Thirty good seconds.


The advertising and media industries have teamed up for about the past 50 years to train people that 30 seconds is all the time they need to dedicate to a message. For a while, I thought this long-taught learning only applied to advertising, but I’ve realized now that it applies to videos, news, your portfolio, websites, weddings. Everything.

For an ad a minute can sometimes seem special, but in most circumstances just seems long. A three-minute sponsored video seems to last forever. Most websites users get to, tick off most of the time on site looking for the one thing they need, absorbing that and getting out. Personally, if I am greeted by a load screen, I get itchy.

As hard as it is to endure 30 seconds of video or text that I actually sought out and clicked on voluntarily, not being able to access that information is worse. Way worse. Incalculably worse.

And so the people who provide information rush to get you that which you seek. Which is amazing. If I tried to explain to my grandparents in 1988 (or 98 for that matter) that you would be able to access a news paper from every metro in real-time, and never wait for a story to actually even finish occurring to get half-correct details to be reported by semi-professionals, I don’t think they would have bought it. But it’s true. I’ve witnessed a lot of misreported news, and in the odd occasion when I see a correction on a story, it is usually chalked up to trying to get it up quickly, or better still – First!

This phenomenon of being first is nothing new for the internet. Look at the comments on most popular sites that still accept them. You’ll see the first comment (or surprisingly often the second comment) will actually be “First!” Congratulations dummy. Now please log off of your AOL account so your mother can call your aunt Sarah in Akron.

There have been tons of stories over the past six months about the battle of speed and accuracy in news. Not that we’ve read most of them. We’ve scanned them for about, I don’t know, let’s say 30 seconds.

But a ton of people have figured out how to capitalize on the 30 second rule as well as how to be First with an idea. And they know how to write and assemble interesting stories and video really quickly. And they mostly aren’t places we would consider ad agencies. Ad agencies are built to come up with a lot of ideas, but produce only a small percentage of them. As much as we at agencies complain about bureaucracy internally or within our clients, and the crazy decisions and approvals that twist our work, it seems that many people in agencies are paralyzed to operate without getting the approval of someone first.

That’s why many agencies fail when trying to work with startups, they’re waiting for permission instead of running full-speed with multiple ideas.

What hasn’t happened yet, that soon will, is that agencies will recognize that blogs and sites like Icanhaz and Funny Or Die are direct competitors. Not competitors, really. Sites like those must be viewed the way agencies viewed big-time film directors in the 80s. They produce things the way people want to see them, in the way that clients now want them done. They’ll see that College Humor can knock out a series of videos quickly that exceed 30 seconds and get tons of views. Sure they produce clunkers, but they just move on to the next idea. I’ve seen an agency work on getting approval on a single storyboard for over a year. A year. Their business challenge is probably not even the same at the end of that ridiculous approval process as when they started, and that’s just getting the boards approved. Now go shoot it for three months. When agencies recognize this model is not functional and they’re being lapped by independent sites, they’ll do what they did with developers and bring quick video production in house.

I’m speaking in generalities of course. Some agencies have already recognized this and figured out how to produce work at the speed of broadband with success. But most haven’t gotten there yet, and are still treating every production like a Superbowl spot.
I don’t know what the average budget for a Funny Or Die video is, but I’m guessing it’s slightly less than the 4A’s average for a TV spot. It’s probably less than five grand. Maybe less than one grand. And we could probably put 5 random videos from that site against 5 random national TV spots and they’d do ok.

Of course there will still be a place for full blown production for commercials and for films. That’s not gone just yet. But look at how much of what marketing has become is actually advertising. Agencies can’t continue treating everything like a 30 second spot, because so little actually is.

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