6.5 seconds that matter

Issue 16 | September 2010

The core idea is that the average engagement time between a consumer and a brand message is 6.5 seconds. Not long at all. So, if you want to extend that to 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 5 minutes even, then you have to be interesting.

Now the agency is aligning itself around the concept, suggesting not just that how agencies approach a task and brief it in must change but even how they recruit must be reworked.

That’s interesting. And Mark Fiddes, ECD of the London outpost, has some intriguing ideas about how numbers provide creativity with a third dimension beyond words and pictures.

No.2, he says, gave Bernbach the platform on which to position Avis – and build an agency.

And, he continues, how about 17? Because the amount by which the testosterone levels of the average red-blooded American male have fallen in the last twenty years is 17%.

Cue a DraftFCB success story here.

It transpires that this number led the agency to the insight that men are feeling vulnerable. So a campaign based around the idea of ‘We Wear The Pants’ begins to make a great deal of sense, even if, from a sardonic British perspective, the idea of needing to reclaim your masculinity, let alone wanting to, seems faintly ridiculous.

DraftFCB is a motorway crash of agencies. The direct marketing entrepreneur Howard Draft mashed up with the creative brio of Frank Lowe and the faded but still valid big-brand savvy of FCB. In London and New York, they have tried, bravely I think, to create new working methods to make sense of the media madness of our times. The fact they have not convinced many clients that the new approach is necessary isn’t for lack of trying. If 6.5 Seconds That Matter helps them get traction, good luck to them.

Similarly, if 6.5 STM, as Jonathan Harries calls it, helps them do consistently better work across the network, then that too will be cheering. At the moment, the New Zealand outpost is the stellar agency with DraftFCB Stockholm, DraftFCB Vienna and DraftFCB Johannesburg all trailing in its meteorite shower.

At Cannes this year, DraftFCB Stockholm’s work for Radiodjanst certainly deserved to do better than it did. So, will 6.5 Seconds That Matter help the network do better next year?

I fired off a few questions to Jonathan Harries, and this is how he replied.

Q: I’m interested in the genesis of 6.5 seconds thinking.

Where did it start?

It really began when a group of us asked ourselves a question agencies should be asking themselves every day: “How do we make our creative output better?”

Who had the insight that this could determine a new communications methodology?

About 18 months ago a group of creative directors and planners from around our network met in Mexico City to do a Creative Rumble, not on a particular client as we’d normally do, but on Draftfcb. The Rumble was lead by Tom O’Keefe our U.S. ECD, and Simon Calvert, Global head of Planning. The thought was to take everything we believed we had that perhaps differentiated us as an agency and harness it to come up with more inspiring strategies that would in turn lead to better work.

And who are its main evangelists? Your creative directors or your planners and suits?

At this point I can safely say everyone. It’s taken 18 months for 6.5 STM to evolve to where it is. Along the way it’s certainly had its fair share of evangelists and detractors. Obviously the creative directors and planners were involved at its inception, so most of them have been unbelievably supportive. As soon as people began to see how clear, powerful and inspiring it could be, everyone jumped on board.

Q: Do your creative directors buy into it? I know you’re hardly going to tell me that they all think it’s yet more ‘black-boxery’ but sometimes an agency’s philosophy can become a mission, which can be inspiring and motivating. Is 6.5 Seconds That Matter genuinely inspiring?

I am not juggling with semantics here, but 6.5 Seconds that Matter isn’t so much a philosophy as it is an operating system. It’s meant to be a very practical way of working and thinking -- using some of the most brilliant analysts in the business to pull insights out of vast amounts of data, and reducing those insights into a single thought about a brand or product that truly matters to a consumer. That’s part one. Part two is taking that point, the 6.5 Seconds that Matter, and putting it across in the most impassioned and inspiring way possible. That’s why the creatives do buy into it.

Q: I have read that you did research with over 2,000 consumers to come up with the precise number – 6.5.

Was this research specifically to find out how people interact with ideas?

What was the brief to the research company? What sort of questions were they asked to put to the 2,000 punters who were quizzed?

