"They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel."

~Carol Buchner~

The first paid TV commercial aired in 1941. It was 10 seconds long but included only two seconds of voice over. It played just before the broadcast of baseball game between the Dodgers and the Phillies. Prior to that the FCC wouldn't allow paid commercials. Within 15 years TV advertising would be $1 Billion industry.

For the next 30 years the standard length of a commercial was 60 seconds and they were as much a part of the TV experience as the content was. Then in 1971 commercials started dropping down to 30 seconds. The volume of content was increasing and we were getting impatient. Fast forward yet another 40 years to 2011, and almost half of all ads were 15 seconds or less.

Today, Sept 7th Fox will air 6 second ads before the start of the Chiefs/Patriots game. It seems 76 years of advertising has ended up bringing us right back where we started.

So, what's going on here? Well, there are the conventional reasons:

  • Digital advertising is setting our expectations. In 2016 digital ad spend finally surpassed TV, $72.5 billion $71.3 billion. Digital ads have had to be short and impactful since it's so easy to just click and move on. Broadcast ads have had to follow suit.
  • How do you grow your market when you have a limited supply? You create more inventory by splitting your product. Costs for TV ads have increased by a factor of nearly 30x since 1960. To increase inventory broadcasters have just cut the available time slots into smaller segments. After all if you can show that a 6-second ad is more effective than a 30-second ad it should cost more, right?
  • Our attention span is shrinking to ever smaller intervals as it approaches that of a goldfish.

These all make sense, but I think there's something more foundational going on. Simply put, we're human and what humans are drawn to more than anything else is emotion.

We spend 10 hours and 39 minutes each day consuming media in front of a screen of some sort. We've long since passed content overload. Our senses are numb from too much media. So, how do you stand out? You fall back on the one thing that rises above the noise, connecting with deep core emotions. Fear, love, joy, hope, empathy, surprise do not need embellishment. Our brains are wired to respond instantly to whatever triggers one or more of these.

In the age of too much information and not enough time what people respond to is quick emotional nuggets that respect their time. I call it the 6x6 method for marketing success; six seconds that focus on six emotional triggers.

And, if you're wondering, yes it turns out 6 seconds is more than enough time to trip one of those triggers. Don't believe me?

Take a look at these winners to a contest that YouTube sponsored at the Sundance Film Festival for a six-second ads. The results are more effective than any 30+ second commercial.

Here's just one of the ads:

The take away from this is simple. If you want to connect with your customers, marketplace, or readers keep the 6x6 rule in mind. Show respect for your viewers time and go for one of these core emotions; fear, love, joy, hope, empathy, surprise.

Maybe we had it right in 1941 and have just taken the long way home.