Camera Shot Length in TV Commercials and their Memorability and Persuasiveness

James MacLachlan and Michael Logan

The speed with which viewers of TV commercials are bombarded with new camera shots has been increasing. In 1991 the average camera shot was on the screen for less than two seconds, only about half as long as in the early 1980s. Are the camera shots coming at viewers faster than they can assimilate them?

To put this possibility in context, this article will examine conventional wisdom from the film-making industry concerning appropriate shot lengths. Shot length is the time a camera shot stays on a scene before a cut is made to a camera viewing the same scene from a different position or to a camera on an entirely new scene. Shot length is not affected by the use of camera movement or zooms. Changes in average shot lengths in TV commercials from 1978 to 1991 will be documented and, in recent years, contrasted with the average shot lengths in the surrounding program material. Finally, we will examine the relationship between the number of shots and the persuasiveness and memorability of TV commercials.