You’ve Got 6 Seconds to Make Your Point

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 11.59.00 PM

In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold writes “self-control along with the skillful use of attention, participation, CRAP detection, collaboration, and network awareness through social media ought to be taught to future netizens as early as possible.” Rheingold wrote that in 2012, but it has never been more relevant than it is today.

Paying Attention to a Screen
The first chapter of Net Smart is about attention. As a professor, Rheingold is frustrated by all of his students looking at their laptops and smart phones while he is giving his lectures. Instead of expecting students to shut down their devices, he decides to teach them about attention. He also discusses mindfulness and being aware of how you direct your attention, not just how you spend your time.

I’ve noticed in meetings these days no one seems to mind if you are looking at your laptop or your smart phone. In the past, it was considered rude or unprofessional, but today it is expected that you bring your laptop to meetings. Often, we use them to take notes, or we plug them into a monitor to show the group a visual presentation. As long as you are paying enough attention to know the answer when someone asks you a question, being distracted by a screen is acceptable behavior…at least it is in my workplace culture.

In my personal life, it’s a different story. One of the reasons I liked my boyfriend early on in our relationship is that he gives me his undivided attention. When I am around, he never spends time looking at his phone or paying more attention to the TV than me. If that ever starts to happen, I’ll know something has changed for the worse in our relationship. If you truly care about someone or something, that person or thing has your attention. If you don’t really care about it, you can easily find something digital that’s more interesting and holds your attention.

Shrinking Attention Span
Rheingold’s teaching about attention reminds me of the Ad Council’s #SheCanSTEM campaign to get young girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. My client, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), is one of the nonprofit partners participating in the campaign, so the Ad Council gave the Society videos to use on social media. Some of the videos are only 6 seconds long. You can watch them on SWE’s YouTube channel.

In one that features SWE member Lisa Seacat DeLuca, a girl asks Lisa, “What do you do for a living?” and Lisa replies, “I work at IBM in our Watson Internet of Things Division.” The girl reacts by saying, “That’s really cool,” and the video ends. (I guess if you don’t know what the Watson Internet of Things Division is, you can always Google it.) Go ahead and watch the video below…after all it’s only 6 seconds.

Allison Fleck reported in Ad Week in May of this year that a survey of more than 300 brand marketers and agencies found that the 6-second video format is the most effective ad type for digital media. Of those surveyed, 81% said that 6-second ads are effective or very effective. According to Ad Week, 53% of advertisers use 6-second ads, and in two years that percentage is expected to climb to 77%.

In a May article in Ad Age, Krishan Bhatia, executive vice president of business operations and strategy at NBC Universal, attributes the success of 6-second ads to “lower attention spans.”

In an Ad Week article from last year, Jake Malanoski, a customer acquisition director, explains that shorter is better because “if somebody hasn’t heard of you, they are not going to give you the time of day.”

Posted on October 4, 2018, in Digital, Social Media, Video and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hi Angie,
    This is a terrific post! I’m particularly interested in the 6 second ad theory. Where I work, we have spent a ton of time, money and effort creating 3-4 minute videos to promote concepts and bring awareness. These videos are for an internal audience only. When I joined this team in January, they were in the middle of creating these. I was very excited to be able to go to video shoots and write scripts. But, now we are finding that very few people are actually watching these – or even care. So, we’re rethinking this whole effort and applying what we learn to future video ideas.
    I’d like to learn more about the 6 second ad. Do you know of any good resources so I can learn more?
    Thank you,

    • Hi Lisa,

      YouTube introduced six-second bumper ads to its platform in 2016…now almost all media outlets offer them. Facebook credits more viewers using mobile devices and their changing viewing habits with the rise of six-second ads. Mark Rabkin, Facebook’s VP of Ads & Business Platform, explained in a Facebook post that “because people can watch virtually anything at any time, they’re only going to watch ads that grab their attention, reward their time, and are immediately relevant. As a consequence, even though aggregate ad view time is up, individual session times are down. People aren’t watching ads for as long as they used to, on any medium.”

      The videos I produce are mostly viewed on social media. They are uploaded directly to Facebook and Instagram, where they get the most views. I haven’t produced any six-second ads, but I’m definitely going to start.

      Here are links to the posts I mentioned above:



  2. That’s really fascinating: only six seconds?! I wonder if this is a move made partly because of streaming TV (I LOVE that I can skip commercials) and/or because that’s the amount of time it takes someone to click off a website? I wonder if I can translate my lessons on comma splices to a six-second sound bite?

  3. I’m teaching the novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24hour Bookstore in my digital humanities class and there’s a character who works at Google. There’s an amazing passage about laptops at meetings but my book is on campus. I’ll edit this post tomorrow to insert it here but wanted to start the comment before I forgot! Here’s a cool interview with the author, Robin Sloan [creator of a memorable Flash movie called EPIC 2014 way back in 2004] to tide folks over until then:

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