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The Truth About Length: A Scientific Guide for Nonprofits, CSR and Cause Marketing

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The Truth About Length: A Scientific Guide for Nonprofits, CSR and Cause Marketing


”Oh my it’s so long!”

I stood above her, proud and erect.

”I’ve barely even seen one that big before. Do you mind if we start with just a little bit?”

I hear this type of thing all the time.

The truth is, size does matter when you’re making a video.



How Long Should Your Video Be?

A troubling thought – isn’t it?

You’re slaving away to make the perfect video, but you don’t know what to include.

If you include the wrong messages, people will stop watching.

But if you don’t include enough, you won’t be able to persuade anyone.

It’s a guessing game and most of the time you’re groping around in the dark.

So how do you know how long to make your video?

Let’s look at the science:


Video Variation by Engagement

Wistia’s bird’s eye study of 564,710 videos and more than 1.3 billion plays, found 2 minutes to be the sweet spot. And importantly, no difference in engagement levels  (the decision to keep watching) between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.

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As they note:

‘’This is surprising and actionable information for video marketers. If you’re making short videos, you don’t need to stress about the difference of a few seconds. Just keep it under 2 minutes.’’

After 2 minutes ‘’exponential decay’’ kicks in, and people tend to stop watching.  So If you’re going to make a longer video, it’s a good idea to add a call-to-action somewhere before the 2 minute mark.

‘’This isn’t to say that you should cut a 10-minute video down to 2 minutes. Some content warrants longer videos—but it does suggest that you’d be better off cutting 30 seconds from a 2-minute 30-second video to keep viewers’ attention.’’

Interestingly though, this wasn’t the only sweet spot they found.

Looking at the chart again we can see there is barely any drop off between 6 and 12 minutes. Meaning that whether your video is 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 minutes long makes no difference.

After 12 minutes, engagement begins to drop precipitously once more.


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Video Variation by Platform

According to Hubspot, an Instagram video will get the most engagement (measured by the average number of comments) if it is 26 seconds long.

Twitter users prefer videos of just 43 seconds (measured by the average length of #videooftheday).

Facebook audiences were found to enjoy videos most at 60 seconds in length.

And YouTubers with videos 2 minutes long.

For more on this read: 11 Killer Tools To Make Your Cause Video Go Viral



Video Variation by Genre

Winmax found the average length of a viral video is between 2 minutes 30 and 4 minutes 30.

And that level of sharing a video achieves (‘’virality’’) varies according to genre.

If you want your video to get a wide distribution,  the optimum lengths are as follows:

Advertising videos: 2 minutes

Comedic videos: 3 minutes

Dramatic videos: 3 minutes

Music videos: 3 to 4 minutes

Political videos: 7 minutes

Educational videos: 14 minutes

Let’s take a moment to remember the behemoth that was Kony 2012. One of the most successful video campaigns of all time, watched by more than 100 million people in 6 days – was 30 minutes long.

And please, If you DO manage to match the success of Jason Russell, try and maintain your composure better than he did:


Video Variation by Device

To make matters worse, viewing behaviour also varies by device.

Attention tends to be much shorter on mobiles, which are more often used for entertainment during periods of downtime.

Viewers also switch between apps and websites more on mobile, and we’ve seen the rise of 6 second videos as a result.

Here are some thoughts from Google:

‘’Out of 600 video campaigns on YouTube, 9 out of 10 six second ads drove significant lift in AD recall, with an average lift of 38%. Fox News has also said that they will start to offer the 6 Second ad slots alongside their standard 15 and 30 second ads for a variety of sporting events.

On the other hand we seen that longer video ads can also perform quite well if they are engaging. In 2016 the top 10 most viewed purpose-driven video ads on YouTube averaged one minute 44 in length, significantly longer than the typical 30 seconds or 60 seconds TV commercial.’’


How Does Any of this Actually Help Me?

Let’s recap:

Engagement doesn’t vary if your video is between 30 seconds and 2 minutes in length.

Nor does it vary between 6 and 12 minutes in length.

The average length of a viral video is between 2 minutes 30 and 4 minutes 30.

If you want to get your video shared widely, there is an optimum length depending upon its genre.

If you want to get high engagement there’s an optimum length depending upon both platform (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube etc) and device (mobile, tablet, desktop).

Clearly this can get quite complicated quite quickly.

Here’s a simple answer


How To Find Out the Ideal Length of Your Video


YouTube’s FREE analytics service can give you an abundance of valuable information.

Upon completion of the first full draft of your video, carry out a soft launch by sending your video around relevant online communities (post on forums / feedback / discussion groups etc).

Once it has a few thousand viewers, measure the ”Bounce Rate.”

By viewing the ‘’Bounce Rate,’’ you will be able to tell in which sections of your video people:

a: started to leave (indicating dislike or boredom) or

b: watched the same segment again (indicating enjoyment – or perhaps confusion – but if it’s confusion, at least it’s engaged confusion – after all, they decided to watch it again, didn’t they?).

Generally this process allows you to see which parts of your messaging are really resonating with your audience, and which are not.

If there are obvious spikes, you can do some editing before the grand premiere.

But be careful not to mistake a decrease in engagement for the general trend of video watching.

Here are the average bounce rates per length of video:

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Qualitative Reviewing

The second option is to ask people to watch your video and write detailed qualitative reviews.

You and your team will be so familiar the video that by the end of the project you’ll be unable to watch it objectively.

The acid test, is asking strangers.

There are a number of ways to do this.

To find out, read: How to Get Thousands of People to Help Make Your Video



Choosing which information to include in your video makes a world of difference.

Having an understanding of general patterns of behaviour can be extremely useful, but later on in the process, human feedback is the acid test.

If you over-emphasise metrics (engagement / sharing etc) there is a danger of losing sight of the target.

Let me ask you this:

Is it better to have thoroughly educated 1000 people? Or half educated 2000 people?

For example, I know if I made this blog post half the length I would drastically increase the total number of people who read it right to the end.

But which people?

And at what cost?

According to Hubspot, only 20% of readers will ever get to the bottom of a blog post. Which means in the depths of a long post like this, there’s a high chance no one’s even reading this.

Is anybody still here?

I could probably tell you my inner most thoughts down here.

How I really feel about abortion.

Or that I really do have a very long, video.

But, maybe there’s a couple of you coffee-addled nut-jobs still reading, and I would like to reward your commitment. So I will say this:

There’s a lot of talk about our increasingly short attention spans. But be wary of such wisdom – the key focus should never be length – it should be on how to get people engaged. Yes, people have more choice than ever before. But just because you make something short it doesn’t mean they’re going to watch it.

Conversely, once they’re convinced it’s a good investment of their time, most people really enjoy longer content. The rise of three hour podcasts, webinars, Kony etc flies in the face of such ‘’wisdom.’’

Simply put:

Be concise.

Be interesting.

Be valuable.

And if you’re ever in doubt,  remember the favoured maxim of my dear grandmother:

“Say what you need to, then shut the f*** up.”

Cause Marketing, Nonprofit Marketing, CSR Marketing, Charity Marketing,


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In 2006, Cady won an Oscar with his short film ONE-DAY TRIP (El Viaje). And his deep understanding of storytelling earned him a position as a regular judge for the for the Emmy Awards, New York Chapter.

He is a member of the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures (NBR) and also employed as a college professor in New York City teaching direction, production, editing and writing.