Campaign Magazine

The paradox of long-form vertical video

The paradox of long-form vertical video

Originally featured in the July 8th 2018 issue of Campaign Middle East

Not content with pick-pocketing Snapchat in 2016, Instagram seems determined to muscle in on YouTube’s turf as well by launching a video hub and standalone app that they’re calling IGTV. And for good reason too. According to a recent Pew Research survey in the US, Instagram is trailing only YouTube in usage among teens. 85 percent of Americans aged 13 to 17 say they use YouTube, with Instagram coming in second at 72 percent, and Snapchat close behind at 69 percent. While Instagram could definitely do with a better ‘home’ for its video content outside of users’ Stories or Feeds, their emphasis on catering to the longer-form video that YouTube currently dominates clashes somewhat with their insistence on using vertical video.

The vertical format that currently features on Instagram and Snapchat lends itself well to shorter content; an impromptu piece to camera, a quick glimpse around a quirky cafe, a short makeup tutorial etc. But the type of video that typically garners a following on YouTube, the kind that Instagram wants to attract to its platform, is a fundamentally different type of content altogether; longer, better structured, with a higher level of production value, and more importantly, horizontal in format.

Viewers on these ‘vertical’ platforms have been primed for brevity and, because of this, the big question for Instagram is whether users will spend as long watching vertical videos as they already do with horizontal videos. The average YouTube viewing session on mobile is an impressive 40 minutes according to Google. But for Instagram, the average mobile session duration is a mere 3.05 minutes. Instagram hopes that, by increasing the maximum time limit for its videos from 1 minute to 60 minutes, it will enable longer-form quality content to flourish and keep users on the app for longer. But will users really watch 10, 20, even 30 minute vertical videos on their phone? Instagram clearly thinks they will, but there will need to be a change in current viewing habits for this to happen, especially as these platforms currently appeal to short attention spans with quick-fire content that is easy to jump through.

From a creation point of view too, there is a chicken-and-egg challenge of trying to encourage longer-form content creation without evidence for creators that it will find an audience on these channels. Instagram must try to both convince their current top content creators to fundamentally change the type of videos they make for the longer format, while also trying to attract YouTube creators to the platform, which would in turn require them to drastically adapt their content for vertical video. For these creators, the vertical format is a restrictive one in comparison, with valuable screen real estate at the sides being sacrificed for length, and a heavy trade-off in the amount of information they can show on the screen at any one time. For YouTube content creators, this could be a serious stumbling block.

At the moment, Instagram has said that they will not show ads on the new IGTV, although this will inevitably change over time once the platform finds its feet. But by shutting off a potential revenue stream for creators at the beginning, and by not making direct payments to stars either, they could initially struggle to attract the talent that they want to come to the platform. It seems like a stretch to expect YouTube’s most popular creators to jump ship to a format that doubles their workload without cutting them in on the ad revenue. Ultimately, the old cliche is true, content is king, especially for video. Facebook has already found this out the hard way over the past couple of years by not being able to take market-share from YouTube due to a lack of exclusive quality content on the platform. Can IGTV succeed where Facebook ultimately failed? Stranger things have happened, but it’s certainly a tall order.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Mobile, Snapchat, Social Media

How Voice Search Might Impact eCommerce

Originally featured in the February 25th 2018 issue of Campaign Middle East

Long before the smartphone, the television, the radio, and even the printing press, we relied on our voices to communicate. These days we spend more and more time with our faces buried in a screen, although if you were to believe the tech press hype, all that might soon be about to change. There is a voice-powered revolution happening, or so we’re told.

Sales of voice assistant devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home spiked last year and are expected to grow exponentially in the foreseeable future. With smartphone ownership long past saturation point, the big tech players see voice as the next great frontier for how they might embed themselves into our lives.

And rightly so. Google says that 20% of searches on Android devices in the US are currently done by voice, and ComScore expects voice searches to rise to 50% of all searches by as soon as 2020. You can almost hear brands scrambling around to try and come up with a ‘voice strategy’. But are we getting a little too ahead of ourselves?

How all this will affect advertisers exactly is still very much up in the air. While these stats seem staggeringly high, it’s important to unpack the different types of voice search taken into account here. These stats include using voice as an input to serve up results on a smartphone screen via Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant for example. While we might search differently when using our voice compared to typing a search into our phone, this method ultimately still produces a list of text-based results that can be scrolled through and pondered over.

