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Our attention spans are now as short as those of goldfish. Heard that one? It’s a common refrain and seems intuitive in the digital age, even though data suggests it isn’t true.

But even if attention spans haven’t changed, one thing has: people’s willingness to engage with content they don’t find personally relevant and interesting. For today’s video viewers who want more of what they want and less of what they don’t, primetime is indeed personal.

Icon image: A black woman with her hair in a pony tail talks to her YouTube subscribers. Stat: Over 70% increase in the number of YouTube users who follow and engage with creator channels, year over year.

So how do you capture someone’s attention amid all the other things fighting for their time? If there’s one group of people who know how, it’s YouTube creators. YouTube content creators are masters at earning and holding viewer attention. That’s perhaps why there’s been a 70% year-over-year increase in the number of YouTube users who follow and engage with creator channels.1

According to the creators we talked to, a key part of that engagement — and of earning viewer loyalty — is including long-form content in their channel mix. Here’s a look at why they’re doubling down on long-form content and how they approach it.

Building deeper connections with active viewers

“There’s definitely an assumption that digital content has to be short form, and that was the norm until recently. But I think audiences have started to consume YouTube more like traditional TV,” said Safiya Nygaard, whose quirky, intimate channel has amassed nearly 1 billion views. “A 20-minute time stamp can seem like a lot to commit to when you click on something, but we’ve seen completely the opposite.”

Cassey Ho and her channel Blogilates is a great example of this. For Cassey, her videos are an opportunity to not only get a 20- to 30-minute workout, but also build stronger connections. “I teach a real, full-length class, and that means when my fans come to watch my videos, they’re not just watching, they’re doing the workouts with me. I feel like we really bond together,” she said.

This tracks with other research we’ve done that shows when content is relatable, it motivates viewers to go from watching to doing. For brands that can strike a chord with viewers, experimenting with long-form content (think more than five minutes) and ads (think over 1.5 minutes) can give viewers more time to engage with the stuff they like.

On the branded content side, according to a recent Pixability study on the QSR space, branded video content over 10-minutes long has higher engagement than branded content of shorter video length.

We’ve seen this same phenomenon play out with ads as well, as evidenced by the Cannes 2019 Ads Leaderboard, which features the top ads that viewers chose to watch this past year. The average length? One minute and 46 seconds. And again, those are ads where people know they are being marketed to.

Creating for long-form content

Ready to start experimenting with video length in your ads and content? Brands and creators who have found success with long-form content apply these creative principles.

Take as long as your story needs: Philip Wang, creator of Wong Fu Productions, is a master storyteller. When it comes to content length, he and his channel partners figure out what story they want to tell, and then tell it, however long it takes. “We value flexibility so much, and let the story guide video length. We’ve done series, full-on, multi-episodic shows, but sometimes it’s also nice to just reach our same audience with a three-minute sketch or a short film.”

In just over two minutes, this leaderboard ad from Orange Egypt earned and held people’s attention, folding in dozens of jokes, landing each twist and turn, and setting a captivating scene.

Show people how: How-to is consistently a successful place for brands to play, particularly when it comes to long-form content. A great example is this five-minute “How to Make Ruffles McDonald’s and Pepsi Vending Machine” tutorial from Target. This in-depth video includes intricate details on how to cut and glue the cardboard, and of course, where to put the chips. It has earned 58 million views and counting.

Think about common questions your customers ask and how your brand might answer a need, help people dive in, or create something new.

Follow the ABCDs of effective creative: All of the same creative principles you might have used for short-form content or ads apply for long-form content. For example, draw attention from the beginning, like in this 3.5 minute-long leaderboard ad from Turkish Airlines. Beloved, energetic characters burst onto the screen from the jump to grab the viewer’s attention.

Another crucial principle is connecting with the viewer through emotion and storytelling. This moving ad from LG Samsung is a great example, depicting a young boy being inspired and supported by his mom as he pursues his dreams of soccer glory over the course of four minutes.

Strategically sequence: New tools and technologies give brands the opportunity to tell long-form stories in different ways. Sometimes a continuous hero film or how-to video will do the trick. And sometimes, you can tell that same story broken up across a planned sequence, optimizing the sequence based on what people engage with. Brands like Adidas are finding success with this segmented approach, creatively sequencing a mix of long-form films that hero the brand story, product-focused ads, and six-second bumpers. This way, people can connect with your brand more deeply over time, but in a way that optimizes for their engagement with different parts of the story.

As you think about how to earn some of the love and loyalty that viewers have for YouTube creators, dig around their longer form content to see what’s working, how they hold viewer attention, and what kinds of stories they tell.