Advertisers Should Think Vertically In the Age of Mobile Video

Vertical video – video shot in portrait, rather than the standard landscape mode – has been a long-standing Internet joke, but the advent of mobile-first and mobile-only social platforms have given vertical video new relevance for marketers.

As apps like Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat increasingly become important ways for marketers to engage audiences, vertical video has proven a more natural way for mobile users to view content. In fact, Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel reports that users are nine times more likely to view a vertical video than horizontal content.

The reason viewers are more willing to watch vertical video could be because it’s more natural than turning a phone sideways, according to Rob Norman, chief digital officer for GroupM.

“In order to be successful, all media and all advertising has to have the most comfortable and organic experience,” Norman says. “There is an inherent logic that in a portrait-style device, the content would be oriented in a portrait-style way. This comes to the very heart of the real meaning of native, so advertising has always worked best when it’s formatted and native to the device or medium in which it’s presented.”

One brand seeing success by matching the medium to the message is AT&T, which introduced the original program SnapperHero to Snapchat earlier this year. To shoot the scripted series, the brand opted to film vertically, rather than shooting in traditional cinematic mode and then trying to cut the content to fit the screen as many other advertisers have done.

“Visual elements that artfully play into the functionality of the platform will always perform best, which is why vertical video was an obvious choice for this project,” says Liz Nixon, director of emerging and social media marketing for AT&T Mobility. “Once we set off in that direction, we planned our shots, edges and storylines to depend on every pixel available to us on Snapchat in a way we wouldn’t have for a square or traditionally horizontal film.”

And while it may have been risky to be one of the first brands to experiment with vertical (and disappearing) content, the risk paid off: AT&T saw a 73 percent average completion rate on the episodes posted for SnapperHero

“When SnapperHero launched, Snapchat still required viewers to press the screen to keep videos playing, so we were impressed not only by the completion rate but also by the fact that so many viewers were willing to remain engaged throughout the episode to keep the story open,” Nolan says. “However, it’s difficult to say whether engagement can be directly attributed to the videos being vertical, but it certainly didn’t seem to have a negative impact.”

Vertical video is becoming so popular so quickly that many platforms, like YouTube, are struggling to keep up. As a result, start-ups like Vervid, an app devoted exclusively to showcasing vertical video, are able to pick up the slack.

According to John Whaley, co-founder, chief executive (CEO), and design lead of Vervid, YouTube is a “horizontal at heart” platform.

“They don’t have the social layer that Instagram and Snapchat have,” Whaley says. “You’re not following people that you know on YouTube; you’re really just kind of following big stars. So for them to say that they’re embracing vertical video by allowing vertical to play on phones doesn’t solve the problem because really, vertical video is social video and YouTube isn’t social video. So they’re sort of scrambling to try to take a piece of the mobile market when what they really are is a desktop at heart platform.”

The solution, however, isn’t for marketers to give up on horizontal and throw themselves completely into vertical. Instead, brands will have to produce more, vendor specific content that addresses challenges as they arise.

“It’s not exactly the riddle of the sphinx, but what vertical video tells us in a macro sense is that, increasingly, there will be demand for assets that are native to the platforms they run on and the vendors who run on those platforms,” Norman says. “This is now a physical format change that just amplifies the need for platform and vendor specific creative.”

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