The real disruption will happen when we also get the results coming back to us through voice. Unlike text-based search, the number of results that a voice platform can serve up will be far fewer. Gone are the pages and pages of listings that can be facilitated through a screen. This is bound to refine the types of searches we make, but also the types of responses we are given in return, fundamentally changing how search works.

For example, instead of searching for “pizza places in Dubai” and being presented with a list of the nearest pizza restaurants, unless you know specifically where you want to order from, you are likely to be presented with only two or three of the most popular options. How Google or Amazon etc. decide on these options will have drastic knock-on implications for businesses. Depending on how well these platforms know you, they can tailor options to your tastes and purchase history etc., but this could make it increasingly difficult for brands to influence the process.

All of this might sound worrying for marketers, but if we look back to the current usage of voice-assistants it’s clear that we might be a bit further off this reality than some would have you believe. The vast majority of interactions with these devices at the moment are to carry out mundane tasks like playing music, getting the weather forecast, setting a timer or asking generic questions. When it comes to actually using these devices to make a purchase, this is still very rare. A recent Business Insider Intelligence survey of 1,000 heavy voice-assistant users found that only 9% had ever used voice commands to actually buy a product.

Some first-mover brands in the US that have gotten a march on their competitors are the likes of Starbucks and Domino’s pizza who have launched Alexa ‘skills’ over the last couple of years. These skills are still quite primitive though and usually only facilitate re-ordering a designated item and having to use a specific trigger phrase to do so.

While voice may not ultimately replace all e-commerce, it could especially revolutionize ‘replenishment purchases’ such as toothpaste or toilet paper, products that can be re-ordered without too much consideration. If your brand can become the default for your customer when she says, for example, “Alexa, buy more washing powder”, this can put you in a very strong position when it comes to customer retention.

Ironically, many of the brands that will reap the benefits in this new landscape will be those that have built up their brand outside of these platforms, maybe even on – shock, horror – traditional channels. So much so, that they are top-of-mind and that consumers actually request them specifically on voice platforms, or have them set as a default order.

While we’re yet to see how ads might be facilitated on voice platforms, Amazon have been in talks with consumer companies like Procter & Gamble and Clorox about paying for higher placement if a user searches for a particular type of product, as well as targeting users based on past shopping behavior to cross-sell complimentary products to them. How will all this play out over the coming years? We’ll just have to wait and see. Or perhaps more accurately, listen.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Amazon, Apple, Campaign Magazine, e-Commerce, Google

The opportunity in interactive video

Originally featured in the August 27th 2017 issue of Campaign Middle East

It’s hardly a revelation to say that video content has never been as popular as it is right now. Whether it be on Facebook, YouTube, Display, or increasingly, Snapchat & Instagram, more and more of users’ time online is spent consuming video in some form. By the end of this year, KPCB estimates that video content will account for 74% of all online traffic, and Mark Zuckerberg has even said that he expects Facebook to be almost entirely video within the next five years. But while the digital video format itself has never been more accessible, many of the digital video ads that tend to make it out into the wild don’t truly take advantage of the opportunities that digital channels allow. Most still ape TV spots that have been adapted to digital – a new format but an old mindset. While television is a passive channel, digital is not, and its potential is currently not being fully utilized. Consequently, we seem to have reached a point where viewers have become numb to video on digital channels – not surprising when you consider the slew of formats that seem to have gotten increasingly aggressive in recent years such as un-skippable pre-rolls, auto-playing sound-on ads, and now the particularly jarring mid-roll videos that burst into your viewing experience half-way through.

Viewers are fed up of video ads taking over their digital experiences and forcing them to passively bear witness to their marketing message. In 2017, most consumers are used to interacting with content on digital channels, especially on mobile. Many expect a certain level of interactivity. Users are familiar with gamified experiences and tend to tune-out at the first sign of a countdown to skip an ad. As attention spans seemingly decrease, passive content just isn’t grabbing users’ attention as it once did.

Things are looking up though as the range of functionality open to digital video is getting broader and broader all the time. Interactive videos have been around in some form for a few years now, but this trend is starting to become more prevalent of late, especially outside of advertising. Just this summer Netflix introduced a series of interactive shows for children that allow them to make choices throughout each episode that dictate the journey the episode takes. This all seems like quite a novel idea for kid’s TV shows, but imagine being able to control what happens to your favourite characters, or reveal alternative scenes in shows like House of Cards or Game of Thrones. What better way to keep viewers engaged than by getting them involved and letting them influence the the content itself, right? The same goes for advertising too.

