You’re likely aware that the length of commercials can vary significantly both within and across mediums. Wanting to know the average length of a commercial makes sense when considering how to spend your advertising dollars.
It wouldn’t make sense to spend more on a longer commercial if it’s not going to create the impact you’re after. Nor would it make sense to spend less on a shorter commercial only to discover you’ve missed making a connection with your audience.
Wouldn’t it make sense to do what most other businesses are doing? Surely there must be a preferred length for a reason?
Well, you’re both right and wrong. There is an average commercial length with valid reasons for this. However, there are reasons for having commercials of varying lengths too.
Let’s take a look at the advertising landscape and find out just what commercial length has to do with anything.
So, what is the average commercial length?
Most television, radio, and advertising companies offer advertising ‘spots’ in 15, 30, 45 or 60-second chunks. Historically, television and radio leaned toward longer commercial length, favoring the 60-second spot over shorter ads.
As understanding about the science behind effective advertising grew, the trend moved toward shorter commercial length. According to MediaPost based on Nielsen data, in 2017, 49% of TV commercials were 30-seconds long. The remaining 51% was split between commercials of both longer and shorter duration.
What’s interesting to note is that in the years before 2017, commercials with shorter lengths were the ones clawing their way into a bigger share of the landscape. This is likely due to a spill-over from the rise of digital advertising, both online and via audio streaming services. In these mediums, it is not uncommon to find commercials running for 6-seconds only.
So, while the data still supports most advertisements opting for a length of 30-seconds, there is a definite trend towards ads of shorter length.
But what are the variables?
Why opt for a longer or shorter commercial?
And does the medium you use come in to play at all?
Commercial Length Variables
The three main players that come to the table when talking about commercial length variance are attention, impact, and medium.
- Attention covers how engaged the audience is and for how long.
- Impact covers the intention and desired outcomes of the commercial.
- And medium covers where the commercial is aired: TV, radio, or online.
The reasoning goes that the longer the ad, the less likely the consumer is to pay attention to what the ad has to say. They lose interest. Their attention waivers.
On the flip-side, the assumption is that a shorter ad will engage the audience’s attention better – they will stick with the ad and the information it contains because it is shorter and won’t eat into their time like a longer ad might.
If only it were as simple as this. If it was, all advertisers would be vying for short ad spots.
It turns out that for most consumers, it’s not the length of the ad that captures their attention or not, but rather how that time is used to portray a message.
Getting creative with the content of commercials is not a new concept. However, more and more advertisers are becoming creative with how the length of any given ad can work to their advantage. An example of this is Cadillac using 5-second ads to demonstrate their cars going from zero to 60 in under 5 seconds. If we take a look at the longer end of the spectrum, a 45 or 60-second commercial that delves into storytelling or relationship-building can be as equally attention-grabbing.
And it’s not just the length of the commercials that advertisers are playing with. They also look at how these ads of different lengths can work together. An example of this is having a short, 6-second teaser at the start of an ad break, then following up with a longer 30-second commercial at the end or in the next break. This primes the audience to the message they want to share.
Entering into any advertising campaign is always going to be more effective if you have a clear idea about what you are trying to achieve. Is it brand awareness, sales conversions, increased engagement? It’s okay to have more than one goal, as long as you know what they all are.
Along with increased attention, commercial length can also be used to create an impact on the audience – to promote them to take some action. The length of a commercial can also help develop the emotional impact of the ad. You can read more about emotional commercials creating a connection here.
A great example of this, as outlined by Idea Rocket Animation, is the use of pre-roll ads on YouTube. Unlike TV or radio ads where the consumer has to bide their time waiting for the ad-break to end, digital advertising gives the consumer control over what they will view (or listen to in the case of audio).
YouTube structure their advertising rates around giving consumers options to skip an ad or not. You pay for the level of engagement – if a consumer sees the ad through, you pay. If they skip out, you don’t (or pay less).
Some advertisers have used this to their client’s advantage, even to the point of explicitly encouraging consumers to skip the ad so they wouldn’t have to pay. This approach created exactly the impact they were seeking – over 90% watched the entire ad, they had high follow-up engagement with their own website and increased their turn-over for the duration of the ad campaign.
If people had skipped the ad, they would have paid minimal advertising costs. Because they didn’t, their 30-second commercial proved to be extremely effective.
Often, the medium you choose to advertise on will dictate the options you have in regards to commercial length. As stated before, the most common options are 15, 30, 45 or 60 second run times. This comes down to a pricing schedule – it’s easier to set rates for advertising based on set figures than a free-for-all-whatever-length-you-want scenario.
With these set commercial length times, the price for running a longer ad on TV may be out of reach for most businesses. Running a 60-second ad on the radio could be more cost-effective.
There is more flexibility in the digital market, however, this still depends on the platform you’re advertising on.
The general rule of thumb across all mediums, however, is that the short the commercial length, the less you have to pay. This covers both the production costs of the ad and play-time.
However, as eluded too in the two previous sections – it’s not always length that matters but how you use it!
TV and radio are broadspectrum approaches to advertising, so shorter, brand exposure type ads with many repetitions are probably more useful in these mediums. You can access demographic information for both these mediums, but this is where online advertising comes to the fore with programmatic advertising.
When advertising online, via audio or visual, you can be really specific about your target audience. Every dollar you spend can be directed to those consumers most likely to engage with your product or service. This means spending more on a longer commercial that develops a story or relationship is money well spent.
One more thing…
There may be a tendency for businesses to choose shorter, more frequent ads as a way to achieve their advertising goals. Repeated iterations of a message go a long way to improving sales or engagement conversions. However, this should be treated with caution.
According to Ad Exchanger, creative wear-out can occur when an ad that is repetitively played can lose out on attention and impact. There needs to be a balance between the length of the ad and how often it is aired as well.
Commercial length: be average or beyond
As you can see, determining the best length for your commercial is more complicated than a generic “the more you spend, the more you get.”
There’s a complicated interplay between:
- grabbing the consumers attention
- achieving your advertising goals
- fitting in with industry requirements
- your own budget.
Spending time developing a creative ad campaign, not just in terms of content but also how those ads will work with one another, should be a priority over fitting in with what everyone else is doing.
Whether you hire an advertising agency, utilize in-house station or network advertising services, outsource freelance scriptwriting and voice over services through a platform like Bunny Studio or do it yourself, understanding the purpose of your campaign will help you determine the best commercial length for your needs.
At the end of the day, being creative, clear and engaging is going to pay more dividends than using any particular length of commercial.