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 Savingumoney.com. "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

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group