Choice-driven videos have been shown to work especially well in a story-telling and educational capacity. The UK Resuscitation Council used such an approach in a campaign to teach viewers the basics of giving CPR by presenting them with an emergency scenario where they have to make a set of choices to save someone’s life. The thinking behind it is that involving the viewer in the process in this way provides for a much more visceral experience, and by getting viewers to interact with the content, they are much more likely to absorb the information.

We are also starting to see more examples of mobile video utilizing the particular features of the smartphone itself to enable the viewer to interact with the content in a more intuitive way. AdColony’s new Aurora HD mobile video ad format lets users manipulate video content by tapping, tilting or swiping during a video. A recent treasure hunt style video to promote the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie showcased the impressive graphical elements that can be used to immerse the viewer in the video while adding a gamified element to the experience. Similarly, a recent campaign from Visit Britain let viewers use their mobile device’s gyroscope to switch between visual tours of several different parts of the country by pointing their mobile either North, South, East or West to see what each part of the country has to offer.

These features can be used in a host of ways to let viewers define their own journey, answer questions, buy products, access exclusive content, complete forms and much more, all from within the video itself. There’s still a great deal of potential left to explore with interactive video, and with Facebook trying to muscle in on TV-style programming with its new ‘Watch’ platform and Snapchat et al yet to truly take advantage of this format either, advertisers better start thinking about how they might adapt their current approach to video for a more interactive future.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Campaign Magazine, Mobile

Facebook & Snapchat are battling it out to change the way we visualize the world around us

Originally featured in the May 28th 2017 issue of Campaign Middle East

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s probably never been truer than it is today. It’s no surprise that people are communicating less and less through text these days – and more and more through visual means on mobile messaging apps and social media platforms in particular.

Instagram may have kick-started this trend a few years ago on social media, but Snapchat dragged it into the personal messaging space and other platforms have followed suit, so much so that now, rather than using digital imagery as a way of simply documenting and presenting our lives, we actively use visuals to communicate in the place of text. Snapchat has been the poster child of this movement over the last 3 years or so, tripling its daily active users to over 160 Million. Not content at being left behind, Facebook has copied pretty much every visual messaging feature that Snapchat has popularized on each of its four platforms – Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook itself.

While facial lenses and basic image editing have become a bit of a commodity on social messaging channels though, both platforms are trying to branch out from this to a more ‘augmented reality’-style future where users can actively overlay digital elements onto whatever they are looking at in real-time. Think Pokemon Go, although much more interactive and responsive to your actual surroundings. Snapchat describes it as “painting the world with 3D experiences”.

Snapchat may have been the catalyst for this trend, but it seems that Facebook are innovating at faster speed. At the company’s recent F8 event Mark Zuckerberg launched a host of new 3D camera effects, highlighting a renewed focus on creating a ‘camera platform’, an onus on the camera not simply being a tool used just to capture images, but to communicate too. He even went as far as to say that the camera needs to be more central than the text box in all of their apps.

This is a way for Facebook to fully insert itself into the real world, to become the link between your smartphone and everything you see around you. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Zuckerberg expanded on this approach, “Facebook is so much about marrying the physical world with online. When you can make it so that you can intermix digital and physical parts of the world, that’s going to make a lot of our experiences better and our lives richer”.

Demoing these new 3D camera effects, one Facebook engineer pointed his phone at a table and a 3D propeller plane appeared on the screen, flying around a water bottle on the table top. Another used his phone’s camera to turn the room into a planetarium, with planets and stars spread out across the ceiling. Another took a normal photo of a face, then manipulated the expressions into a smile and then a frown.

Facebook also showed off various 3D scenes created entirely from a handful of 2D photos. The scenes had real depth to them, allowing viewers to tilt their head to see behind a bed in a room, or peer around a tree in a forest. Users could dim the lights in the image of a room, flood it with water, or even leave a digital object in the room that would still be there for someone else to discover at a later time.

The ultimate idea here is to turn the real world into an extension of Facebook itself. While Zuckerberg highlights examples like using Facebook’s camera to view pieces of digital art affixed to a wall, or to play a digital game overlaid on a table-top, you can see the long game here – dragging elements that would normally appear in your feed, for example, into the real world. But as well as pieces of content from your friends and family, surely this means ads too. As the traditional Facebook Newsfeed takes a back seat to messaging apps, this could be one way of keeping this type of content relevant going into the future, as well as expanding their ad inventory in the process.

