YouTube Ad Length, Go Long Or Go Short?

YouTube Ad Length, Go Long Or Go Short?

When a video ad pops out while you are browsing YouTube, what do you usually do? My guess is you first take a peek at its length, ponder for a sec to see if it is worth your time and let that desperate thought process of yours decide whether to leave the skip button alone. Once you do start watching for a bit, how many times have you skipped the video, had it failed to amaze you?

It seems impossible to grip people’s attention in any online media nowadays. Our attention span has decreased so much that sometimes, it’s even shorter than a goldfish’s memory. To deal with our lack of patience, how long should it take to change someone’s mind about your brand in a video ad? Should you rush to tell your story to avoid getting abandoned, or should you embrace a longer format to present a more captivating moment?

To find out, let’s take a look at a research done by Google and Mondelez International. In accordance with National Hispanic Heritage Month, 3 different ad lengths (15 seconds, 30 seconds and 120 seconds) were tested to measure their effectiveness:

15-Second Cut

A mere voice-over from a father and an end scene with the brand’s logo and tagline, this is the shortest version. The short duration of this video makes it less likely to be skipped, without sacrificing content and narrative effectiveness. As the ad has only 15 seconds to communicate its brand identity, messages tend to be conveyed in a straightforward manner. Either the product or logo of Honey maid is present for a total of 5 seconds, or 33% of total run time.

30-Second Cut

This longer format adds more details to the story, with more narration from the father, a driving scene and a simple fact. Either the product or logo is shown for 10 seconds, or 30% of total run time. This version draws viewers to a more in-depth understanding of Hispanic’s struggles while slowing down intensity. Despite the doubled duration, it still feels relatively short. 30-second cut often has the best of both worlds – short enough to keep viewers entertained and long enough to create a meaningful impression.

120-Second Cut

The longest and most compelling version, this cut further elaborates the story by having the mother, grandmother and daughter speak. Either the product or logo is present for only 12 seconds, or just 9% of the overall runtime. Although the low appearance frequency of Honey Maid’s product, this 120-second cut truly communicates the story of a Spanish family through rich tones, music, and personal messages by the family.

Findings: Longer Maybe Stronger

Result indicates that longer ad cuts are least skipped, while short formats are most skipped. As shown in the graph below, the 30-second version has the highest view-through rate (VTR). In fact, its VTR is 30% more than the 15-second cut. Unsurprising though, such outcome reasonably denies the hypothesis that short ads are less skipped and better at communicating marketing message. One reason being even though shorter ads may seem quick and taking up less amount of viewers’ time, there’s a possibility that viewers might as well skip these annoying brief interruptions. Longer ads on the other hand, are able to utilize the duration for stronger emotions, better ad pace controlling and the overall feeling of the ad. The extra dimensions create a more in-depth and meaningful connection with viewers. In addition, a study by Hubspot states that audiences engage most with videos that are 2 minutes (120 seconds) long.

So, does that mean longer ads are preferable? Not exactly, notice below that despite the 15-second ad is performing poorly, it still overpasses Mondelez’s benchmark, along with the two other ad formats. Shorter ads can still get a hold of people's’ attention if it tells a great story within the set duration. There is no definite suggestion as to longer ads are always better. Short ads could do better than long ads too, depending on their precision in hitting what viewers want to see. However, in most cases, a longer story may be necessary to persuade people to change how they think if brands were to move beyond simple awareness.



Ultimately, ad length is going to be heavily influenced by your video content and advertising goals. One element is still the same now as it was at the beginning of advertising: content. A great story can still hold an audience, regardless of its length, even when the skip button is just right there.