Silent Video May Become Your Brand’s Loudest Statement

A couple of years ago I was on a family trip. I turned on the hotel television and found a children’s network. Midway through the show all hell broke loose. “What is that?! What happened to my show?! Why are they doing that?!”At 5 years old, my son had just seen his first block of TV commercials. Before this experience his media diet consisted of Netflix, TiVo, and DVDs — all commercial-free. And now he was a captive audience.

A Struggle for Control Creates a New Standard

His Gen Z outrage was over the top, but reflective of how much command people expect to have over all the content they see — from linear programming to social feeds. Scrolling, swiping, muting, skipping, and subscribing have become the modern behaviors of users seeking control.

At the same time, advertisers continue to experiment with formats of acceptable interruption. A new standard is emerging: video ads that require a click or tap for sound. The message to consumers? Advertisers are going to crash your content party, but at least they’ll be quiet.

New Constraints, New Opportunities

For more than a year, Facebook has been expanding its placement of these muted autoplaying video ads at the top of its Newsfeed and on Instagram. Twitter and Yahoo just announced similar units, and others are following suit. Almost all adhere to the “three-second rule.” If a user scrolls past the video within the first three seconds, it doesn’t count as a video view. It’s a very high bar for marketers.

Constraints tend to inspire creativity, and whether its 140 characters, a square frame, or six seconds, they’ve led to some great advertising. For example, Geico’s so-called “unskipable” YouTube pre-roll ads reduced skipping by charming viewers with entertaining visual cliffhangers. And Lowe’s squeezed more than 50 accessible and useful how-tos into Vine’s tiny video canvas.

Some categories will lend themselves more naturally to this challenge. For example, the NBA has a leg up, as their Instagram video content of slo-mo replays, game-winning shots, and more don’t require sound to be awesome and watchable. But for nearly every other category under the sun, it’s not necessarily so easy to be compelling with just visuals.

Making Silent Video Speak Loudly

The opportunity with muted video is to find the balance between stopping power and staying power – not giving it all away in the first second, yet providing enough reward for people to stick around to watch, and then maybe listen, too.

Because new formats are so specialized, agency strategists and creatives need to consider these platform constraints early on. Getting the most from the new standard requires briefs that are less about the message and more about motion, less about what to say and more about what to show. Questions, such as:

  • What’s the visual essence of your brand idea?
  • How can you use visual humor to entice and retain viewers?
  • Can you invent an audio Easter egg that will encourage a tap for sound?
  • Are you relying too much on dialogue, voiceover, or music to tell the story?
  • Are you playing to the three-second rule?

No one wants to be a captive audience, but like it or not, autoplay video may be to be here to stay. And it’s ripe for experimentation.

So what’s your silent movie?

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