Bumper Ads – Gone in Six Seconds, But Not Forgotten

A few months ago YouTube (followed by Google et al) starting offering unskippable, six second ‘Bumper’ ads to the world, and I find them rather intriguing. According to the data collected during the research phase, they proved quite effective (although it’s difficult to find more recent stats). I suspect that they are quite effective, and it’s all to do with (you guessed it!) how our brains work.

First up, here’s an example from Audi – the first is the full length ad, the second is the Bumper ad.


I think the shorter Bumper ad is simpler, and as a result, more powerful, and this is where the brevity comes into its own, as I’ll explain below.

When we perceive something new, our limbic brain kicks into gear (often much quicker than we consciously realise – lost bag feeling, anyone?) and evaluates it. Is this a threat? Is it interesting? If no to both, it’s safe to ignore.

I think the full length version of the ad certainly merits being considered interesting, and tries to go down a storytelling route of sorts, comparing human activity with the cars to get across various (maybe too many) messages of how the cars are graceful, unusual, different etc. There’s no conflict there, apart from maybe the arm-wrestling, but that is only showing a state of mind or emotion, and isn’t part of the narrative as a whole, so while it might generate dopamine along the way, there’s nothing to really get the noradrenline pumping.

Generally, most adverts will do one of two things – tell a story, or provide information about the product. Those that provide information are fodder for our neo-cortex, which analyses what’s being sold, the relative merits of the products compared to others, etc. Those that tell a story bump around in our limbic system, generating emotional responses to the brand, but not necessarily telling us anything specific about the product. But with a six second ad, the brain doesn’t really have time to do anything, especially as it’s sitting right in front of the content that you actually want to watch.

So what can you do with six seconds? You can either impart a message (which then just becomes nothing more than a infomercial or sting), or you can try to tell a story, or at least start. Ernest Hemingway is famously attributed with the ‘flash’ story, ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’, and I think this kind of thinking may just work here.

Those six words don’t tell a story in themselves, but they do infer a lot of story and an emotional response once you’ve figured out the unwritten parts of the story. That could work nicely for these Bumper ads too, and can be done in a couple of ways.

The first would be to set up a situation and introduce the conflict with one or two shots. This, I think, will create a deep sense of unease and of curiosity in the viewer who will want to know more and click through. Whatever is clicked through to will then resolve the conflict, expanding on the brands core values as it does so.

The second way, which is what the Audi ads above do, is use the power of montage. Our brains are wired to look for meaning, and, if shown two disparate shots, immediately try to figure out some kind of story to link them together*.

The longer Audi ad shows various intercut shots of events/people and the product. We then infer brand values from the emotional responses generated from the stories we invent in our heads to tie the shots together. As I say, I think the longer ad is less powerful than the Bumper, as it has too many juxtapositions of shots for me to focus on telling myself any meaningful stories.

But the simplicity of the Bumper ad, the simple shot of the footballer and the car matching his movements, goes right into my head and I start to infer all sorts of stories from them. These cars are graceful and technical. They are well crafted. If these are values that appeal to me, I will probably want to know more later, or at least have formed a more emotional link with Audi.

The fact that the Bumper is short, works to help bypass the brains initial filters. It’s too short for us to really infer anything useful in terms of threat or interest, but the juxtaposition of the two shots allows it to sail straight through our defences and get us to start thinking about them, before we realise what’s happening.

Because, in the real world, we’d then move on to what we actually wanted to watch, I think these little snippets will lodge themselves in our limbic system and gnaw away at us, far more powerfully than a full length ad that we have time to process and reject if we aren’t interested.

Does anyone have any first hand experience with Bumper ads? I suspect they will become more and more prevalent and prove to be a key part of the marketing funnel, but it would be interesting to know how people are finding them.

  • This, for me, is cinema at its finest, but that’s another blog post.


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