Accounting for the lack of audio in auto-play video advertising

In Observation

Using video in advertising isn’t a new concept. For many years businesses have been producing television commercials and, more recently, video advertisements for digital networks like Hulu and YouTube. And these have all taken generally the same form—make something look inspiring and have a voiceover artist communicate the message. This is a tried and proven method of customer acquisition. However, new advertising networks like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are throwing a bit of a wrench in the advertiser’s playbook. All three networks have embraced auto-play video (a marketer’s dream), but have not (and likely never will) auto-play audio. Which raises a huge question for advertisers looking to buy media on these networks—does your video communicate your message without the audio?

Not surprisingly, there’s already a few large video publishers who have been tackling this question. AJ+, the mobile-focused arm of Al Jazeera News Network, is currently the ninth-biggest Facebook video publisher. In a article on NeimanLab, the engagement lead for AJ+, Jigar Mehta, discusses how they’ve approached this issue. He notes,

“We think a lot about whether a video works with the sound off. Do we have to subtitle it in order to keep the audience retention high? Do we need to use big fonts? Do we need to use color blocking in order to make words pop and make things stand out? Strong visuals really matter as well.”

So how does this apply to traditional video advertisers?

In the film community, young directors are often encouraged to make their first film without any dialogue. As the logic goes, a good director tells her story with the actions and emotions of her actors—if a story is really good, words aren’t necessary. Advertising is no different. Advertising that relies too heavily on the voiceover is missing the most important aspect of telling a compelling story (think every drug commercial you’ve ever seen).

Now a few disclaimers. This doesn’t mean you should ignore audio altogether. Compelling visuals should serve to get the viewer to turn on audio to get the whole story. Audio adds a beautiful and rich layer of information to video—whether dialogue, music, or sound design. Additionally, always take into account how you want to use your video. If your video is never going to be played on a digital ad network that doesn’t auto-play audio, please include audio in that opening hook.

Creating video that’s perfect for where it will be used is something we take very seriously at IV. And, like most things in life, there’s no one size fits all solution. The same ad that works on CBS isn’t going to work as well on Facebook. Only by creating content that fits it’s medium can we generate genuine impact on audiences.