Introduced last April, YouTube calls Bumper ads “little haikus of video ads” and says that they “are ideal for driving incremental reach and frequency, especially on mobile, where ‘snackable videos’ perform well.”

But can brands really do a whole lot in just six seconds? In an effort to prove that they can, the Google-owned company recently asked some agencies to turn a number of famous books, including Romeo and Juliet and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, into six-second videos. Sadie Thoma, YouTube’s head of creative agency development, said the goal was “to tell the essence of a longer story in a short form.”

Agencies that participated in the YouTube challenge included WPP’s J. Walter Thompson, Wieden & Kennedy and Interpublic’s Deutsch.

The results?

One of the books adapted by J. Walter Thompson, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, features an “animated fish eating another fish and then transition[ing] to a scene of baby growing into a man wearing virtual reality goggles as he reaches for his fish sandwich.”

In the opinion of this author, the six-second video makes sense only if you know that you’re watching a six-second rendition of Origin of Species. Otherwise, it doesn’t tell much of a “story” at all.

Of course, with YouTube calling the shots, brands and their agencies have little choice but to work with the ad formats they’re offered. So if YouTube says that they have to try to tell their stories in six-second ads, that’s what many of them will do.

But can brands really tell compelling stories in six seconds? That seems like a tall order.

When it launched Bumper ads, YouTube even noted that “we’ve seen Bumper ads work best when combined with a TrueView or Google Preferred campaign.” TrueView ads are opt-in ads that don’t have time limits. So not surprisingly, it would appear that Bumper ads are more effective when paired with ads that aren’t so limited in terms of time.

The attention deficit economy

Much has been made about the “attention economy,” but YouTube’s Bumper ad push suggests that the label “attention deficit economy” might be more apt.

And while there are no easy answers for brands seeking to meaningfully reach consumers in today’s challenging digital environment, it’s worth asking: instead of racking their brains to sweep consumers off their feet in six seconds, why shouldn’t brands simply embrace the other extreme? 


A hypothetical video ad that gets straight to the point 

While the power of brand storytelling is evident, savvy brands will figure out that there’s a time and a place for it, and the time isn’t six seconds.