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6-second videos take off in social media marketing

Call it the incredibly-shrinking video ad. For decades the 30-second prime time TV spot ruled advertising. Then came the 15-second YouTube plug. And now?

The latest in the customer relationship management arsenal that those who work in the social media marketing and video marketing space are capitalizing on - the 6-second looping video app.

Marketers at the forefront of digital advertising are embracing micro-videos in their messaging. Why? Because their target customers are flocking to video sharing sites like Twitter's Vine, SnapChat and, as of last week, Facebook's Instagram. Collectively these three sites reach 151 million users. And there's an added bonus: anyone can upload a video -- for free.

Grabbing consumers' attention

Six seconds isn't a lot of time, but there's compelling evidence that marketers don't need more than that: research shows that marketers have at most 10 to 20 seconds to grab consumers' attention and elicit the emotional response that can lead to a purchase. "What consumer behavior is forcing us to do is learn to be incredibly concise," said Tom Lamb, the chief marketing officer of Lowe's Home Improvement, in Ad Age. Lowe's has experimented with several short videos on Vine -- and they've been hugely popular.

Here's how marketers are making them work: Walgreens offers quick shopping tips for the health-conscious (featuring, of course, items it sells). Lowe teaches simple life-hacks for DIY-ers (ever wonder how to keep bugs out of the kids' sandbox?). Regal Entertainment, the movie theater operator, and American Licorice are using social video to hawk Red Vine licorice to moviegoers. American Licorice claims the short videos have increased sales.

Clearly, the 6-second short isn't going to replace video advertising anytime soon. But experts say it's an effective way to engage consumers now that successful marketing is all about customer relationships. "[Vine] has brought our brand top of the mind with people who hadn't thought of us in years," said John Dempsey, consumer communications specialist at American Licorice, in AdWeek.

To get started, here's what you need to know about the leading social video platforms:

Vine

  • Launched: January 2013
  • Users: 13 million
  • Format: 6 seconds
  • Who's Using It: Lowe's, Kate Spade, Urban Outfitters, The Brooklyn Nets, Red Vine and Regal Entertainment
  • 411: Vine is the only platform that cuts off videos at 6 seconds, but they automatically loop back to the beginning. Vine is popular for whimsical shorts and stop-motion animation clips.

Instagram Video 

  • Launched: June 20th, 2013
  • Users: 130 million (all Instagram users can now share videos along with photos)
  • Format: 15 seconds
  • Who's Using It: Lulemon, American Eagle, Burberry, General Electric, Michael Kors
  • 411: Instagram logged five million videos within 24 hours of its release last week. Comparisons to Vine are misplaced, say some video-sharing users: Instagram videos, for instance, don't loop and lack the interactive features popular on Vine. But users also speculate that Instagram shorts will soon appear on Facebook user pages as part of broader video play by Facebook.

SnapChat

  • Launched: September 2011
  • Users: 8 million
  • Format: 10 seconds
  • Brand success stories: Taco Bell and NYC-based frozen yogurt chain, 16 Handles,
  • 411: Unlike other video sharing sites, SnapChat clips self-destruct after 10 seconds. SnapChat, once written off as a "sexting" app, just received $60 million in funding. The real genius behind SnapChat is that it uses WiFi and can be used on devices other than smartphones -- a huge hit among users, like kids, who don't have data plans.

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