Brands that act as content creators need to rethink their message.


Like . . . six-seconds quick.

Google chaperoned a new age of storytelling last year by constraining creativity with six-second YouTube bumper ads. Adoption is currently taking place on the platform before the phase-out of unskippable 30-second ads fully takes place.

Short attentions spans call for short-form content and even shorter messaging—which could be complex if it’s not navigated correctly.

YouTube showed their own chops last month by crunching classic books like “Romeo and Juliet,” “On the Origin of Species” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” into vignettes by sharing the absolute storytelling essentials.

Google creative director Ben Jones joined AListDaily to explain how marketers need to rethink their messaging.

How are you advising brands and marketers to rethink their storytelling and messages with the six-second ad?

The fun thing about six-second ads is that I think of it as quantum video. When it was 15 seconds, you could cut your 30-second spot, and it would work. But you can’t cut a 30 into six seconds. It’s too much. The rules have to change. The storytelling has to change at that size. What we’re seeing with the brands that are embracing is really fresh and interesting storytelling built for six seconds. I think the two creative opportunities that people are seeing is that it’s a sort of painless opportunity to tell a story, so you can do a lot of experimentation. Also, no one is making just one. So it’s not just one six-second ad—it’s three-four-and-five six-second ads, and people are playing with the fact that there are these little bits that are related.

Will success translate in this new setting for brands who have had previous hits with short-form storytelling?

I think there are a lot of commonalities between those formats, and the idea of that kind of storytelling. Although I feel like part of the peculiar magic of Vine was the looping, a story that’s so funny and interesting that you can watch it several times. Certainly with Snapchat, there’s immediacy and authenticity, which are very related to what people want to see in six seconds.

If you’re to answer the following question in under six seconds … how do you tell a story in six seconds? 

Nobody knows! So let’s find out! (laughs)

What do brands need to do in order to become better storytellers?

The storytelling bar has gotten so high. We’re now at a billion hours per day of watch time on YouTube. There are 400 new scripted shows being launched in the next 12 months. So that’s what people are spending their time with. If you’re going to tell a story that anyone is going to pay attention to, or remember, you have to do it a lot better. I think it’s an exciting time because the safe space is disappearing. You can’t just put out a basic product. You’ll drown. People pay attention to brands who tell great stories. They’ll seek them out. They’ll spend time with them. One of the surprising learnings of Unskippable Labs has been that people don’t hate ads. They hate bad ads. And they sure love the great ones.

Can you take us through your latest initiative in the Unskippable Labs. What’s that about?

Unskippable Labs is a scientific method to see how ads affect consumers. It’s an experimentation we create for deliberate hypothesis, like, “how should storytelling change for mobile?” We craft assets that are not about “what’s the best ad that I can make?” but “what will reveal something about this hypothesis?” We run the stuff in-market, so it’s behavior in the wild. Through that, we understand a little bit more about how stories should be told. We did about 25 experiments in the last year—mobile, editing, length, story structure—and it’s revealing surprising things about how our behaviors are changing, what kind of new behaviors are emerging and what it means for brands. . . . What pushed us in that direction was me pushing our own team to make content ourselves, and test it ourselves. The whole program started internally. I said “let’s shoot some stuff on a phone and put it up on YouTube. We’ll run it on my credit card as ads. We got such surprising results—like if people will pay attention to a “face” longer, or a “place” longer. . . . It really showed me there’s a lot we don’t understand about how stories unfold. So we started experimenting more, and it just showed me that consumer behavior is running faster than what our sense of what consumer behavior is. So we needed to do experimentation with Unskippable Labs to catch up.

Is it also a workaround to ad-blocking?

You know, it’s interesting. I feel like if the stories are good, then you don’t need a workaround to ad-blocking. Ad-blocking is just a frustration with the ad value that you’re getting. Tell better stories, and people will pay attention.

What kind of insight can you share on a user’s “skipping” culture of YouTube ads?

Here’s what I would say—first, I think all media is skippable, whether a “skip” button comes up, or not. We did some eye-tracking research and found that the majority of Americans that watch TV with a phone in their hand are not even watching the first five seconds of a TV ad. What we’re exploring through media that has a skip button is “what’s the nature of attention? What do you choose to give your time to? What’s the data behind it?” The benchmark skip rate is around 28 percent. Almost 30 percent of the people are choosing to watch at least some of the ads. If they choose to watch, the longer they watch, the better it is for brands. If you’re telling a great story, there is plenty of opportunities to get the word out.

Will Unskippable Labs be weaved into YouTube TV? Is this where it will be headed?

It’s not. Not right now. We’re going to do experiments that are on TV, and about TV, but not specifically for YouTube TV. But we’re exploring how the patterns of optimization for digital and mobile may be effective on TV as well. If it’s about attention, and my TV ad is skippable, should I be thinking about the same strategies that work digitally for my TV ads?

Will there be an ad strategy for brands to take on YouTube TV?

The ad strategy is no different on YouTube TV. It’s a pipe of content via YouTube, but it’s not changing. It’s going to be the same ads. The ads or content that you see from the networks on your TV will be the same ones that you get on YouTube TV. Everything is the same.

What are some of the marketing trends YouTube is paying attention to in order to further innovate the brand?

We are super interested in virtual-and-augmented reality, 360-degree video and up to Daydream. We as human beings, every time we’ve had the opportunity to have a more immersive experience, we’ve always gone toward that direction. I don’t think VR is at scale, but it’s going to be amazing and transformative and we’re interested to see evolution there. I also think the connection of data to the creative side of storytelling is coming. The programmatic world has exploded, but we haven’t evolved creative at the same rate. So how does creative evolve for programmatic is a big question for us, and I’m super interested to see where that goes. The technology exists to dynamically shape your creative. But we don’t know what the stories are that will be most affected there.

Why should 360-degree content be a part of a brands marketing strategy? What’s working? What’s not? What’s your advice to brands looking to use it as marketing collateral?

I think that it’s certainly emerging. Is there is a relentless appetite for 360 videos? No. But there’s also not an endless supply of excellent 360 videos. The biggest thing that we see is shooting it like a video. You have to take advantage of the fact that it’s 360 and have different axis of action for people to look at. Think about the experience of not cutting too quickly because the cadence of cutting from a flat video is totally different with 360 video. I just don’t think we have our brains around that kind of storytelling yet. And users—what’s going to be amazing and enveloping of an environment for a user to take advantage of it?

How is the world of mobile advertising changing?

It’s interesting. I think that for mobile video, in particular, the screen is changing. We’ve been very focused on horizontal-versus-vertical video. But there are all of these other elements like pacing, framing and color correction, which are different in the mobile world. Story structure is also more different in the mobile world than we think. We’re not paying enough attention to those elements. Mobile storytelling is changing more, and faster. We don’t quite have our eye on the ball there yet.

Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

I feel that it’s an exciting and amazing time to be doing this, because people have never spent more time with media and content, and never been more engaged in it, never been hungrier for it. So if you’re a storyteller, it should be a great time. People want to know what you’re selling. Just be amazing at it.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan