Blog Post

19 December 2013

Facebook Looks For Balance In Test Run Of Auto-Playing Video Ads


Facebook has rolled out its first test on a new video ad format. The first auto-play video ad promotes the 2014 film Divergent from Summit Entertainment.

During the test on Thursday last week, the video automatically played when it comes into view as the Facebook user scrolls down the News Feed. But there’s a glitch that needs fixing – the audio did not play unless you tap or click the video on mobile or desktop, respectively.

Facebook has a longstanding propensity to differ from industry specifications. When the social network launched its advertising platform – almost eight years ago, it offered a new ad format. Accustomed to typical formats, marketers and advertisers looked for standard ad unit sizes and large banners that they often used to peddle creative content across the Internet.

Facebook stayed adamant to meet standards. At the time, it saw that to reach full potential and be a leading online hub, Facebook Ads needed to be distinctive and blend with its social network. So ads settled in small boxes at the right-hand column.

For three years until 2009, Facebook conducted tests on its advertising project. But it wasn’t until January 2012 that it took ad display seriously and started to show ads in March that year.

The grand scheme nicely played out for Facebook. Though users were impervious to the first set of ads, they didn’t think it was enough reason to quit the social network. Now Facebook has nearly 1.2 billion users despite the presence of ads.

The new auto-play videos kept ads buttoned down but the social networking experience remained active and sensible. Though Facebook limited advertisers from reusing their existing video ads, it ensured them that they still have an audience to hawk on the platform.

In 2013, the company had to deal with another problem on advertising. As wired broadband and wireless connectivity speeds up, the tendency to stop watching traditional TV and mainstream media increased. Since Facebook filed for its IPO, it now has public investors to woo. So the company thought of a more aggressive income-generating video ad unit that will ease their qualms.

But how will video ads strike a balance between the wants of advertisers and users? If marketers had their way, auto-playing video ads will instantly play sound that disrupts the user experience. And it may scare hordes of users away from the News Feed.

Reports say Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg mulled over how the new video ad format would affect the News Feed. They fluxed some people from the consumer division to the video ads team and deferred the launch until everything is in its proper place.

Maintaining The Balance

Advertising pays online service providers so we can enjoy their free services. But stubborn users still think ads have no benefits at all. Some people think ads have become the norm of online service providers and snub these promotional materials altogether. Others think some ads are annoying that they discourage the use of advertised products.

Though Facebook cannot satisfy everyone, its ads could have been more meddling. But these video ad units don’t pop up, present road blocks, or scream unless tapped or clicked. And if you don’t feel watching the entire clip or part of it, simply scroll up or down. Facebook says it will preload on mobile devices when connected to Wi-Fi to avoid hefty charges when played on mobile network data.

Compared to YouTube, users have to finish 5 to 15 seconds or several minutes of commercials per hour. And Facebook’s video ads are not as bad as some people think.

To maintain the balance, Facebook has to ensure that well-targeted video ads will not disrupt users who are reading a text post or comment nearby.

The Other Side Of The Pond

Since Facebook clearly sides with users in auto-playing video ads, advertisers have to come up with new creative. They must submit custom content that will pass Facebook’s standards for video ads, creating clips that effectively convey their message without audio-streaming. This means focusing on textual content and realistic graphics.

Facebook’s video ad for Divergent does not rely on audio-streaming to convey its message. Though the soundtrack plays in the background, the sequence of frames and textual content create a vivid visual on the movie’s message without dialog.

Divergent’s official trailer is different. The video clip covers another set of action sequences that will be rendered useless without audio. After comparing both videos, advertisers will easily get the idea where they must adjust.

It’s not all amiss for advertisers. Facebook gave them a way to start a chain reaction of video ads. After watching a video ad, a user will see a new set of video ads from the same advertiser. If the user finds the video ads interesting, he or she may purchase product or service or share it to friends.

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