Digital advertising hit a huge milestone this year: in the US, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) says that digital ad spend surpassed television ad spend for the first time ever.

By most estimates, digital will overtake television on a global basis this year. As the balance of power shifts, the impact of digital is not only reflected in ad spend but in the way television ads are evolving.

Take, for instance, Fox, one of the five largest television networks in the world. In August, it ran the first short-form, six-second ads for battery brand Duracell and candy manufacturer Mars during the 2017 Teen Choice Awards.

Now, Fox has decided to expand its use of the six-second ad format to NFL games it broadcasts this fall, as well as other sports programming, including the baseball World Series and other "marquee events.

According to The New York Times:

People are used to seeing short video ads on platforms like Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube, but not so much on network TV, where the currency for decades has been 15 and 30-second ads. While TV networks have experimented with shorter commercials in the past, largely as publicity stunts for specific brands, Fox is hoping to make six-second ads an industry standard across broadcasters as consumers in the internet era show less tolerance for frequent, bloated ad breaks during shows.

Pricing for the new ad units is not known. Ostensibly, the cost of a six-second ad will be lower than a 15 or 30-second ad, which could be attractive to advertisers given the significant costs associated with television ads, particularly those that are displayed during high-profile sports broadcasts.

The incredible shrinking television ad?

It's hard to imagine but at one point in time, the standard ad format for television was a minute long. The minute-long ad later became the 30-second ad, and today, most television ads are 15 seconds in length.

But in the digital age, 15 seconds is a long time and that has led to the proliferation of the six-second video ad, particularly for pre-roll. Leading the push for the six-second ad is Google, which owns YouTube.

YouTube's six-second ad unit has been dubbed the bumper ad and it has been working to push advertisers to embrace this format. With just six seconds, advertisers have to be very thoughtful, creative and focused. While conveying a message that is effective if not compelling in just seconds might seem virtually impossible, Google says that a number of brands are finding ways to do it.

One ad format to rule them all?

The emergence of the six-second television ad raises the question: will the six-second ad make it possible for advertisers to develop individual ads that are just as effective for television as they are for digital?

For years, brand advertisers have been told not to repurpose their television ads for digital. What works for television won't work for digital, advertisers were advised. But does the same wisdom apply now that digital ad formats are driving the creation of new television ad formats? In other words, can advertisers take their YouTube bumper ads and put them to good use on television?

That remains to be seen and its worth noting that while Google is strongly promoting the six-second bumper ad format, it also acknowledged that "we've seen Bumper ads work best when combined with a TrueView or Google Preferred campaign." TrueView and Google Preferred campaigns aren't limited to six seconds.

For example, a YouTube campaign for the Microsoft Xbox promoting Halo Wars 2 was developed by Microsoft's agency partner, 215McCANN and paired bumper ads with longer-form ads. Per Google:

...Xbox started with a Masthead and long-form TrueView content push under the theme 'Know Your Enemy.' Then, as launch day approached, the brand invested heavily in remarketing with chuckle-worthy bumper ads that built on the long-form films' storylines.

Since advertisers don't have the same retargeting capabilities on television, there are questions about how such a campaign would have been executed for television. Clearly, experimentation is needed.

Which means that, for now, while the six-second ad could soon find itself a fixture on television, advertisers would be wise to recognize that their success with it will probably hinge on how they use it within their campaigns more than anything else.

Patricio Robles

Published 5 September, 2017 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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