Did the Universal Ad Unit Just Shift?

When the 30 second spot falls from the #1 position, it is safe to conclude that the way we create ads has changed. Read more about how exactly it is from our VP and Managing Director of Media, Luke Moore.

While working through some data for a client recently, the media team noticed something interesting. It looks as though the universal ad unit may have shifted in 2021.

Historically, the 30 second spot has been it. Our industry creates 30’s for TV and then 15 second cut downs make their way into both digital and television.  Yes, shorter ads are frequently developed exclusively for digital, but 30 second spots have been the standard length for TV in Canada since the early 1970’s.

Telecaster approves spots for Canadian television. In 2021, the total number of approved spots was dominated by the 15 second ad unit at 44.8%. This is a notable difference from 2020, and it is a historical first. When the 30 falls from the #1 position, it is safe to conclude that the way we create ads has changed.

It would also be fair to comment that this shift has taken too long, after all the digital ad spend surpassed television back in 2013. Furthermore, television has been on a slow decline for 10+ years now, so why hasn’t this standard ad unit flipped earlier?

Well, the devil is in the details and (only) $2.8 Billion of the $9.6 Billion was spent on digital video in 2020. Notably, 2020 digital video ad spending exceeded TV ad outlays for the first time in Canada. In 2021, digital video raced ahead of television with an estimated spend of $3.25 billion.

With media, not only do you follow the money (ad spend), but it is equally important to follow the consumer habits (average time spent). Again, a similar pattern emerges, and digital use has increasingly outpaced traditional media since 2020.

It has been suggested that the pandemic influenced the skew towards 15 seconds in 2020, and this is likely true. The pandemic certainly accelerated all things digital, including creative requirements, obviously. Did this spill into TV media? Absolutely, and we know that producing TV spots during the pandemic has been challenging too. Shorter, less complicated ad shoots make a whole lot of sense during a pandemic.

That said, we do think that we have reached the tipping point and the evidence suggests this: 15-second ad units have become the mainstay and the 30 is now in decline. Canadian consumers, in general, have much shorter attention spans these days. The 15 just makes sense on so many levels. I really don’t think we are going back. After all, who likes experiencing a 30 second ad in digital? And let’s face it, digital is now driving the bus.

This is a fundamental shift in how we create advertising and FUSE Create has been leading this charge. Today, we need to tell stories in different ways than through a thirty second ad. Because if 30 second spots don’t work well in digital, they no longer work as well in the mix, including TV. The universal ad unit has shifted. Long live the :15!