How six-second TV ads capture attention


Many of the dynamics influencing six-second television ad performance vary compared with longer commercials, according to a study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Henry G. Wolf VII and Paul Donato, both from the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), a trade body and the publisher of JAR, discussed this subject in Six-second advertisements on television: Best practices for capturing visual attention.

“Unlike with longer advertisements, for which daypart had the largest effect, daypart did not play a role in visual attention to sixes,” their study – spanning 3,000 six-second spots, as well as 15- and 30-second ads – reported.

“Instead, advertisement pairing and pod position” – namely, the placement of an ad in a series of spots – “both played an important role for sixes. Sixes had the best visual attention in solo pods, followed by first, last, and then middle position.”

Another finding: “Placing up to a total of four advertisements from one brand in the same program could increase attention to sixes,” they noted.

The ARF and TVision Insights, a company that measures TV viewability, utilised “computer vision” technology – which pairs tuning and audio data, tracks who is present in a room, and when their eyes are on the screen – from set-top boxes in producing these insights.

And the final dataset included 165,843 “observations” – that is, a national ad “playing on a television in one of 1,372 households where at least one six-second advertisement played during the period of data collection” and viewed by at least one person.

One knowledge point from this information related to time-shifted viewing on set-top boxes, which “tended to increase visual attention to sixes, whereas same-day viewing decreased visual attention for 30s and different-day viewing improved it for 15s”.

A more cautionary note emerged from the study, too, as 27% of all ads that played had “nobody in the room to see them” – indicating the limits of traditional set-top box data, and an important consideration for short-form spots.

“Analysis of these ‘invisible’ advertisements showed that sixes made up a greater proportion of invisible advertisements (11%) than advertisements played when someone was in the room (4%),” they wrote.

“This may be because it is easier to miss the entirety of a short advertisement than a longer advertisement. Moreover, sixes tended to be in solo or first position.”

This article first appeared in

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