5 Best Practices to Ensure Success with 15-Second Video Ads

In the late 80s, 15-second ads made their TV debut as a budget-friendly alternative to the rising cost for 30 seconds of airtime. Since then, marketers have wondered which ad length is more effective. 

15-Second vs. 30-Second Ads

An iSpot study of more than 4.5 million commercial airings found that on average, 15-second commercials grab audience attention better than longer formats with a few exceptions. For advertisers in the automotive, travel and entertainment industries, the 60-second ad also produced exceptional results, generating the highest attention scores for all three industries. 

Additionally, Ace Metrix Creative Assessment insights have revealed that different ad lengths have different strengths and weaknesses. For emotional storytelling, brands should opt for longer formats, which provide ample amounts of time for the narrative to play out. Meanwhile, ads that go for laughs should keep it under 30-seconds because consumers tend to lose interest before the punchline is delivered or get annoyed with a joke that drags out.

That said, the cheaper cost of airing a 15-second spot is appealing, especially if you can optimize reach and frequency with unified, cross-platform TV ad measurement to drive better ROI. 

What does it take to make an effective 15-second ad? After analyzing creative assessment data for ten of the most effective 15-second ads from the past year, we identified the following five best practices:

1) Avoid Complex Storylines

Or emotional narratives that need explanation. Rational messages with one or two key takeaways were used in almost all of the ads. Moreover, 15-second ads on the other end of the spectrum (least effective) tried to communicate complex information or used figurative messaging that was difficult to grasp.

Those that leveraged emotional messaging kept it simple and tied it back to the product in a direct manner. Take “Buried” from Hyundai. Through cute storytelling, the brand was able to connect with viewers with humorous, heartfelt messaging that creatively communicated information about its Digital Key (as shown in the emotional profile for “Buried”):

While viewers connected most with the cute, heartwarming narrative, the brand and product information also resonated. After watching the ad in its entirety, 78% of viewers accurately identified Hyundai as the advertiser, which outperformed the non-luxury automotive Brand Recognition average of 69%. In-market, “Buried” effectively retained attention on air with the iSpot Attention Index indicating it was 44% less likely to be interrupted than the average ad with those placements. 

2) Two Message Max

In order to effectively communicate information within 15 seconds, stick to one or two messages at most. Ads that promote more than one should make sure the messages are clear, concise and closely related. Honing in on one or two messages doesn’t make an ad less informational than those that promote three or more. In fact, all but one of the ads analyzed significantly outperformed Information score norms: 

Each of the most informational ads from Ninja, Shark, Hyundai and GE promoted one message. Chewy’s “Inside and Out” was the only one that conveyed two messages: convenience and a 30% off promotion.  

3) Let the Product Take the Lead

Products thrive in a 15-second format. The brands and/or products were most often the stars of the successful 15-seconds video ads and were supported by other creative elements, such as characters, visuals, or music. Looking at the emotional impact, all but one of the ten ads had viewers raving about the product whether it was in general (measured by “Prodtastic”) or about a specific attribute, like health or convenience:

As a result, these product-forward messages drove strong consideration with each of the ads significantly beating positive purchase intent norms for 15-second video creatives. In fact, nearly 75% of viewers were “much more” or “more” likely to purchase Rubbermaid EasyFindLids after watching the product demo in “Find the Right Lid Every Time.” 

4) Show Brand or Product Throughout 

Among the most effective ads, the product and/or brand got at least 50% of screen time and in most cases more than that. Every ad had visuals that demonstrated the product in use in real-life scenarios. Even among ads with corporate responsibility or emotional messaging, brand and product cues were placed throughout.

In “Home is Everything,” CVS Health promoted the safety and convenience of its prescription delivery and telehealth services during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to naturally featuring the brand in scenes, the CVS logo was present in the bottom right corner throughout which contributed to strong Brand Recognition at 93%.

5) Incorporate Product Demos or Real-Life Scenarios

Make sure visuals illustrate the product-forward messaging with either a demo or real-life scenarios to help viewers imagine themselves using it. A study from the University of Iowa found that people are far better at remembering what they see and feel versus what they hear, but the best approach is multisensory. While touch is not an option for video ads, combining visual and auditory messaging will help viewers understand and retain information, especially when an ad is only 15 seconds long.

All of the ads analyzed featured product demos or real-life scenarios and in most cases both. To communicate the versatility of the Ninja Foodi Power Pitcher, “Do Even More” paired visuals with a voiceover for five unique food recipes (smoothies, salsas, cookie dough). The information was delivered in an engaging manner that drove really strong purchase intent with 67% of respondents reporting they were “much more” or “more” likely to buy the blender after watching the ad.


Are you measuring the effectiveness of your 15-second video ads pre-market and in-market? Get in touch to find out how you can leverage pre-market creative assessment to ensure in-market success for your video ads.


About the Author

Sammi Scharninghausen is a Marketing Manager at iSpot.tv. She covers brand impact, TV advertising trends and industry events. For questions and inquiries, please contact marketing@ispot.tv.