October 11, 2017

How to win with short form video

By Charlotte Dixon

In the UK, more than half the population checks their smartphone within 15 minutes of waking up. The tiny tyrant in our pockets is getting smarter and smarter. The networks are fast, the content is slick, and the games are addictive. The world we live in is changing, the platforms we spend hours scrolling through vary and the time we’re able to pay attention is declining.

Digital video is the most viewed content on mobile. There is an avalanche of it across multiple platforms for the audience to choose from. With this huge range of options, it has become harder than ever to meaningfully reach and engage with people.

This is the current reality, yet more often than not the content we see on our newsfeeds has not adjusted to it. Although video continues to be the ultimate storytelling medium, dominating content consumed on mobile, a large proportion of those videos are simply not fit-for-purpose. The failure to adapt means that audience view-through rates are dwindling and 1,000s of minutes of video are going unwatched.

The social media giants are busy developing formats and tweaking algorithms to get ahead of the curve and win people’s attention whilst still giving brands the opportunity to meaningfully deliver advertising messages. Broadcasters too are making very short formats part of their ad inventory.

Facebook, for instance, is continually making changes to its video algorithm, experimenting with percent completion rates to gain a better understanding of users’ preferences for content and then ranking video content in newsfeeds accordingly. Facebook says: “the best length for a video is whatever length is required to tell a compelling story that engages people, which is likely to vary depending on the story you’re telling”. Although it is continuing to invest in longer content formats and the average length of a video in 2017 is almost 4 minutes, studies show an average watch time of less than 10 seconds on the platform. It is clear that brands need to find a way to deliver engaging messages in a short, succinct way.

A polite introduction

Short-form videos also offer interesting opportunities for brands to engage with first-time consumers. A recent Google-led study found that for the platform’s six-second bumper ads, nine out of 10 of them drove ad recall, whilst 61 per cent lifted brand awareness. One insight is that if a brand is trying to reach someone for the first time, then short and sweet is best. The thinking is that if a potential customer has never heard of a brand then expecting them to sit through 30 or 60 seconds of content is quite an imposition in a fast moving, fragmented world. Although people may be willing to engage with longer content on specific platforms, brands also need to be able to integrate effective short-form messages into campaigns.

Boundaries spark creativity

It’s a common misconception that creatives like having no constraints – blank canvases and momentous white boards they can fill with endless thoughts and scribbles. In our experience, this is far from the truth. Creatives thrive on boundaries, from knowing to whom they are talking, what the rules are, why their stories are important and where their ideas will eventually end up.

A very short film offers the ultimate constraints – every millisecond is valuable real estate that has to be made engaging and crystal clear. Far from being a handicap, it’s more like a starting gun.

There’s an apocryphal story, which claims that Ernest Hemingway made a bet with several other writers that he could craft a novel using just six words. He came up with: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” and lifted his winnings. The poignancy of those few words, and the narrative the reader projects upon them, shows just how possible it is to make brevity work extremely hard.

Creative tips

  1. Keep it simple
    Communicate one thing and nothing more. Be really specific on the one message you want to get across. Keep everything simple – the brief, the idea, the story, the visuals.
  2. Focus, focus, focus
    Focusing on the small, yet vital, cornerstones of an idea will help you narrow down to what is really important to get your story across.
  3. Respect the audience
    The audience’s time is limited and their attention is fragmented but they are used to this. Respect the fact that the audience can process and remember messages in a small amount of time if they are simple and focused.
  4. The message IS the call to action
    It is often said that every video needs not only a clear message but also a call to action. Here, however, there is room for either a message or a call to action, not both. Keeping it refined allows short video to become a springboard for a wider campaign, providing the vital groundwork that can support other marketing efforts.
  5. Let the audience fill in the blanks
    You really can get an idea across in less than 10 seconds. It’s longer than you may think. You don’t need to tell an entire story in the same way you might with 30 or 60 seconds. Show the viewer an experience or idea they can relate to, and they will do the rest themselves. See Hemingway…

Versatile, effective, impactful

As online behaviours continue to shift to multi-screen, split-attention viewing, the creative industries and brands need to adapt traditional storytelling to ensure their messages are being effectively conveyed. However, it is vital to ensure that these new formats are respected in their own right, with clear creative boundaries and an understanding of what the audience wants to see. When successfully produced, short-form video provides a versatile yet effective opportunity to engage audiences across platforms and ensure that social campaigns deliver the maximum impact, without being scrolled past.

The short of the story

To have confidence in how powerful short video content can be, we’ve collated some of our favourite stories that are short and sweet but still deliver an emotional and engaging story:

The High Dive – Maud Deitch

School Play – Michelin

Kafka’s Metamorphosis – a Six Second Short, Jonathan Emmerling

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