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Congruence is King in the Realm of Six-Second Advertising

The placement of your ads is paramount to its success and resonance with your audience.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Ashley Shelley will be speaking at IIeX Europe 2019 (18-19 February 2019 in Amsterdam). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX Europe. Click here to learn more.


Like many others in the world of advertising and branded communications, my team at Ameritest had countless questions about what some refer to as “snackable” six-second ads. Are they effective? What can a brand really accomplish in six seconds? To answer these, as well as many other questions, we embarked on a mission to study six-second ads from a variety of categories. In our six-second pre-roll methodology, each viewer watches a six-second ad before being able to watch a YouTube video of their choice. Viewers can choose to watch a lighthearted video of quadruplet babies hugging each other, a montage around-the-world travel video, or an instructional video on how to make the best pizza at home.

We know that advertising does not exist in a vacuum. And in the case of six-second ads, they are most often shown in a social media environment such as Facebook or YouTube. On YouTube, you will commonly see a six-second ad as a pre-roll to your desired video content. When evaluating six-second ads, it’s imperative to look at the ad not only as a single piece of creative, but also as part of a larger overall viewing experience. By looking at an ad in a diverse set of video content, we can examine how the context in which the ad is shown can affect viewers’ impressions of the ad.

One of the questions I pondered was, “If the ad’s content is similar to the video’s content, will the ad get lost in the shuffle?” I will be the first to admit that I initially thought that this would be the case. However, it turns out that the opposite is true! A similar, congruent context can actually boost recognition and overall positive perceptions of the ad.

Here’s why: when we are in a mission-based mindset (think: I want to watch my video!), congruency in content can make an ad feel like less of an impediment to reaching our goal. This is what is referred to as “top-down” attention. As Nick Kolenda, author of “Methods of Persuasion: How to Use Psychology to Influence Human Behavior,” explains, “When you have an active goal, you experience what is called top-down attention. You can perceive stimuli that are related to that goal, while blocking out stimuli that are unrelated to that goal.” When an ad is paired with congruent video content, it is better able to break through our top-down attention.

Congruence in content can pertain to a similarity in subject matter, tone, or audience. An example of congruence of subject is watching a six-second Olive Garden meatball sandwich ad before watching a video about how to make great pizza at home. When viewed before the pizza-making video, the Olive Garden ad is more likable, motivating, and believable than when it is viewed before a hugging baby or travel video. It also causes less of a perceived disruption in this context than when viewed before videos with incongruent subject matter. Congruence in tone is watching a humorous office dance party-themed Hefty ad before watching the lighthearted hugging baby video. When viewed in this context, there is an increase in both humor and relatability and a decrease in the ad’s perceived disruptiveness.

However, just as congruence can positively impact an ad, it is important to note that incongruence can have a negative impact. There is an anti-smoking American Cancer Society ad that depicts a woman climbing a mountain of cigarette butts. Watching this ad before the hugging babies video has an adverse effect on the brand. The stark incongruence in tone causes the ad to be less motivating and less unique than when viewed before the pizza-making or travel videos. There is also an increase in both irritation and disruptiveness.

Placing your ad in the right context is paramount to its success. And while in the recent past, pairing an ad with congruent content seemed out of reach for brands, more and more companies are popping up with the promise to be able to do just that.

As someone who has six-second advertising on her brain for just about 86,400 seconds a day, I’m thrilled to talk more about congruence at IIeX Europe and share some other interesting principles of six-second advertising. I’m also excited to attend other speakers’ sessions in my quest to understand six-second ads from new perspectives, such as how they work differently among audiences of different generations. I look forward to hearing Nadine Kuijper and Aija Porina discuss “How to ‘Nextgenify’ Your Research” to think more about how Gen X and Gen Y engage with these short-form ads. And beyond the realm of six-second advertising, I’m eager to expand my knowledge on the myriad of other current research topics that will be presented at the event.

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Ashley Shelley

Ashley Shelley

Research Director, Ameritest