But what will this mean for brands when consumers are living in an augmented world, constantly interacting with and visually manipulating their surroundings? And what happens when we are all wearing AR glasses or contact lenses 24/7? Visions of a Minority Report-esque world where ads bombard us at every turn spring to mind, but surely there must be another way. I guess we’ll have to just wait and see.

Posted by Rob in Augmented Reality, Campaign Magazine, Facebook, Snapchat

Will a lack of Ad targeting options be Snapchat’s achilles heel?

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Originally featured in the August 28th 2016 issue of Campaign Middle East

Ever since last year’s Cannes Lions Festival, where Snapchat was the darling of the young tech companies strutting their stuff, Ad Land has been waiting for the company to make a serious push into scalable advertising. Snapchat’s advertising revenue is growing at an incredible rate, rising from $59m last year to a projected $250-350m this year, but this has mainly been on the back of branded geo-filters, lenses and sponsored stories.

While until now this has only been accessible to brands with huge budgets, it seems that Snapchat is now on the verge of scaling it’s advertising offering by forging new partnerships with third-party creative agencies, as well as API platforms that facilitate the buying and delivery of ads on the app. All of this will help make managing ad campaigns on Snapchat much easier for brands and agencies alike.

A few months ago, the platform rolled-out auto-advance stories, a process that automatically plays friends’ stories one-after-another creating a seamless video-roll of everything you’ve missed since your last visit. It’s here that they plan on inserting what they term ‘Snap Ads Between Stories’, i.e. ads that automatically play between your friends’ posts.

The route to advertiser accessibility

While this might be good news for the company, as well as for brands and agencies willing to experiment with new ways of reaching younger consumers, there’s still one aspect that I feel will hold back Snapchat from reaching the same scale and accessibility as Facebook and Google when it comes to advertising – and that’s targeting.

Snapchat simply doesn’t have as much information on its users’ demographics and tastes as some of the other platforms competing with it for advertising dollars. With the advanced targeting options offered by Facebook and Google based on a mountain of user data and search behaviour, advertisers can laser-focus their ads. In this digital age, and especially on digital channels, advertisers expect this level of precision.

Without these options for advertisers, Snapchat is a bit more like TV; great for big brands with big budgets that want a broad reach, but not really suitable for smaller companies that have less of a budget to experiment with. For any digital platform that truly wants to scale, accessibility and flexibility are paramount.

Targeting in a post-demographic age

While Snapchat lacks the detailed user info and search behaviour data that Facebook and Google have, if it can find a way to accurately profile it’s users by ‘Interests’, as opposed to demographics, it could prove to be a more meaningful variable for targeting them. After all, we live in a post-demographic world in which it has become less accurate to segment consumers based on age, gender or location etc.

While Facebook for example has an endless treasure trove of its users’ stated Interests, Twitter bases much of it’s targeting on the themes and topics that users frequently feature (via keyword tracking) and on the high-profile accounts they follow.

As there is little text-based content from it’s users to scrape, Snapchat will have to approach this kind of content tracking in another way, analysing what it’s users are snapping about, and better evaluating popular accounts so as to more accurately profile their followers. With Instagram trying to muscle in on Snapchat’s turf with their new ‘Stories’ feature, the pressure is well and truly on.

Snapchat is an immersive and engaging platform with a unique potential for ads that engross and inform users. Think Facebook Canvas-style immersive scrolling pages and videos for brand awareness campaigns, click-to-buy snaps for sales-based campaigns, and simple info entry forms for lead generation campaigns. All this could happen within the app itself rather than redirecting to a separate website or landing page making for a more frictionless experience for the user.

As more advertisers come on board, the focus turns to measurement and accountability, and this is another aspect that Snapchat must also address. Facebook’s Dave Jakubowski outlines this challenge; “marketers are going to start asking questions when they get out of the experimental budget phase … when the dollars get big enough, somebody someplace says ‘What am I getting for this?”

CEO Evan Spiegel may have previously said publicly that Snapchat is against “creepy” targeted advertising that follows you around the web. But if they can nail targeting within the app, and scale the success they’ve had with some larger brands to brands with smaller budgets as well, then they can really start looking towards competing with Facebook and Google for a more broad range of advertising dollars.

 

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Marketing, Snapchat, Social Media