Are ads getting too long?

YouTube has released a list of the ten most watched ads in the UK in 2014. Aside from the mild surprise that Sainsbury's ended up beating John Lewis at the Christmas ad game, the most striking statistic the press release contained was that the top ads this year were 57% longer than in 2013...

According to YouTube, the UK's most popular ads of the year – which featured Sainsbury's Christmas ad at number one, John Lewis's Christmas ad at number two, and the Nike Football Winner Stays ad at three – averaged 2.8 minutes in length. This makes the good ol' 30 second spot seem positively titchy.


1. Sainsbury's Christmas ad, 3 minutes, 40 seconds long

2. John Lewis Monty The Penguin Christmas Ad, 2 minutes, 10 seconds long


It's easy to see the appeal for creatives and directors of releasing longer ads. In the past, the main reason for shortness was down to media spend: the longer your ad, the more it would cost to run. I remember in my early days in ad writing that the director's cut would usually be the one sent to magazines for review – that was the real masterpiece, not the brutally cut down version showing on the telly. Nowadays, it feels that every ad on YouTube is the director's cut, and that distinction is rarely made.


3. Nike Football, Winner Stays, 4 minutes, 12 seconds long

4. Nike Football, The Last Game, 5 minutes, 28 seconds long


Plus longer ads put some clear water between ads created for TV and ads that are 'content' – this new and extremely popular way of describing commercials, which attempts to make a distinction between messages that are forcefed to viewers in ad breaks and those that they will seek out themselves online because they actually want to watch them.


5. Always, Like A Girl, 3 minutes, 18 seconds long

6. Three, Sing It Kitty, 1 minute, 15 seconds long


The question is whether every ad deserves to be so long. Many of the World Cup ads this year felt positively bloated, as if giving more airtime to the footie superstars would make up for the lack of any new ideas (and judging by their popularity online, this worked). The UK Christmas ads too seemed at times far too drawn out, though again their popularity on YouTube perhaps belies this moan.


7. M&S Follow The Fairies Christmas Ad, 1 minute, 40 seconds long

8. Save The Children, Most Shocking Second a Day Video, 1 minute, 33 seconds long


What the YouTube list doesn't make clear though is how much of these ads were actually viewed. Officially, views are only counted if at least 30 seconds are watched. So it's possible that viewers still only made through the first quarter or so of your spot. Plus, it doesn't take into account viewers skipping to the good stuff. In the Pepsi Max Human Loop the Loop spot below, for example, there's an achingly long preample before Damien Walters does his thing – surely a lot of viewers just skipped to the end?


9. Guinness Sapeurs, 1 minute, 40 seconds long

10. Pepsi Max, Human Loop-the-Loop with Damien Walters, 2 minutes, 58 seconds long


As with everything in life, perhaps some moderation is now required, if only so that we aren't looking at average ads of four minutes long next year. Maybe it's even time for the return of the short and sweet spot – if not just for the viewers, then for the sanity of your industry colleagues acting as judges in the film awards category in Cannes.