Ben Jones, 48, creative director, Google
Ben Jones is trying to rewire brands' perceptions of how good ads work on digital devices.
The future doesn't have to be all six-second ads, Mr. Jones said, referring to fears that the 30-second TV spot will be squeezed into tighter and tighter windows designed to work online.
For an absurdly long but suggestive exception, just consider the pre-roll ad that Lagavulin ran on YouTube this year, showing comedian Nick Offerman sipping whisky for almost an hour. Mr. Jones' Google's Unskippable Labs was not part of creating the spot, but it's an example of the way creativity can still make advertising great. "We're changing the ways stories work so people choose them," Mr. Jones said, speaking with Ad Age recently in the cafeteria of Google's New York City office. "It's not that all ads are bad. Bad ads are bad."
Google's Unskippable Labs studies the science of storytelling and shares its findings with brands and agencies such as AMV BBDO.
"The next creative experience needs to be borne out of YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram," said Jonny Spindler, chief innovation officer at AMV BBDO. "Not inspired by TV in the '50s."
To find those next experiences, Google recently conducted secret tests using 16 versions of a generic commercial that ran across YouTube, gauging the effects of changes in pacing, color, audio on or off, and vertical or horizontal screen orientations.
Despite the ubiquity and influence of vertical video on Snapchat, Google's research found that on YouTube at least, vertical video is not more effective than horizontal presentation.
YouTube also found that commercials viewed with sound on are always more effective. That's one of Facebook's struggles— ads usually play on mute unless a user turns on the audio. (Video on YouTube, including ads, plays with the sound on.)
Superimposing text, adding another dimension to a story also proved effective. That's a technique that Facebook popularized to counter the challenge of muted ads.
But perhaps most importantly, pacing was everything in YouTube's creative tests. The biggest factor influencing performance was the quickness of the cuts and how fast the story unfolded.
"Because of mobile devices, we've become acclimated to taking in information much faster," Mr. Jones said.
That doesn't mean commercials need to be short, he said. They just need to constantly deliver a payoff or some new stimulus. That could change how stories unfold, because people just won't stick around for a long set-up. The punchline can't come at the end, Mr. Jones said.
Google is starting to work with marketers to spread the findings of its research.
Next up, Google is encouraging brands with digital plans to hijack the creative process even earlier, versus relying on re-editing footage shot for TV and hoping it works online. Instead, the teams are planning for digital in the script phase.
It may seem like a small adjustment, but most brands still aren't thinking this way, Mr. Jones said. "You need to bake in and budget digital for every project," he said. "It's not a maybe."