Painting the smaller canvas

You've got precisely 15 seconds. Go....

You’ve got precisely 15 seconds. Go.

Sound difficult? Well, it is. And it’s precisely the challenge that creative teams must tackle when they’re charged with developing short-form commercials like 15s and 10s.

"There has to be one message, and you have to be very clear about what you want it to be," says Jim Garbutt, vice-president, creative director with Cossette Communication-Marketing in Toronto, which in the last year has done 15s for the likes of MTT, Bell Mobility and Nike. "No matter how many times you’ve worked in a 15-second time frame, you never cease to be amazed at just how short that actually is."

Given their druthers, creative people generally prefer to work with commercial units of 30 or 60 seconds, which offer the scope to tell a brand’s story more fully. But with television costs on the rise, and planners searching for ways to add greater flexibility and diversity to media strategies, shorter-form spots are becoming a more prominent part of the communications mix (see story, page TV1).

And that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. Sure, the 15-second spot limits the range of creative options somewhat. But it also compels both agency and client to exercise a degree of rigour that often leads to more effective advertising.

"It’s very much like doing outdoor," says Trevor McConnell, vice-president, creative director with Vancouver-based Palmer Jarvis DDB, which has used 15-second spots in recent campaigns for McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada and "The message has to be distilled to its cleanest, clearest essence. That’s really what should be done in all communications, but sometimes when you have a larger canvas, people don’t feel the imperative as strongly."

"So often, it’s hard to get strategies as simple and focused as everyone would like them to be," affirms Janet Kestin, co-creative director at Toronto-based Ogilvy & Mather. "But everyone understands that 15s are so short that you can only say one thing"

Simplicity and focus were the watchwords for recent campaigns created by O&M on behalf of Post Spoon Size Shredded Wheat and Zellers. The Shredded Wheat campaign employed three 15-second spots, each of which focused on one of the cereal’s key benefits: no salt, no sugar, no fat. The Zellers campaign, meanwhile, used a series of four 15s, in which little slice-of-life scenarios were used to highlight some of the items on sale during the retailer’s Dollar Daze promotion.

Using shorter units can also have the advantage of making a campaign seem larger, says David Martin, national creative director with Toronto-based Anderson Advertising. Since both production and airtime costs are reduced, the advertiser is able to produce more spots, and air them with greater frequency.

"You can give yourself the impression of greater size than you actually have," Martin says.

Last fall, for Hamilton Beach, Anderson created a series of five 15-second spots. Each spotlighted one of the appliance maker’s products, offering a quick visual demonstration of its distinguishing attribute. The campaign ended up earning honours at the Marketing Awards in March.

"Doing 15s allowed us to put more spots on air," Martin says. "So consumers got the impression that there was more activity on the part of Hamilton Beach than they would have if they were seeing the same 30-second spot twice as often."

Shorter-form spots do have their drawbacks as well. Like outdoor, Martin says, the 15-second spot is not particularly well suited for the launch of a new brand. Nor is it the ideal medium in which to advertise a more complex product or promotional offer.

Advertisers also tend to find the time frame too short to forge a strong emotional connection with viewers, he says.

While shorter spots may be growing ever more common, creatives aren’t yet sounding the death knell of the 30 or the 60.

"I think it’s a bit like fashion," Garbutt says. "It’s the thing right now to do 15. But I think [longer-form spots] will be back in a big way. As more advertisers begin doing 15s, you’ll see some start to do 60s. Everyone always wants to do what everyone else isn’t doing."

Also in this report:

- Shorter formats a double-edged sword: By opting for spots of 15 seconds or less, advertisers can stretch their advertising dollar — but they may also be contributing to the problem of clutter p.TV1

- CCM arouses interest with sperm spot p.TV4

- Red Rose resurrects brand with funeral spot: Retires ‘Only in Canada…’ tagline in favour of ‘A cup’ll do you good’ p.TV6

- Ford Focus puts the squeeze on credits: Sponsored previews of top-rated shows in bid to give campaign added impact p.TV8

- Jetta campaign a brand-new love story: Automaker bids farewell to popular Phil and Loulou characters p.TV10

- Is TV worth the money? p.TV12

- BTV blurs line between editorial, advertorial: Companies featured on business show pay about $10,000 for repackaged material p.TV13

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