Brands are having a love affair with short form content… but will it drive brand growth alone?

23rd January 2024

Short-form content is great! Tik-Tok is great! YouTube Shorts are great!! …. it’s all great!!!

If you’ve been flicking through LinkedIn, or down the pages of social agency websites, you’d be forgiven for thinking that super short content is the magic key to brand growth. The numbers are clear … engagement rates are high, view rates are high, and completion rates are high …. it’s brand growth just waiting to happen.

And do you know what … yes.

There is no doubt that short-form social will get a brand in front of the right audience but first you need to decide if it is right for you?. At Hurricane, we do loads of short social media ads, and it works a very well in many ways.

But also … no.

As with everything in marketing, nothing is black and white… a well-planned content campaign must build in the complexities of the world in which we live.  This article explores how long-form is fighting a comeback against its 15-second rival.

Recently, I’ve been working with a range of clients who are making a high volume of videos, including some brands putting out content every day. This volume of output has given me a chance to put hard data around the value of short-form. I’ve nerded out so hard on this question that it’s led me to create a new metric for paid ads! Cost Per Viewing Second. Now, I know … the last thing the world needs is another metric in paid advertising. We’re already drowning in the things! I wholeheartedly agree with you, but while the metrics we use daily are enough for most things, to understand the discussion of short videos over long, we need to apply some data.

Often when running video ads, there can be a heavy focus on some very simple metrics (CPV, CPC, completion rate and engagement being a common grouping). These metrics are great, but this particular grouping of data does tend to make short-form look better on paper than maybe it is. If a brand team is focused on completion rates as a measure of success, for example, it is almost certain that their films will become increasingly short. It makes logical sense for this to happen … a very high percentage of viewers will complete a 15-second film, and far fewer will complete a 10-minute film. So, a focus on completion rate will favour short films and the metric itself drives durations down.

But are the brand team in this example doing themselves a dis-service? Although fewer people will finish a 10-minute film, even if they only watch half of it, they will still be connected to the brand’s message for 300 seconds, which is 20 times longer than those who watched all of the 15-second output.

KPIs around completion drive content shorter, but is it a bad thing if viewers spend less time watching? Well, this boils down to three simple points and the aforementioned shiny new metric (CPVS). Firstly, how much of a deep narrative can be told in ultra-short form? You can deal with emotional matters in a 30-second ad for sure, but what if you have a more complex, mid-funnel story to tell? What if you are looking to get across complex thought leadership? A 15-second film is a short burst of something attention-grabbing and a logo splash at best.

Secondly, where do viewers go when they stop watching your content? They move on to someone else’s, so the longer you keep them the better.

Thirdly, social media algorithms love long content (this is especially true of YouTube). This will be the basis of another blog, but in short, social channels want people to watch as long as possible, so they can be served as many ads as the channel can manage. A video that keeps people watching, and even better, gets them to click on another long-form film, will be boosted up the rankings (on YT this is “being recommended”).

The third point, without getting into a deep discussion on brand recall and salience, is that it’s not a reach to conclude that a longer duration of brand exposure is better for brand growth than a short one (assuming all other factors are equal).

If these points are a little subjective, the final one is fully data-based, and it’s simply that advertisers pay less for viewer exposure time with longer content than with short. This is where my CPVS metric comes in. A brand running paid media campaigns will have paid to get a view, that is obvious enough. Things get interesting when we look at what that view costs, and from there, compare that to how long people watch when they do view. This gives the metric of how much it has cost a brand for each second of viewing time (CPVS).

The data I collected from three clients shows that the CPVs are (on average) 3.3 times better for content that is over a minute long than for content under 25 seconds. This scales up from there and reaches over 4.5 times better for content that is over 5 minutes.

By leveraging longer content brands pay less for each second of their viewers’ attention.

It’s not just me that thinks this. TikTok is going long form … with the option to create videos of up to 15 minutes. Turning tonnes of current thinking about form and structure on its head. Tok-tok’s started as a platform for 15-second videos, expanding to 60 seconds and then again to 10 minutes in 2022. The 2024 extension to 15 minutes reflects Tok-tok’s shift toward longer-form content and its ability to retain viewers.

So, where do we go with this? Well, it’s. simple, yes, consider the standard metrics of CPC, CPV, engagement and views. But to ensure a well-rounded decision-making process on media spend, try considering CPVS to show the true value of longer-form content to your brand.

I should add here that this article should come with dozens of caveats, ranging from the need to consider the quality of content to the specificity of targeting and brand distinctiveness, but I’m talking broad principles here so let’s keep it top-line friendly. I’ll deal with these deeper questions more fully in edition three of the book !!!

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