and it's that entertainment is king," said Roger Camp, chief creative officer at Publicis & Hal Riney.

That insight is a key one that agencies and their clients are using in their quest to triumph over consumers' shrinking attention spans, a particularly acute challenge with younger demographics. A Kaiser Family Foundation report earlier this year found that while media consumption is increasing overall -- it's gone from six hours and 21 minutes spent with media in 2004 to seven hours and 38 minutes today -- more multitasking is going on as media gets more fragmented. The foundation, in fact, estimates that because more people are using more than one medium at a time, consumers are actually managing to pack 10 minutes and 45 seconds of media content into those 7 and one-half hours.

Shrinking attention spans have dictated the shrinkage of media segments too, from 60-second spots to 30-, 15- and five- and even one-second spots to a degree that now there's a bit of a pushback to create work that really stands apart, according to industry execs. "That common rule of trying to keep it under a minute and half at the long end of the spectrum is being demolished and now it's about making sure that the entertainment value is there," said Mr. Camp. "And rather than having the brand talk about itself for a minute and half, what we've learned as advertisers is that the hard sell can't be a component of something you watch for a long time."

Enjoyable viewing experience
Luxury eyewear maker Oliver Peoples recently released its third branded film, an online ad in which rock star Shirley Manson and actor Elijah Wood model a variety of sunglasses and fancy frames while swimming in a pool and walking about a posh home. "The feedback was incredibly positive and people genuinely seemed to enjoy getting to experience the brand in a new and different way," said Michelle Lynn Walnum, senior director-brand image and communication at Oliver Peoples. "Cut to today, where the internet, social sites and viral media in general are growing wider and faster, we found that this was an opportunity to engage with our current customers as well as introduce our brand to new potential clientele. This film gives us the opportunity to create marketing with discreet branding that has always been central to our brand."

Three reasons you should consider doing more long-form ads
  • It's a way to stand out among the sea of 30-second spots and deliver entertainment value to consumers.
  • The economics are changing; longer spots don't necessarily cost more because they can be repurposed and there's less need to buy media.
  • There are a number of good case studies to reference in making your long-form ads more successful.
  • Said Matt Bijarchi, executive producer of media arts at TBWA/Chiat/Day: "With the proliferation of media, very few things are good, and when it's good, you get more attention."

    When Hulu did an experiment about 18 months ago, giving consumers the choice of ad to watch, either a two-minute ad before an online program or a couple of 30-second ads in the midst of a program, a whopping 88% of Hulu viewers opted for the two-minute ad. A bevy of marketers bought the long-form opt-in ads on Hulu, including Sprint, Capital One, Hyatt, Paramount Pictures, American Express and Columbia TriStar. The high opt-in rates suggested that because consumers are selecting the ads, they are more likely to be engaged with them. "The opt-in rate is proving this is something people want," Hulu told Ad Age at the time.

    Besides consumers' willingness to watch, there are other practical factors fueling the growth of long-form ads, industry execs said, citing the ease of distribution of long-form content in the digital era and a growing number of case studies marketers can point to that allow others to jump on the bandwagon. And then there's the cost. At a time when marketers' ad budgets are squeezed and agencies are being asked to do more work for less, the cost proposition of long-form work becomes more favorable.

    According to Mr. Bijarchi, the average cost of a 30-second ad today is about $380,000, and agencies are learning that longer than that doesn't have to be looked at as more expensive, particularly if the ads are spread on the internet and the cost of buying media is negligible. "It doesn't have to be looked at as more expensive ... you're spending the money on the long-form stuff and then you're cutting to make the commercials," he said. TBWA recently created a 30-minute film for Absolut Vodka shot by celebrity director Spike Jonze that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but was later repurposed into 30-second and 60-second segments to be used as trailers, or for other ad purposes.

    So with all this increased time consumers are spending with ads, is it really driving connections with brands, and more importantly, purchases? According to Ms. Walnum of Oliver Peoples, yes.

    "The traffic to our site has doubled each of the last three years and we attribute this in part to the demand for our short films. More importantly to us, the time a potential consumer is spending on the site continues to go up, which we believe leads to a better and deeper brand experience, and of course an increase to our e-commerce sales."

    Brands get creative with long form

    Brands are learning that even though media segments are getting smaller and smaller, consumers enjoy engaging with long-form content -- when it's good, of course. Here are some recent examples of what brands are doing when it comes to making advertising that's longer than a 30-second spot, and a lot more subtle to boot.

    The iconic brand presented the spring/summer collection with a film starring Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton, who walks through the Scottish highlands wearing the expensive clothes.

    The booze brand created a 15-minute commercial for Absolut featuring Jay -Z. The ad-slash-documentary, which was called NY-Z, was by TBWA/Chiat/Day and directed by Danny Clinch.

    Photographer Todd Cole created a thriller-cum-high-fashion drama called "Aanteni" as a way to promote Rodarte's spring 2010 collection. Set in California on property belonging to PayPal founder Elon Musk, it shows the designer clothing throughout the film.

    In a ploy to reach its fans who are also music lovers, Nike, with the help of agency Wieden & Kennedy, Tokyo, created a three-minute ad that shows us the art of dropping beats using sneakers.

    In March, high-end British grocery store chain Waitrose broke an ad that took up an entire three-and-one-half-minute commercial break. It took the form of a mini-cooking show featuring celebrity chefs cooking a meat dish, and offered tips on how consumers can make it.

    For Lacta, a chocolate brand popular in Greece, Kraft and Ogilvy One crowdsourced a 27-minute branded movie that initially was going to run only online but spurred so much talk that a local TV station offered to air it for free.

    Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst star in this short film featuring clothes by hip store Opening Ceremony and music by Schwartzman's label, Coconut Records.

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