Vine and the six-second video ad

July 29, 2013: 11:53 AM ET

Twitter's video sharing service, Vine, is drawing marketers looking for an ad format that's catchier than an image but pithier than a 30-second video.

By Varun Nayar, reporter

FORTUNE -- As the number of advertising platforms continues to grow, the attention span of consumers continues to shrink. To keep up, marketers have moved from billboards to online pop-ups to YouTube video messages, experimenting with formats to find the right medium for ad content that holds consumers' attention. Brands have begun asking, What's catchier than an image but pithier than a 30-second video?

A possible answer lies in Twitter's newest investment, Vine. Launched in October 2012 and bought by the social media giant this past January, Vine initially set out to be a mini-video sharing application for everyday users. But it has gained major popularity among advertisers for content marketing and brand promotion, having garnered a total of 13 million users across the globe.

The app lets you shoot up to six seconds of looping video footage using a smartphone that can be cut up into a handful of short clips, or two to three larger chunks -- just touch the screen to record, and lift your finger to stop. These videos can then be uploaded either directly onto Vine, or onto Twitter as a link, where your followers will be able to see them as expandable links. Some brands have understood the value of departing from the obtrusive 30-second video ad spot, and have condensed their content to suit a more time-sensitive consumer base, giving customers the choice to opt in to watch their ads. Michael Litman, a co-founder of BRANDS ON VINE -- a website that monitors more than 50,000 brands on the platform -- describes Vine ads as "brand blips"; he considers them a strong medium for content marketing because they "[don't] need to be 'watched' to be seen -- there's no decision-making process by the user."

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Publishing house Simon & Schuster -- which didn't have much of a presence in the video ad domain -- took to Vine to give its customers a six second slideshow of books they could be reading. Burberry (BURBY) spliced together six seconds worth of backstage footage and highlights from a 15-minute fashion show. And Bacardi U.K. produced a series of six-second cocktail-mixing lessons for the platform.

Vines like these are tweeted on the company's official Twitter page and are then often re-tweeted by fans and followers, creating a snowballing effect. Michael Lebowtiz -- CEO and Founder of digital ad agency Big Spaceship -- calls this the "propagation value" of the app, and says it's a major reason brands adopt Vine. Case in point: Toyota Spain (TM). A couple of months ago, the Spanish division of the giant automaker released a simple stop-motion video of a paper-cut-out car driving off a tablet and up its user's sleeve. The post became widely popular among the brand's 80,000-customer strong social media community.

Lebowitz acknowledges that not everything will be a blockbuster. "With so much social content, you can't expect everything to get noticed," he says. But while social media's short lifespan may seem like a strike against Vine marketing, it's actually a selling point for brands that see the platform as a safe and cheap space to exercise creative freedom and test new ideas. "Video is another opportunity for brands to define their own social behaviors" says Lebowitz. Rebeca Guillen, a social media manager at Toyota Spain, agrees, noting that the platform provides a "perfect opportunity to test [marketing] speed and agility" and generate original content. Brands like ASOS and Nintendo of America (NTDOY), for example, have published rather simple videos that essentially show staff unboxing their products in order to bridge the gap between online shopping and in-store shopping -- both brands aiming to exhibit how gratifying it can be to open a box.

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A major reason why brands have gravitated toward the mini-video platform is because of the community it has generated around itself. Kevin Sigliano, a partner at Spain's leading social media marketing firm, Territorio Creativo, calls it an "ecosystem where brands and consumers talk directly." Brands have taken things a step further by hiring individual Vine-artists -- as opposed to big ad agencies -- to work with them on their six-second marketing content. Khoa Phan, a 23-year-old Vine artist, has worked with MTV, the (RED) campaign, Livestrong, and most recently Snapple. Specializing in stop-motion Vines, Phan describes the mini-video as having the ability to "pack [in] a lot of visual information," doing a lot with a little.

Artists from other fields, like English singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, further demonstrated the strength of this mini-video community when she enlisted fans to upload Twitter Vines inspired by her newest record "Burn" under the #ellieburnvine hashtag. The best of these fan-made Vines were compiled into a long-form collage uploaded on Youtube, making the marketing and art-making process collaborative.

In this way, Vine ad content is gradually helping consumers back into the marketing equation, making the ad experience what it should be -- quick and easy. The platform probably won't be the last of its kind, but it is, for now, teaching marketers the value of crisp and unobtrusive content.

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