6-Second Advertisements Are Coming to Your TV Set

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Scott Hudler wants to sell you on Dunkin’ Donuts in less than six seconds. The vice president of global consumer engagement of parent company Dunkin’ Brands is helping the firm adapt to a lightning-fast media environment in which many people can’t be bothered to read more than 140 characters or watch an entire 30-second commercial. Dunkin’ Brands is using Vine, the micro-video service owned by Twitter, as a means of engaging with viewers both online and on TV.

The company has developed a series stop-motion commercials just under six seconds in the style of popular Vine videos to air before the weekly broadcast of ESPN’s Monday Night Football. In one micro-ad, a white coffee cup squares off against a brown iced coffee in a coin toss on a Dunkin’-themed football field. Toward the end of each week’s game, Dunkin’ posts a new Vine online that recasts a signature play from the first half as a bout between brown and white coffee cups. Boston-based Hill Holliday is the ad agency behind the campaign.

“We felt like it was a great new channel for us to reach out to not only current fans of the brand but potential followers who maybe haven’t connected with us on social media,” Hudler says. “The emergence of the Vine platform was a really fun, short, brief way to do that.”

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Since Dunkin’ aired its first Vine commercial at the start of the NFL season, other bands have embraced micro-commercials. Trident gum aired a six-second Vine spot developed on Fuse in September, while Mountain Dew debuted a NASCAR-themed Vine earlier this month for one of the league’s races. Vine can serve as a more dynamic way to fill the traditional “billboard” ad unit, in which a brand typically displays its logo for five seconds with a voiceover. (This harks back to the earliest days of television advertising, when companies simply filmed a highway billboard from multiple angles.)

The adoption of Vine on TV is just the latest step in the continuous shortening of the television commercial. Though the 30-second spot has long been the mainstay ad unit, the number of 15-second ads increased by 80 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to Nielsen. 15-second spots have also become popular as preroll advertisements on video platforms like Hulu.

Ad agency executives expect TV commercials tied to Vine to catch on with more  brands as the platform grows in popularity (Vine currently has more than 40 million registered users) and television viewing becomes a more mobile experience. “All of the really interesting things happening in the social media space will become increasingly important in the advertising world,” says Tor Myhren, chief creative officer of Grey New York. “When you’re watching [a Vine ad] on your phone or your tablet, I think it’s a little bit more native to that space and probably is a little bit more effective.”

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However, the format poses a creative challenge for agencies. It’s hard to convey the drama of something like the 1984-inspired Macintosh commercial in six seconds. “We definitely haven’t cracked the emotional engagement with Vine yet,” says Brandon Berger, chief digital officer for the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. “Right now it’s fairly gimmicky as an idea, but I think long-term, it could be a possible channel.”

The use of Vines on TV could have big implications for Twitter, which is trying to convince brands that it is an effective advertising platform. Already the social network has profited from the trend, as Dunkin’ Donuts has paid to push its football-themed Vines to more users as promoted tweets.

Though the use of Vines on television is growing, don’t expect every commercial break to become a blitz of six-second microvideos. In our rapid-pace media environment, it’s sometimes those ads that linger for a minute or longer that resonate. Chrysler’s “God Made a Farmer” commercial, a somber two-minute spot from this  year’s Super Bowl, earned wide praise and has racked up 16 million views on YouTube. It’s proof that the commercial format will remain malleable. Sometimes it’s an epic yarn; other times it’s basically an Internet GIF transported to your TV screen.