We have a white paper on the actual research that will answer the question far better than I ever could. It is important to note however that the research was simply to confirm a hypothesis that we already had. We all know that our ability to process information has not kept up with the vast amounts of information that sucks us into the maelstrom of confusion every moment of every day. 6.5Seconds that Matter is merely a way of reducing that information into a thought that is simple enough to be understood but pertinent enough to be engaging.

Q: It is damned hard for agencies to differentiate themselves in our own market of advertising services. What makes 6.5 Seconds That Matter genuinely different to anything other agencies say about themselves?

Most agencies don’t practice what they preach. We tell our clients that they have to differentiate themselves from their competition by having a very clear positioning. And yet so many of us spend our time trying to be like other agencies. We realized we couldn’t spend our lives worrying about other agencies and still be as effective as we believed we could be for our clients. We had to be confident in who we were. We had to understand our purpose which, put as simply as I can put it, is “increasing the odds of being right”. That’s not only about doing brilliant creative. It’s about having brilliant creative that’s based on an equally brilliant strategy. Strategy reduces the risk of failure. Creativity increases the odds of success.

Q: Is this a deliberate attempt to move away from definitions of advertising as either above-the-line or below-the-line and talk about communications of all sorts in terms of response?

Absolutely. That’s how we started off. We believe if you focus on what matters to the consumer you will find the right medium or channel. If you spend your time worrying about the medium, you may not find the consumer hanging around waiting for your message.

Q: 6.5 Seconds That Matter implies Draftfcb is channel-neutral. Is this true?

It suggests you are less interested in communications messages, or content, and more interested in consumer behaviours. True?

If so, then it’s probably good business, aligning you more with the growing research sector, but it could point towards a decreasing obligation to creativity. Would you agree?

Yes, we are channel neutral. We also believe you cannot look at content, communication and consumer behaviour with different eyes. Everything is connected. Creativity is a daily obligation. Great strategy not only inspires better creative work but it gives everyone the comfort to accept better creative work.

Q: Is 6.5 Seconds That Matter an incentive to your agencies to do more engaging (more award- winning) work? If so, how?

I would hope so. After all, better work was the idea behind it. I don’t think there’s one person in the agency who doesn’t want to do award- winning work. But unlike some agencies that isn’t our daily motivation.

Q: Does 6.5 Seconds That Matter mean your creative briefs have changed? I like the idea of using time as a metric. So, if you are to engage for 3 minutes, say, you probably need a different sort of idea to one which you want to engage for 30 minutes.

The briefs have changed considerably as discussed in the questions above. 6.5 seconds is simply an average time across all media that consumers will give you to engage them. Clearly once you have engaged them with something about the brand or product that really does matter to them, they will give you all the time you need.

Q: Do clients buy into 6.5 and do think it implies they need to be buying a different sort of creative product?

A lot of our clients have embraced it because they see the value in its reductionist thinking. I honestly believe that it gives us permission to do better -- and for them to buy better – work. It’s really not about different – better will always be different but different isn’t always better.

Q: Which Draftfcb campaigns from around the world best exemplify 6.5 Second thinking?

There are a number up on our website ( that exemplify it. The first true 6.5 STM process happened with Dockers “Wear the Pants” campaign.

Q: Does 6.5 Second thinking mean you need to be recruiting a different kind of individual to the adman of yore? What are the qualities you look for? What sort of person will prosper in Draftfcb today?

What sort of training are you giving your people to bring them up to speed with the new demands of both the agency and the market?

There is a whole new breed of amazing young thinkers in our organization. People who understand math and psychology and come from those backgrounds. Put them together with writers and designers and you will see a new spirit in meetings and in the thinking. We have always said that we are a beta organization and that’s how we recruit and operate.

Q: Why haven’t you subscribed to Directory?

If I haven’t – and I have to believe you’ve checked up on this – then I have to apologize. I travel close to 160 days a year and I definitely see Directory in our offices around the globe. So, I will correct that immediately.

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