For marketers, deciding between short-form and long-form video has been challenging. On one hand, consumers have short attention spans, and on the other, studies have shown that longer video can perform better. Both short and long formats have value. When deciding between the two, marketers should first consider the goal of the campaign.
Goals for video campaigns can vary from upper funnel brand discovery to lower funnel clicks. Determining performance on marketing-based goals can be a bit complicated to pin down. So, advertisers often look at video completions and clickthroughs when measuring video campaign effectiveness.
Clickthroughs are supposed to represent interested people who visit a site or social pages and then ingest more information about offerings. If site perusal is your goal, short video is best. Not only do short videos offer more scale, but there’s an inverse relationship between clickthroughs and longer viewing. Why produce a long video when you want people to click away rather than watch?
The most popular metric for video ads is completion rate. In theory, completions represent people who attentively watch your entire video. But confirming viewers’ attention is complicated. One important variable to consider when measuring attention is whether the viewer can skip the video. Standard 15 and 30-second, non-skippable pre-roll ads have average completion rates around 70%. But formats like YouTube’s skippable TrueView or Facebook’s easy to scroll past video ads average less than 30%. Are so many more people really paying attention to non-skippable ads? Or are they tuning out while the ads play?
Considering Short-Form Video
When considering the two most popular metrics for video campaigns, short-form seems to be the clear winner. They make more sense for those with clickthrough goals. And most video vendors recommend shorter videos because they perform better on video completions. This is because as video length increases, so does viewer drop-off.
Scale is also a big consideration. Most in-stream ad inventory doesn’t allow for long-form ads. Especially non-skippable inventory, where the completion rates are highest. This is likely a big reason why, even though people have been predicting for years and years that long-form video is the future, the majority of video ads are 30 seconds or shorter.
Look past the completion rate and short-form isn’t the clear choice. With most videos, viewership drops off precipitously in the first several seconds. YouTube introduced 6 second Bumper ads last year to combat this. But it’s hard to tell a story in 6 seconds. This is where long-form video can excel.
Considering Long-Form Video
Long-form video is often touted as a better way to engage consumers, with greater emphasis on entertainment and story. Since people need to opt-in to view long-form content, it’s easy to put it out there, but hard to get it watched. This puts it at a disadvantage compared to non-skippable standard length ads, which on the surface seem to perform better on viewing metrics.
However, this is where goals come into play. What are the goals of the campaign? Is it just to drive clicks and completions? Or are there longer-term ambitions like trying to build brand affinity, which require true viewer attention.
Long-form video can be very effective at capturing attention. Here’s a comparison of similar short and long-form videos from the same major national advertiser. With the standard 30-second commercial, 2/3 of viewers dropped off after 10 seconds and 16% completed the video.
The long-form video was slightly over two and a half minutes long. Here, it took 39 seconds for 2/3 of viewers to drop off and 13% completed the video. The long-form video delivered significantly more attention to more people than the shorter ad.
Using Short and Long-Form Together
A big reason the longer video worked is that the brand was seamlessly integrated into the video. Advertisers are competing with a glut of high quality content that is available on demand. Whether short or long, authentic stories captivate people. Including clumsy brand references and salesy messages detract from authenticity. Savvy content creators know that plastering logos everywhere doesn’t resonate with today’s consumers. If you want people to pay attention to your video then it should look like content and not like a commercial. You can tell people a story in 30 seconds or 3 minutes and they’ll watch both as long as the story is good.
Typically, between 2-6 minutes is the sweet spot for long-form videos. It’s best to choose brevity when possible, including only those elements essential to your story. But regardless of video length, some viewers will drop-off quickly. It’s often recommended to front-load messaging and quickly get your takeaway across before people leave. But this can be difficult to do well and often interrupts the flow of your story. Instead of stuffing brand messaging in the first 5 seconds just make the ad 5 seconds. Otherwise make the first 5 seconds more interesting. This way more people will choose to watch. And then, by focusing on the story, those people will watch longer.
Factoring in viewing drop-off and creating your ad for the people who stay will maximize the value of your long-form video. You can always reach those with short attention spans or take advantage of short-form inventory sources with edited-down versions. A 3-minute video can always be trimmed to a 60-second version for Instagram, a 30-second pre-roll, and a 6-second blast. But that perfect 3-minute cut offers storytelling and engagement opportunities, often with your most interested and valuable consumers, well beyond those of the typical short-form ad.