Can You REALLY Build A Brand In Six Seconds?

From YouTube pre-rolls to Instagram stories, the short-form digital ad is getting more and more important for brands.

But can you really tell a story, or spark an emotion, in only 6 seconds? Marketers and market researchers need to know, and they need to know what works.

In recent months, Google has led the charge to demonstrate the storytelling potency of the six-second video. It commissioned top advertising creatives, first to retell fairy tales, then to create original micro stories.

The results are often very cool. But are they advertising?

The ultra-short narrative is nothing new. The famous six-word story, “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn”, attributed to Ernest Hemingway, proves you can create emotional impact with the most limited resources. Some of Google’s short videos make their point just as neatly.

But if you have to fit a brand in there too, your six seconds becomes a very tight squeeze indeed.

We had a look into our databases and market research platforms, to check out which very short ads actually performed well in tests. For our FeelMore50 work, we’ve tested ads from a few seconds to several minutes, looking for ones that leave viewers with strong positive emotion.

The bad news is, no six-second ad yet has hit our maximum 5-Star rating. But a handful have come very close. The best micro ads in our database come from Asia, and take a very different emotional approach than the sophisticated miniature stories Google came up with.

Here’s one from Japan, for Sunao ice cream. Sunao means “honest” or “straightforward”, and with only a few seconds to use, this ad really does take a no-frills approach, pushing sensory pleasure. It’s not sophisticated, but a 4-Star score suggests it’s effective.

That said, not every category is as sensuous as ice cream. So let’s look to Korea, and this 4-Star ad for Minute Maid Sparkling. In its six seconds the ad communicates refreshment and fun – even if you don’t speak Korean.

This isn’t the kind of brand storytelling we saw in the Google ads. It’s more like traditional advertising boiled down to its most basic elements. A brand, an image, and something – be it humour or sensory pleasure – to make you feel good. With only six seconds, editing is everything.

What more could brands do to push on to 5 Stars with their micro ads?

One thing they could use more is Fluency – rapid recognition – and distinctive assets. If you only have six seconds – or less – to seduce your audience, then lead with the assets  they recognise and love. It’s here, for instance, that using a Fluent Device – a recurring character or slogan your audience enjoy – can really pay off.

As the Vine and Instagram generation get their hands on the levers of marketing, we’re sure to see more creative and exciting uses of short-form. Right now, though, it’s all about discipline, editing craft, and the emotional fundamentals.


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident, creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand monitoring tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

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