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The Best Average Commercial Length: Answering the Question Once and for All

May 9th, 2019   ||    by Callie Wheeler

It’s straightforward: what is the best average commercial length? Such a simple question should have a definitive answer. But opinions vary and research seems to change every few years. (Is dark chocolate still good for you? What about red wine?)

We’re here to break it down and make it simple. What does the research say about commercial length, attention, and recall? How do statistics vary by industry or audience?

Research Says . . .

For quite some time, WARC’s study from 2006 has been the industry standard, recommending the 30-second average commercial length. But the research was conducted over a decade ago, and since then shorter ad formats have gained popularity.

The most recent research, conducted by iSpot.TV, revealed new takeaways:

  • The 10-second ad scores best for attention, followed by the 15-second ad. In short, shorter is better!
  • There are a few industries where a longer ad format actually outperforms shorter formats: travel, automotive, and entertainment, with travel achieving the highest attention score. In these categories, the best average commercial length for attention is 60 seconds.
  • Attention is impacted by three main factors outside of length: creative, context, and wear. Creative includes the style and story of the ad; context is the show during which the ad airs; and wear is how often the ad has aired and how much ad fatigue the audience experiences as a result.

Putting the Research Into Practice

With this knowledge in hand, advertisers can tailor campaign strategy to viewers’ changing preferences. For the insurance, electronics and communications, or food and beverage brand, industries where attention scores were lowest for 60-second ads, a series of shorter ads that build upon each other makes sense. The series, with related storylines, will prevent the ad fatigue that can come from overexposure to the same ad too often, while increasing brand recall and favorability.

Beyond the length and creative, research indicates consideration of context and placement is key. A strategy that includes ad creation with the types of shows its audiences will be viewing ensures the brand takes full advantage of all factors.

And for those industries where long-form advertising is the usual? The report is good news for many of those instances, like the entertainment industry’s movie trailers or automakers’ tributes to cross-country driving. It still provides insight into how to best leverage the creative, context, and wear.

Looking to the Future

In many ways these best practices just scratch the surface of today’s options. Advertisers have other lengths in their arsenal, like the six-second ad and even the one-second ad, and there is some crossover with digital to consider. Broadcasting & Cable noted that research draws a correlation between digital and television advertising, even suggesting brands consider taking a more holistic approach to the two.

As brands continue to optimize their advertising strategies, adapt to new formats, and mature their omnichannel strategies, we’ll likely learn even more. Until then, you have an answer, once and for all.

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