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Anatomy of the 15-Second Commercial
By: Nandini Trivedi
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Blink and it's gone. The 15-second commercial may be short, but it’s here to stay. The number of 15-second television commercials has jumped more than 70% in the past five years according to Nielsen (USA today, 2010). While the 15-second commercial may not be the flashiest or cleverest of all, it sure can grab the consumer’s mind. Studies have shown that 15-second commercials often have greater recall and hold the audience's attention for longer.

So what makes these bite-sized commercials so effective? It all comes down to branding.

The limited time of the 15-second commercial ensures that all the vital information and branding (from tagline to logo to brand colors) is neatly packaged into a morsel that’s easy to swallow. While this may mean less wiggle room for stunts and creative flourishes, it also means a greater challenge for the creatives to rise up to.Take the Old Spice 15 second-commercial below. It packs the same attitude and irreverence of the brand into a shorter format.

Fifteen-second commercials are especially effective for food and beverages and packaged goods, because there’s no doubt that the product is the hero. For example, the spots in Target’s collection of 15-second ads feature a chuckle-worthy problem/situation and "ding" a solution to that problem: a product available at Target.

There is also an inherently “not trying too hard” feel about the 15-second commercial. It knows it’s a commercial and it’s not trying to be anything else. It's not trying to make the audience believe that it’s something else, and that kind of honesty is appreciated.

Fifteen-second commercials not only cost less for the advertisers, but they also allow for more repetition. While repeating one commercial over and over again to drill home a message or brand is very irritating, the 15-second commercial gives creatives and advertisers the freedom to tweak each ad a little while maintaining the same branding sequence and feel to it. So the ads feel different enough, but bring home the same message. Big retailers like Walmart and Target often use multiple 15-second spots to drive home their message, which is usually “We’ve got everything you need under one roof.”

There is no doubt that the 15-second commercial is a reflection of our shorter attention spans and our "get to the point" attitude. They don’t allow for much creativity, but there is also an art to making something so, well, commercial.

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About the Author
Nandini Trivedi is a Copywriter with a Masters in Advertising from Boston University (2012). She believes that great creative comes from solid research, good old hard work, and a little bit of mischief. Find her online here.
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