6 sec or life: The performance conundrum


I have a bone to pick with paid performance. Particularly the part that puts completion rates and CPM well above quality when it comes to deciding what makes a piece of content ‘high-performing.’

Take video duration for example. If you have a campaign with 6-second, 15-second, and 30-second videos in the mix, then you’ll often find that based on completion rates or cost per completed view, those 6 second videos are going to outperform the others. And why wouldn’t they? They’re generally unskippable and if not, you’ll need Spiderman reflexes to avoid getting to the 95% mark. Plus, the algorithms know this, so they prioritise your snappy bites in order to tick boxes.

Which means, hey! congrats, you’re stacking the deck for ‘performance’, but are you actually getting through? How many times do they need to see this before they remember your brand or your message? Was it even worth the spend?

The digital marketing landscape has overwhelmingly become ‘pay to play’ in order to reach these arbitrary performance metrics that – truly – don’t mean much in terms of real impact.

We’re losing the beauty of digital marketing: our ability to analyse the effectiveness of our efforts – to dig in, compare and move different levers to get a full picture of how our content is performing. Sure, we can always find a way to tell a good shiny story with that data – but are we using it to learn a valuable lesson?


Is anyone really into this 6 sec thing?

While algorithmic conventional wisdom is telling us to be shorter, sharper and squeeze everything into 6 seconds, the platforms themselves are giving us mixed messages.

At the same time that Meta shared the news that Reels longer than 90 seconds can hurt distribution performance in the app, they’ve also been testing 3-minute and 10-minute uploads.

Meanwhile, TikTok – the platform that has basically made “Follow for part 2” its tagline – has been testing a massive 60-minute upload option. Will it be used? How will it be measured? Will it make it out of Beta testing? Only time, ironically, will tell.

When it all comes down to it though, we’re all suckers for a good story and once we’re hooked it doesn’t matter if it is 15 seconds or 50 minutes. Don’t believe me? Take Reesa Teesa’s wild ride in 50 parts titled, “Who TF did I marry?” At an unheard of EIGHT hours long, it has been viewed millions of times – not to mention the amount of time dedicated to reporting on it, compiling the videos, responding to it, and the cliff notes version for those who aren’t on TikTok but don’t want to be left out.

We’ve been told for years that our attention spans are shrinking rapidly and that is why you should only post super short videos. And this isn’t necessarily wrong. Most of us find that we would shudder at the thought of committing to a 2.5-hour movie and then will mindlessly scroll for twice that length of time. But to me, the time we spend glued to our screens would indicate that we don’t have an issue with attention, but commitment.


So, can we beat the algorithms?

As marketers, we know that it can take multiple touchpoints to take someone from completely unaware right through to a paying customer, but not all touchpoints are created equal. And having paid performance or algorithms push us to chase cost efficiencies and metrics over resonance is a fool’s game.

Does it matter if you’re seeing a 100% completion rate or a benchmark-breaking CPM if nobody cares about your message or remembers you? And an inflated engagement rate is meaningless if responses and sentiment are low.

It’s time we took back some of the power and place our focus on the metrics that matter. And that shouldn’t be the same across the board. We need to be building detailed performance ecosystems that measure effectiveness and impact at different levels.

And most importantly, we need to be making content that hooks us in early and makes people want to hang around – no matter how long our story is.