Achieving the Unskippable: The New Narrative Style for Digital Ads

By Michelle Moscone, Head of Creative Operations at WITHIN

Advertising used to follow a predictable, traditional story arc: Lead in, build-up, climax, the big reveal, offer, and branding. This formulaic ad type is past its prime and simply does not perform anymore.

Consider this: It takes .013 seconds to process a visual concept but 30 seconds to process a thought. The more stimuli and devices that compete for people’s attention, the harder it is to break through the clutter. So advertising must constantly adjust. The result is a new narrative style in which visuals begin immediately, telling a full story in 15 seconds or less.

Instead of relying on the simple story arc and its accompanying static production process, advertisers today must plan the production process around creating visuals and framing specifically designed for each device and platform. Creative production has also evolved into a more fluid process since multiple ad variations are needed for performance testing and targeted personalized content.

So how can brands and agencies adjust their creative processes to set their ads up for success? Here are some ideas:


To Avoid the Skip, Flip the Script

The YouTube Playbook advises that if you want to create an unskippable ad, you have to build your ads upside down. In other words, you need to hook your viewers within the first 5 seconds.

The Unskippable Story Arc starts high with subtle brand cues. Then there is an unexpected shift (!) to surprise viewers. This shift is followed by multiple peaks and more shifts. This visually effective advertising format grabs and keeps viewers’ attention so they continue watching.

performance video graphic

Create Best in Class Video

To create a memorable video, the most interesting message and imagery must appear front and center, in the first 1 to 1.5 seconds. To stand out in the feed, choose vibrant colors or break the plane and use interesting visual effects. The only exception to this format? When you want the ad to appear to be user-generated content.

You also need a clear product and brand communication. Consumers should be able to tell immediately what’s being sold. One option is to display the physical product and an explanation with text overlay. Quickly and clearly displaying the brand image using the most appropriate logo placement and messaging is crucial for brand recall.

It is crucial to always make sure the ad creative is platform-specific — what works well for OTT is not going to flow the same on mobile.

Make Content Modular

When creating content, it is vital to ensure that the core creative idea is properly developed for the multitude of formats and that you have a variety of versions to test to identify the best performing versions. You want to be able to mix and match.

Keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” approach. However, when planning for modular content, there are a few best practices for production.

  • Think about content creation as “content units” instead of standalone pieces. You can’t really wing it — so start planning for modularization at the ideation stage.
  • Actors, backgrounds, text, overlays, and colors are all variables that can be changed to create multiple versions of a similar concept.
  • Apply performance data to draw insights on what is and isn’t working and develop a roadmap for testing in future shoots.
  • Never stop testing and improving. Then, repeat the process at scale to drive monetization through the best performing creative and channels.

Keep these tips in mind as you plan and approach your advertising campaigns. If you do, your ads will perform better — and in turn, so will your brand.


Michelle Moscone is Head of Creative Operations at WITHIN. Her 14-year Creative Advertising history has varied across large advertising agencies, in-house at Clients, to boutique branding shops. She is charged with scaling out and up the Creative Department against people, process, tools and expertise, achieving rapid growth in department size and revenue since starting at WITHIN 11 months ago. Her passion for Creative is only superseded by her passion for people and cultivating career opportunities for the development of talent.