How Vertical Video Is Transforming Social Advertising

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As recently as five years ago, vertical video was the enemy of the internet. A “Say No to Vertical Videos” campaign was launched in June 2012, producing a meme, 8 million video views, and dozens of news articles that all seemed to agree on one thing: Vertical video was the worst. “Not only are the thick black pillarbox bars on either side of the video extremely annoying, but the human eyes are designed to see the world in widescreen. That’s why they sit side-by-side, and not on top of each other,” wrote Gizmodo.

Fast-forward two years and CNET put out an article in defense of vertical video. Sort of. Titled “They’re stupid, but it’s not your fault,” the piece wasn’t so much in favor of vertical videos as sympathetic to users who insisted on capturing them. Still, the format was gaining ground.

Three years later, and we can’t imagine a world without vertical video. It continues to grow year-over-year, with advertisers embracing the video style that all of their customers are already using. Adoption has become vital for the advertising industry, as less than 30% of people will turn their phone to view a horizontal video ad. Even when they do, they’re only watching 14% of the ad.

The Rise of Vertical Video

Digital ad spend is growing, surpassing TV for the first time in 2016. That growth, which is expected to soar from $83 billion this year to $129 billion in 2021, is primarily driven by mobile. Although mobile and digital are both growing, 35% of annual ad budgets are still spent on TV. This is partly because advertisers haven’t found a format that will allow them to reach digital natives and cord-cutters with the same immersive video experience that TV offers – until vertical video.

Total US Ad Spend: Digital vs. TVTotal US Ad Spend: Digital vs. TV

One of the reasons advertisers are so drawn to vertical video is that it offers 100% share of voice, similar to the experience of watching a commercial on TV. Ads get the full-screen real estate with vertical video, which brands see as a commodity in a world driven by never-ending feeds of content.

This format, more than any other type of video, allows you to immerse the consumer in your brand experience on mobile – reaching users where they are, in a way that feels native. More and more we’re seeing TV budgets shift to vertical video, where advertisers can retarget audiences and lookalikes, narrow in with interests and demographic targeting, and reach their target consumer at exactly the right time with personalized, relevant content.

Barriers to Entry

Although vertical video has many benefits, it’s not without its challenges. This is a new ad format for many marketers, and with that comes a learning curve that most brands are still figuring out. One of the biggest barriers to entry for vertical video advertising is a lack of readily available creative in the right specs. For years, advertisers have been repurposing pre-roll and TV creative for social platforms, running video ads that are fine for desktop but not for the 80% of social media use that happens on mobile devices.

As it becomes clear that vertical video is the way of the present and future, brands are beginning to think of creative from a mobile-first point of view. This will only continue to grow as platform-optimized vertical video continues to outperform its repurposed counterparts.

Even if creative is shot originally for TV or another horizontal format, it can still be transformed to perform well as vertical video, by leveraging graphics and making new use of the screen real estate. Although less of an investment, this is still a barrier of entry for some brands, who may not have access to editing resources in order to optimize social creative. Many brands will partner with a company like Adaptly to transform their creative for social platforms, quickly scaling for mobile-first formats without in-house resources.

The last challenge for marketers looking to take advantage of vertical video is a lack of benchmarks and best practices. This is a new format, and while it’s been shown to be 3x more effective than horizontal video, there are not many standards for success yet in place. There’s much testing to be done, but the brands that start testing now will be ahead of the curve, investing in more effective campaigns from day one.

An Immersive Experience

In April we worked with an Adaptly advertiser to transform their TV creative into mobile-friendly vertical video. The goal was to generate cost-efficient video views to build brand awareness, especially through the video’s audio. For this brand, sound-on video views were key.

Vertical video drove improved performance across the board, with 11x more sound-on video views for vertical creative compared to horizontal. Cost per completed view was also significantly lower for vertical video, showing that the mobile-optimized format was keeping users engaged and they were sticking around for the full video.

Because the video took up the user’s entire screen, there was more incentive for them to open the ad and get the full audio-visual experience. With horizontal videos, a mobile user can still see the breaking news story above and the viral cat video below your ad. Utilizing vertical video allows them to be fully immersed, with 100% of their attention focused on your brand – even for a few seconds.

When it comes to paid social, a few seconds of complete attention is more than enough time to make your brand stick. Research from Nielsen found that 38% of brand recall, 23% of brand awareness, and 25% of purchase intent is driven by video impressions shorter than 2 seconds.

What’s Next for Vertical Video

Smartphone users hold their phones vertically 94% of the time, and vertical views count for over 29% of total consumer view time (up from 5% in 2010). These are facts that marketers and advertisers can’t afford to ignore, and the industry is shifting more toward vertical video every day.

Entertainment brands currently lead the pack in vertical video adoption, accounting for nearly 40% of all vertical video ads online. Other industries have a lot of room to grow, with apparel and retail following at just 9% and 7% respectively.

Share of Vertical Video Ads by IndustryVertical Video Ad Spend by Industry

In the months to come we’ll see even more brands and industries push into the vertical video market, and in the next few years it will become the dominant format for video advertising. Square videos have been the middle ground for more than a year, but with almost every platform now allowing – and even encouraging – vertical video, it’s just a matter of time before the improved mobile experience makes us all forget the “Say No to Vertical Video” PSAs.

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A version of this article first appeared on MediaPost.