Viewer’s attention spans are getting shorter; If you don’t grab their attention in the first few seconds, they will turn their attention to something else. Today, 15-seconds is the new 30 seconds. A well-crafted narrative structure is key to engaging viewers.  Let’s deconstruct the new storytelling narrative structure in the form of a 15-second ad.

0.0 to 0.1 second

The opening shot needs to count! You have 100 milliseconds to get the viewer’s attention

0.1 to 0.2 second

Viewer is determining if they “trust” your brand enough to watch the rest of the ad and pay attention. This is another 100 milliseconds to build trust.

0.2 to 3.2 seconds

Content needs to build tension in this time. The intro and rise in the ad need to happen quickly and much earlier than traditional longer-form stories. Creating tensiocauses the brain to release cortisol and in turn increases the viewer’s attention and focus.

3.2 to 8 seconds

As the tension and complication in the narrative arises, the viewer’s attention sharpens and our bodies releases more cortisol. However, cortisol isn’t enough to keep our bodies engaged. Their attention will turn to something else otherwise.

In these frames, the viewer should experience the most “suspenseful” part of the story, and the turning point for the character/s in the ad. It’s also important that during this time, you build characters that the viewer wants to “care” about. This is why creating your ad to speak to your target buyer persona/s is critical. You want your viewer to easily relate with the ad, care about the characters and what’s happening to them in the story.

As the viewer see the characters interact, oxytocin is released in response to connection and enhances feelings of empathy and trust. But that’s not all that’s happening when the viewer gets involved in the story and its characters. The brain activity of the viewer aligns to the story thanks to ‘mirror neurons’. Brain cells fire not only when an action is performed but when the viewer observe someone else perform the same action. As the viewer become involved with a story, fictional things come to seem real in the body. The ad may describe a delicious meal and the viewer’s mouth can start to water. If the characters in the story feel sad, the viewer’s prefrontal cortex activates, suggesting that they can feel sad as well.

8 to 11 seconds

Resolution will need to occur to resolve the storyline. When this happens, the viewer’s brain releases dopamine in response to resolving a conflict, creating pleasure and more accurate recall.

11 to 15 seconds

The narrative concludes with denoument which refers “tying up the loose ends”. In here, the character/s usually gain a new sense of self. Every story is about the growth of your main characters, did they discover a new solution? A new product or service that will make their lives easier?

At this point, the viewer’s brain releases oxytocin again and enhances feelings of empathy and trust for the brand, satisfied with the growth of the characters in the ad.

This is when the magic of storytelling occurs; as the cortisol from the tension that provides attention mixes with the oxytocin of care, the viewer experiences a phenomenon called “transportation”. This happens when attention and anxiety join with empathy.

Finally, the closing frames needs to have a strong call to action that compels the viewer to act. This could be to call a phone number, visit a website, take up a demo or special offer.


Here is an example of a 15-second advert Two Giraffes created for client National Property Data.


15 seconds may not seem long at all; it’s not. But this is where clever scripting, storyboarding and creativity comes into play. To quote the French philosopher and mathematician Biase Pascal in his Lettres Provinciales “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time”. In other words, it takes a lot more work and skill to get a message across in a short, succinct manner. There’s no better way to get a message across than with video. 15 seconds of video is equivalent to 450,000 words. Video can achieve messages that ordinary text can’t in the short timeframe that you have to capture viewer’s emotional attention. If you need help with your TV commercials, creative digital ads, social media ads or more, contact Two Giraffes Creative.



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