Creative agencies tweak video ads for Facebook’s silent screen

Facebook wants the ads to work in a News Feed where videos autoplay in silence


Facebook executives will probably also have to field questions about how it gauges the success of video ads, after the firm was forced to apologize last week for an error in the way it measured video viewership. Photo: Reuters
Facebook executives will probably also have to field questions about how it gauges the success of video ads, after the firm was forced to apologize last week for an error in the way it measured video viewership. Photo: Reuters

The Geico commercial that made its premiere this summer seemed like a standard 30-second television ad. It features two men building sand castles on a pristine beach with their children. “Guess what I just did?” one of the men asks. “Built a sand castle?” the other responds. “Ha—no. I switched to Geico and got more,” the first man says.

But another version of that ad was created by the Martin Agency, which worked on the commercial for Geico. This one was half as long, with text that popped up as the men spoke, and the word “Geico” appeared after six seconds.

The goal: to make the ad understandable to people who viewed it on Facebook without sound. In the past year, Facebook has been vocal about its plan to put videos at the centre of the social network. But to bring advertisers on board, it has had to convince them that their commercials can work in a News Feed where videos autoplay in silence, nestled between engagement photos and birthday wishes.

As Facebook has urged brands to edit and reframe commercials to resonate in that environment, advertisers have asked whether such efforts are worth it.

“For a lot of our clients, Facebook is a very important platform, so thinking about how it’s going to play out there without sound is coming into the discussion earlier and earlier in the process,” said Neel Williams, a creative director at the Martin Agency, which has also repurposed TV Chips Ahoy commercials for Facebook. Advertising is a medium that has long relied on the hummable jingle, the memorable catchphrase and the familiar voice-over to connect with its audience. Now, as technology companies like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat hustle for a bigger cut of television marketing dollars by adding videos, they have been working to show advertisers that their videos can be just as effective, even if they are played on mute or are viewed for just a few seconds. With advertisers seeking to reach an increasingly fractured and fickle audience, the challenges of presenting ads on platforms that are not one size fits all are sure to be much discussed at Advertising Week, a top industry gathering that was scheduled to begin on Monday in New York.

Facebook executives will probably also have to field questions about how it gauges the success of video ads, after the firm was forced to apologize last week for an error in the way it measured video viewership. The miscalculation greatly overstated how much time, on average, its users spent watching videos, and the incorrect numbers were displayed to partners, including advertisers and publishers, for more than two years. Even before Facebook drew criticism for that metric, advertisers were charting new territory with sound on Facebook. Facebook has visited the Martin Agency “several times” to share tips on how to tailor ads effectively, Williams said, and it emphasized the importance of catching a user’s attention in the first three seconds of a video, at which point it officially counts as a view.

“If you’re a creative person, this is an extraordinary time to be in the opening chapters of quite an extraordinary development platform,” said Mark D’Arcy, chief creative officer of Facebook’s Creative Shop, which helps companies tailor their ads to the social network.

Facebook says more than 500 million people watch videos on it every day and viewers have the sound on 50% of the time. But the Martin Agency said its data showed that 94% of its video ads on Facebook were viewed in silence. Omnicom’s BBDO, which tracks Facebook video views across more than 18 clients, said that on average 82% of users watched without sound.

“You can’t elicit the same amount of emotion as when you have sound and visual working together,” said Julian Cole, head of communications planning at BBDO. Even as such ads have been shortened or created anew for the web, particularly for mobile devices, where Facebook says 75% of its video views occur, sound has remained on in apps like YouTube and Snapchat.

“When people are watching on YouTube, they have earbuds in and the volume up,” said Kellie Judge, senior vice-president of global media partnerships at Amplifi, the central investment division of the ad agency Dentsu Aegis Network.

“With Facebook and Twitter, people are scrolling a feed with the volume off. The distinction we’ve been talking more and more about is not just creating for TV versus in-feed, but how it’s so different from other video,” she said.

It is difficult to tell brands they need to tailor their ads for each platform—not to mention pay TV-like dollars to place them there—without proof of their effectiveness, so “Facebook and Twitter are doing a ton of research in that space to combat the advertiser hesitation,” Judge said.

©2016/THE NEW YORK TIMES

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