Five second marketing; ideas for a distracted world

In 2006, Lord Maurice Saatchi gave a speech at Cannes about “the death of modern advertising”, going on to explain that in the new digital world, brands needed to own a single word that epitomised their business to achieve cut through in a cluttered world. He called this concept One Word Equity.

Back then, many in the industry scoffed at the idea, perhaps because finding one word that represented an entire brand seemed far too difficult or maybe because ‘one word equity’ sounded an awful lot like shorter TV adverts, a trend that would almost certainly reduce creative production fees and media spend on television.

The overall takeaway from Lord Saatchi is perhaps best summed up by another of his legendary quotes: “It’s easier to complicate than to simplify. Simple ideas enter the brain quicker and stay there longer”.

Fast forward from Cannes 2006, and mobile devices are changing the media landscape more quickly, and more profoundly than any other media has ever done in our lifetime. Smartphone owners don’t understand what we used to call downtime because, when you own a smartphone, every single second that would have been deemed downtime before is now mobile time. At an IAB event earlier this year, James Chandler, head of mobile at media agency Mindshare, said he couldn’t remember what he used to do at a train station before he had a mobile phone. He got a laugh, but I suspect he wasn’t joking.

In March 2013, Trevor Beattie, the man responsible for famous Wonderbra and FCUK TV advertising said “I’m announcing the death of the 30-second TV ad – it is too long, it is bullshit,” speaking at the Advertising Week Europe conference in London. He said that five seconds was the right length. Click here to see his interview.

Smartphone addiction is making it increasingly difficult for us to concentrate on any one task, or to think deeply about anything. The Shallows by Nicholas Carr offers scientific proof that people living in a digital age have only a fleeting attention, and ruthlessly edit out most of what they see.

This is hardly a surprise; our smartphone has the ability to inform, entertain or connect us in an infinite number of ways, and all at the precise moment convenient to us. The downside to this connected world, however, is that people are finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything at all. We already have the ‘second-screen’ phenomenon where consumers are sat at home in front of the television, and reach for their phones as soon as the TV either makes them want to share the TV experience, or bores them into looking for fresh stimulus.


Google research shows that smartphone users look at their device on average 150 times a day. Status updates, Twitter, Google searches, checking a map, reading the news headlines … all short tasks, done often.

Mobile has an extremely high frequency of short interactions with its audience, and so it’s a little and often medium. I therefore believe that advertising on mobile should follow that trend. The following formula then seems to make sense to me:

Say one thing – just one brand message per campaign

Say it quickly – Beattie’s 5 seconds or Saatchi’s one word, you decide. Just be quick!

Say it often – Frequency of message will drive your message home.

If you have three things you need to say about your brand, run three campaigns rather than trying to make three points in one creative. One point at a time, and and don’t start another until the previous message has sunk in.

VW won a reputation of being reliable through a high frequency, single message TV campaign in the 80’s with the tagline ‘If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen’.

I often ask people what they think of VW to test this theory, and sure enough if they are old enough to have been exposed to the high frequency, single message campaign, reliable is a word that comes up time and time again. Last year What Car conducted a study, which placed Volkswagen 20th in the reliability stakes so their reputation for reliability would seem to have been built through single message, high frequency advertising.

As consumers move more and more to an online world, and in particular to smartphones and tablets you have less time, and less space to make a connection. So marketing needs to adapt to this new world.

Say one thing; Say it quickly & Say it often

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