Skip – The Art of the Five Second Advert

Advertisers today have an incredibly difficult new premise to abide by: Grab my attention in five seconds.

Advertising remains a necessary evil, it keeps alive those forms of media that have no other practical means of gathering revenue, but we – the consumers, the YouTube watching generation – still find it to be annoying, intrusive, and too easily dismissed and ignored. We are not so captive an audience as the TV watching public, stuck to the couch while we wait for our desired viewing to return, perhaps vanishing into the kitchen or bathroom to attend to our plumbing. We can scroll past, we can install an ad-blocker, we can wait five seconds and skip…

So how do you grab attention instantly? How do you coax someone into the rest of the sale with just an opening word?

Tell Me To Stay

You don’t see this so much any more, it seemed to be a thing for comedy films to have the lead actors pop up on screen and address the viewer directly, “Hey! Don’t skip, don’t touch that button!” which I freely admit worked on me… once. And it’s a sound tactic, advertising to a lesser extend relies on commanding language, “Buy now!” “Test drive today!” “Enjoy!”, you will very rarely hear the word “please” in an advert. It’s compelling on a very base level, you do not feel as if you are being given a choice, our agency is being taken from us.

It’s also engaging. We’ve all seen the Wix adverts, right? Some friendly looking person sitting at a desk with their Mac in front of them, talking to you, the target audience, about how easy it was to make their website with Wix, and sometimes even asking you to hear them out before you hit the button. It’s an effort to address you like you’re in the room, to make the person on the screen talking to a circle of glass seem like they’ve invited you to sit down with them and have a conversation.

And does it work? Well not for long, I don’t think I’ve seen the end of a Wix advert, and the one time I listened to someone when they asked me not to skip I came to regret it, and never watched the film. Honestly, couldn’t tell you what the film was. I do need a website though…

All Sizzle, No Middle

You have five seconds, lets grab attention with fireworks and action now! Again, this is firmly within the purview of the film and television industry, present the biggest and most attention grabbing set pieces you have, and maybe mix in the tagline so that the viewer fully grasps the concept they’re buying into by even allowing the rest of the advert to roll on. Usually the advert has a “second start” after that five seconds, and we’ll see those sizzle moments back again in about thirty seconds.

Oh, tangent, once you’ve had that big dramatic musical sting drawn from the climax of the film’s score, the second start will begin with a single note on a piano, a helicopter view of a city, and a bit of dialogue… anyway, moving on.

Advertising over the last decade or so has shifted away from the simple statement of the virtues of products or pointing to the low low prices, and leans increasingly toward well directed scenes and spectacle, telling a message less directly, showing you how “life will be great if you buy this car” without actively saying the words. And that spectacle is similarly drawn into that five second sizzle. And something else that usually goes hand in hand with that method:


Art breaking into advertising has resulted in some true masterpieces of short film falling into the hands of consumerism… and that’s good, after a fashion, plenty of directors made their start in advertising, and many more will continue to do so if they are set lose to realise a vision so long as it incorporates a product that’s part of the narrative. Ever seen an advert that’s a trailer for a short film that is itself a much longer advert? I think Ridley Scott just did one for an airline company or a tourist board.

It’s a more cunning and subversive means of grabbing attention, present us with something outlandish and intriguing, something that doesn’t demand anything of us, but goads us in with our own curiosity, making the act of allowing the advert to continue something more active, you want to watch, you have to know more, you have been asked a question, now you want an answer.

The Five Second Advert

So here’s an interesting one, perhaps one of the most recent. The five second advert tells you everything you need to hear in five unskippable seconds, sometimes six or seven, in either case you’re not getting through to your desired content any faster. They’re condensed, not all that informative, but tell you enough, perhaps telling you the date of a sale starting, or just reminding you of a brand so that you can never forget its existence – a shockingly potent tactic, I guarantee when you read the word “Enjoy” above you immediately thought of a brand.

Here’s what makes this particularly insidious, where the Skip Button countdown would be, is a countdown that reads “Your video will begin in X”. We don’t read that. We read the number because we expect the button to change and we can move on! How many of you have hovered your cursor over the button only to reason your video is beginning without you doing a thing. You have already seen everything the advert wanted you to see, it has done its entire job.

Anyway, that’s just a few thoughts on the nature of advertising. I highly recommend looking more into the ways advertising has developed, the trends and fashions that have come and gone over the decades, and how the industry has struggled. Grown, and changed in the face of advancing media technology. It’s interesting… I think it’s interesting.