Toooooo looooong?

We ask four top ad creatives if TV ads are getting too long, including AMV BBDO’s Alex Grieve, Droga5’s Nik Studzinski, W+K’s Iain Tait and BBH London’s Ewan Paterson

According to YouTube, the most viewed ads on its UK network last year were an astonishing 57% longer than in 2013. The average length was 2.8 minutes. But is longer necessarily better?

Nowadays, it feels that every ad is the director’s cut. The question is whether every spot deserves to be so long. Many of the World Cup ads last year felt positively bloated, as if giving more airtime to the footie superstars would make up for the lack of any new ideas. It didn’t.

What the YouTube list doesn’t make clear is how long these commercials were actually viewed for. Officially, ‘views’ are only counted if at least 30 seconds are watched. So it’s possible that viewers still only made it through the first quarter or so of each spot – or perhaps just skipped to the end.

Is some moderation now required? Maybe it’s even time for the return of the short and sweet spot – if not just for the viewers, then for the sanity of the judges at the awards shows. We asked some of the ad industry’s top creative directors for their (brief) thoughts.

Alex Grieve, ECD, AMV BBDO

“Longer ads allow us to tell richer stories. Stories that can ebb and flow, twist and turn, rise and fall. With more time we have more opportunity to develop character. We can get to know people better and the more we know them, the more we want to spend time with them. In the very best stories it’s what doesn’t happen that makes them interesting. The long silences that speak volumes, the thing we don’t see behind the closed door, the lingering look that reveals the heart’s true desire, the comic beat that allows the joke to build. And for all of that you need time.

But ads should only be as long as the story demands. It’s our responsibility to ensure we don’t abuse this gift of time. There is a mistaken belief that longer ads lend the brand a sense of importance. This is rarely the case. Most of the time they merely give them a sense of self-importance. Think about the best stories you’ve read or watched. Do you remember how long they were? No. You remember the story. You remember being moved or scared or turned on or laughing so much you have to bury your wet Y-fronts at the bottom of the bin inside an empty box of Dorset Cereal nutty muesli (or is that just me?). Longer can help you be better but it cannot guarantee it. Get the story right and everything else will follow.”

Nik Studzinski, ECD, Droga5 London

“I love the fact that ads (online at least) are getting longer. We have a tradition of great craft skills in the UK. Last year’s Christmas ads were testament to that. And I’m glad they were long. Long is good. It gives you more time to tell a good story. To allow an idea to breathe. More time to connect and engage with your audience. Long is only a bad idea if your idea is bad. The same rules apply whether you have 30 seconds or three minutes. Be respectful of the audience, sensitive to the fact they didn’t ask to watch your ad, that more often than not ads are an intrusion and that they (the audience) have the ability to dismiss them at their fingertips. And not just the ability but, often, the inclination.”

Iain Tait, ECD, Wieden + Kennedy London

“I blame the internet. ‘Web videos’ have got people comfortable letting it all hang out. And manifestos. Manifestos for everything from mayonnaise to multinationals. They need time for their rousing pomposity to kick in. But I’m optimistic there’s an opposing trend in play. Super-short, clear, well-crafted ads. Pre-Rolls, Instagram, Vine, Twitter and Facebook don’t tolerate self-indulgence. Go shorty.”

Ewan Paterson, creative managing partner, BBH London

“What people have realised is a three-minute utterly engaging and engrossing film is more powerful than watching a 30-second film 20 times. I don’t think the 30 second ad is dead, I think the three-minute film has come into its own…. If you make a three-minute film and people watch it once, it’s much more powerful, and more cost effective, than running a 30-second ad 100 times.”

YouTube’s most watched ads in the UK in 2014:

1. Sainsbury’s Christmas ad; 3:40
2. John Lewis Monty The Penguin Christmas ad; 2:10
3. Nike Football, Winner Stays; 4:12
4. Nike Football, The Last Game; 5:28
5. Always, Like A Girl; 3:18
6. Three, Sing It Kitty;1:15
7. M&S, Follow The Fairies Christmas ad; 1:40
8. Save The Children, Most Shocking Second a Day video; 1:33
9. Guinness, Sapeurs; 1:40
10. Pepsi Max, Human Loop-the-Loop with Damien Walters; 2:58 1

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