Arthur Tsang
Feb 9, 2018

Storytelling in 6 seconds: Tips for the shortest video ad format

BBH China's CCO shares advice based on the agency's experience converting a fairy tale into a series of ultra-short clips.

Storytelling in 6 seconds: Tips for the shortest video ad format

As new viewing behaviours emerge and attention spans are shorter than ever, advertisers are being challenged to re-think the way they craft their narratives. The traditional story arc has died and how you tell your story has become just as important as the story itself.

My agency, BBH China, was one of 12 worldwide invited by Google to re-interpret a timeless classic fairy tale into a six-second story. The agency created a series of four six-second films inspired by ‘Hansel and Gretel’, which will be released on YouTube at intervals in the coming weeks and screened at SXSW in March.

Based on our experience, here are some tips on what to do, and traps to avoid, for six-second storytelling success.

Tip 1: Think modular

The temptation is to think of a long-form story and break it down into six seconds. Instead, build the story in a modular way, with each six-second vignette being impactful enough to stand alone. The full story should start high, contain subtle branding cues, unexpected shifts, multiple peaks so that a series of six-second films can be harvested from it.

Tip 2: Immediate visual impact

You basically need to capture an audience right from the start. The quickest way to lure people in is with an arresting visual. How much of the story can be implied visually? It could be stunning art direction, or a strange juxtaposition. Think like you are making the greatest print ad ever.

Tip 3: Build time with editing

The human mind has a remarkable ability to process information at speed and fill in the gaps. In such a short format, you should try to make the best use of that. Be reductionist to the absurd and don’t try to cram in too much. Subtle jumps in the editing can create the impression of time expanding.

Tip 4: Just one thing

You need to decide on the one key thing you want people to take out of the six seconds. The danger is to try to tell too much in the story. Aim for one gag, one twist or one high point. Don’t be afraid to contextualize things with supers, but the focus should always be single-minded.

Tip 5: Tease, don’t tell

The key to successful six-second storytelling is to entice the viewer to want to see more, or click through. Sometimes what you don’t see is more powerful (and simpler) than what you do. Think in terms of cliffhangers. Build up the inevitable but then don’t show what actually happened. People love to be teased.

Here are the two BBH China videos released so far (you can see the other agencies' work here):


Arthur Tsang is chief creative officer at BBH China.

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