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  • Writer's pictureNicc Lewis

The 3 Second Rule

You have 3 seconds to capture attention in video adversting
Really? Just 3 seconds? How?


It is a well known fact that if some tasty morsel should fall upon a clean floor, something irresistible, that some people, not me, may invoke the 3-Second Rule. Depending on their speed of hand it may also be known as the 2-Second Rule or even the 5-Second Rule, but the meaning is the same - nothing can stick to the aforementioned item of soon to be consumed item of food. It is in fact not this rule referred to in this article, but there are some commonalities that can be drawn from it.

If you have been viewing videos on YouTube, or kicking around the streets of Social Media or playing free mobile games, you cannot have missed the endless numbers of video adverts ranging from a few seconds to half a minute and even a minute and half. The questions are: How long should a video advert be? When does the messaging stick? When is the point lost? What is the users’ attention span?

Answer these questions and you can find the perfect balance between length and awareness leading to better conversions. The trick is to answer the questions as a consumer and not a Marketer…

Conclusion: 3 Seconds

Let us start with the conclusion and work back to the logic used to get there. You have a maximum of 3 seconds to capture and interest your audience plus leave them with memory of your brand. The key to building awareness is frequency and not length.

There is a general view in outdoor (billboard) advertising, television and radio that your adverts should appear 3 times in close repetition in order for the information to be noticed, observed and absorbed - human nature dictates this. Take TV Ads as an example, the ad should appear in 3 subsequent ad breaks during the same program for maximum effect. The costs of production are relatively high (once upon a time, prohibitively expensive), but the cost of air time can spiral upwards fast depending on the viewership of the program and counted in seconds. A 30 second ad during the Super Bowl can cost in excess of $5 million just for the airtime.

Digital advertising has brought production costs down, but more importantly the airtime costs. So the difference in costs running an ad that is 6 seconds, 15 seconds or 90 seconds long are relatively negligible.

What Marketers forget is that the premium is not production costs or airtime costs it is audience time and concentration. There is a point where the audience switches off and another point where they just get annoyed. Some of the more savvy users may even go to their Ad Choices and remove ads as being repetitive or irrelevant - lost forever.

“This calls for an urgent committee meeting!”

In the famous Monty Python movie, when urgent action is required an immediate committee meeting is called to discuss the matter - meanwhile Brian is on his terminal journey. When it comes to Corporate Videos, this is a curse that takes valuable time and extends the length of ads.

It has often been said that Marketing is the most difficult of positions as everyone seems to have an opinion on how it could be done better: “I saw the banner and maybe…”, “shouldn’t change the copy on…”, “the blog article should mention…”

The same process happens with video production. The Product Department wants to make sure certain features are added, the Management wants to include corporate messaging, even HR may want the video to represent a good working environment, and, voila - 3 seconds turns in 30 and 90 seconds. You may even get the advice and justification that ads can be upto 90 seconds (and even examples to look at).

The upshot is there is a tendency to add and add to the script forgetting the main aim is to advertise to gain traffic and conversions.

As a consumer, and you can ask the same question to the “advisors” committee, how much patience do you have to watch an ad. If you are given the option to “skip”, how long after the button appears do you click / tap? If we are really honest, the answers we would give ourselves are that we would give attention to an ad for no longer than 3 seconds, unless it was amazing, then maybe 5 or even 10 seconds, and, as soon as “skip” appears it is used.

The next question to ask is how many times do you see the ad with sound? Suddenly all the discussions on which music to use seem a little superfluous.

3 Seconds

You have 3 seconds to get your brand across, what you are selling / providing and your call to action. Do not rely on text around the video as they are not always visible. Drive users to a page where you can provide more information and longer videos - because they have shown intent and are willing to invest more of their time to learn more. When you get down to planning in this way - 3 seconds is actually enough.

Committee Buy-in

In order to get the committee on board, you will need to “sell” the concept a bit. Make a 90 second video, but have 5 second, 15 second and 30 second cuts made at the same time. The 90 second version goes on the landing page, 5 and 15 seconds are for ads and the 30 seconds for social media (even better is 22 seconds - but that’s another subject altogether).

Make sure the brand, product and call action are visible in the first 3 seconds on all versions. I wish you all luck!

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