How to succeed in short-form advertising

Research says you only need three to six seconds of active attention to drive memory and message recall, but can you create an emotional connection in 15 seconds or less? 

What are the best practices for leveraging short-form content on emerging platforms to gain attention and deliver emotional impact? How can you drive outcomes beyond surface metrics to build meaningful connections between brands and consumers, when the supply of consumer attention is more limited than ever?

Less is more

As more media consumption shifts to short-form content (hello, TikTok!), the time brands have to build emotional connections with prospects is becoming limited. Only 24% of viewers watched long-form videos in 2022, and the average attention span hovers at just over eight seconds. But this isn’t anything new—we’ve seen a steady decrease in time spent with immersive, long-form content, particularly with younger audiences. 

Increased consumption of short-form video, mobile, social platforms, and gaming has created new ways for brands to engage with hard-to-find audiences, but has simultaneously presented a challenge for brands to make a purposeful impact in those brief moments. 

Meeting the attention challenge

Many advertisers have adjusted their strategies to align with this shift in attention. They’ve begun to leverage attention measurement to validate which formats and content types get noticed by each target audience. At Hearts, we know attention is not enough—brands must still generate an emotional connection. 

Emotional connection is what underpins transformative performance in market share, loyalty, and lifetime value.

Studying attention and emotion in gamers

To identify how best to approach emerging spaces to capture attention and emotional connection, we partnered with one of our clients and the gaming platform Twitch to examine attention and emotional response within short-form content. 

Together, we studied more than 2,600 Twitch RPG gamers in the U.S. in a controlled environment using biometric measures to gauge both attention and emotional response. Creative executives developed six-second and 30-second advertisements with a mix of brand spots, retail spots, and co-branded Twitch creative to identify the messages and formats with the most positive impact. 

Twitch study takeaways

The initial research and analysis phase yielded several key learnings that can inform best practices for advertisers developing short-form content. These learnings include: 

  • Short formats are good at capturing attention but not delivering emotional impact.
  • Simple messages with clear branding resonated, while conceptual work created dull emotional responses and drop-offs in recall.
  • Emotional territories around categories such as “fun” and “creativity” generated greater attention and improved brand perception.
  • Contextually relevant messages drove greater attention and more positive emotional responses.
  • Across all formats, clarity is essential; the simplest messaging wins. 

Information gleaned from this research aligns with our concept of emotional velocity, or the speed at which brands use media and communications to strengthen emotional connections. Emotional velocity is an important differentiator that helps brands succeed in market share, loyalty, and increased customer value. 

Lean into short-form content 

As short-form content dominates the media landscape, now is the time to optimize ROI by leaning in. Lead with the following concepts to get your short-form content noticed:

  • Start with your audience
    No matter the medium, this should be your jumping-off point. While short-form content is often known for its entertainment value, by keeping your audience in mind, you align creative and messaging with not only your brand but also the needs and interests of your people.
  • Keep it simple
    Complexity doesn’t pay off in short-form ads. Simple messages and images are crucial for capturing attention, but
  • Remember that context is crucial
    Your customers aren’t one-size-fits-all. Unique, contextually relevant advertising builds positive perception and paves the way to emotional resonance.
  • Positive emotion creates momentum
    Positive emotions, like “joy,” are easy to process, making them ideal for short spots, and can accelerate positive attribution or purchasing decisions.

Looking to the future

For this research, we collaborated with our partners to use biometric feedback to measure attention and emotional connection, tracking various physical cues across multiple messages. But this is just the first phase in research that will become increasingly sophisticated. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to accelerate this feedback loop, identifying more sophisticated patterns in creative and pinpointing what precisely resonates across different emotional states and formats. 

With the help of AI, it is possible to automate creative versioning based on audience and format—a futuristic new path toward optimization. 

At Hearts & Science, we’re excited to stay on the cutting edge of innovation in media and iterate on this research. Stay tuned to The Pulse for AI-powered updates to this research and more learnings to help make your own campaigns stronger.