What is the right length for commercials & online ads?

By | Published July 18th, 2015 | in OUR CAPABILITIES

What is the right length for commercials & online ads?

Have you ever watched an ad online and not realized someone was selling you something? 

These hidden advertisements are precisely the right length to get their message across without giving you the time to tune out.

They’re precise, interesting, and get the job done.

So how can you emulate them?

Come with me as we discuss…

What is the right length for commercials & online ads?

Let’s start at the beginning.

We have all experienced a commercial that actually worked. One that made us get up, grab our keys, and spend money on that product or service. It’s not shameful to admit it, someone paid a lot of cash to get that effect out of you.

We often let the subconscious branding sink in without really remembering the commercial itself till later on — or how long it was for that matter.

There has always been mild debates over many years as to whether a commercial spot’s success rests with the state of the economy or the effectiveness of the brand’s advertising campaign and the awareness that’s generated — I think it’s safe to say that it’s a little bit of both.

With that being said, does the length of the video have anything to do with the success of an advertisement? It sure does!

Why length matters in advertising 

Let’s start with a history lesson. 

60-second commercials may have been the average length back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but by the time the 1970’s had rolled around, TV advertisers had no other choice than to create 30 second commercials to combat the non-stop inflation of the media industry. 

Not too long after that, we saw the emergence of the 15 and 10-second spots.

Now-a-days you have the choice to choose between a 5, 10, 15, 30, 60, and 90 second TV commercial spot. Though all of these options exist, how do we determine which option is the most effective? 

The answer may surprise you. 

How to pick an advertisement length 

There’s been much testing and research into audience retention — when it’s lost and why. 

According to an online poll conducted by Poll Position, it was reported that 54% of respondents said 15 seconds was an acceptable length for an advertisement, 12% of respondents found 30 seconds acceptable and only 4% found 45 seconds of ads acceptable. 

So you’re thinking a 15 second spot is the best length right? — Not so fast.


Some studies have shown us that if a TV commercial or online advertisement can engage all three memory banks in the brains of a target audience, you have successfully communicated the brand awareness which will give you a higher chance of customer conversion.

 Some argue that 15 seconds just isn’t long enough to stimulate all three memory banks:

  • Semantic – Fact based memories; learned behaviors
  • Episodic – Emotional Memories and Nostalgia
  • Procedural/Somatic – Skills and Habits

A 15-second spot often feels rushed in terms of dialogue and there really isn’t enough time to set up a hook, line, and sinker. 

For an average company looking to advertise an average product or service, 30 seconds seems to be the winner. It’s all about your target audience being able to recall the company branding later on and it reminding them of what it was that caught their attention. A good commercial stimulates all three memory banks by using certain imagery, music/jingles, tag-lines, logos, and even reoccurring hosts. 

Now you may be thinking that 30 seconds isn’t long enough to convey the information that you need to get out and that 60 seconds might be your answer. 

According to past studies, audience retention is lost at about the 45 second mark and people simply lose interest, as a result you get negative brand recall. 


For some companies, it’s just not a viable option to cram all of the information they need to address into a 30 second TV commercial. 

Some companies require long drawn out explanations of their product(s)/service or a visual walk-through to effectively sell it. Instead you end up seeing something that reminds you of a mini infomercial or an extremely short film. 

An advertisement this long can stimulate positive brand recall if constructed correctly. One solution is to break up the music at around the halfway point to relieve any monotony and to combat decreasing retention. 

Also, slowing the pace down to match the length helps to prepare the viewer for 60 seconds worth of advertisement. It’s not the most ideal length, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work with today’s short attention spans — it just means we’re going to have to get more creative while developing commercial concepts for 60 second spots. 


Though it may not be impossible to stimulate all three memory banks in a 15 second spot — it’s very hard to accomplish. 

To master this, you must be a wizard with words and your visual concept must be cleverly strategized to the max to attract the right attention in that small amount of time. 15 second commercials are often effective when advertising local events, food brands, upcoming shows, etc. 

Usually something that already has a widely established brand name can use shorter advertisements to their benefit. 

A company that is just getting off of its feet is going to have a much harder time getting effective use out of a 15 second TV commercial. 

If you’re starting a video ad campaign that is based around 15 second spots because that’s all you can afford, that is not recommended and is probably going to be a waste of money. 

Summing up finding the right length for commercials & online ads

At the end of the day, I hope this guide helped teach you which advertisements would be most effective for your planned campaign.

As producers, we not only want to focus our message but also implement it in a way where everyone’s hard work pays off. When in doubt, try to write your ads so they can be cut down or lengthened if need be.

Having plenty of options in the edit can help this too.

Try different lengths and experiment as needed.

What we provided are tips, but there are no hard rules.

Audiences can be fickle, but quality advertisements keep people hooked from the first frame.

Tell them a story that’s undeniable.

Happy shooting!

About The Author:

Trenton Massey


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Have a project in mind?
We can't wait to hear from you!

The easiest ways to get in touch with us are to request a meeting, give us a call, or shoot us an email.

[email protected]
(480) 420 4368

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