The Rise Of Vertical Video

Mobile has fast become the consumer’s first device, so it comes as no surprise that mobile video is growing quickly, too. The smartphone is leading this charge, and ZenithOptimedia forecasts that “mobile devices will account for 58% of online video watching worldwide in 2017.” With these developments comes a change; video – long thought of as a horizontal medium – is going vertical to match the preferred viewing habits of mobile users.

Vertical video sounds exotic, but it is merely today’s standard HD 16:9 aspect ratio video turned on its side so that the image is taller than it is wide. Warc defines it simply as “tall, narrow clips best displayed in portrait, rather than landscape.”

Robert John Davis, founder of the Advance Video Practice at Ogilvy & Mather, notes that, “the option to go vertical has been around for quite some time, but consumers rarely had access to vertical screens until mobile phones and tablets became prevalent. Access to these screens changed the game. There was no great conspiracy among mobile device manufacturers to turn the world of video 90 degrees; phones and tablets work just as well when held horizontally as they do vertically. This is a user-driven phenomenom. While mobile consumers can turn their devices horizontally, data trends suggest that they don’t want to.”

Mobile apps including Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat, Line and WeChat employ vertical video as their native format and have been driving acceptance of the format in the entertainment and marketing space. YouTube supports vertical video on their mobile apps, while startup Vervid is taking them head-on in hopes of becoming the online destination for portrait mode video. Its not just mobile that is feeding the urge to rotate aspect ratios 90 degrees; SXSW recently featured the Vertical Cinema, a theater specifically designed for vertical content


Credit: SXSW Vertical Cinema

What are the arguments for/against vertical video?

Industry research suggests that mobile phones are used in portrait mode 98 percent of the time (Mobile Marketer). Given this behavior, it comes as no surprise that there is a growing preference for vertically-oriented content. KPCB reports that Americans currently spend 29% of their time watching video vertically, compared with only 5% in 2010. A 2015 report by Snapchat showing vertical videos earn 9x the completion rate of their horizontal cousins sparked new interest in the format from the marketing community. While user appetite is clearly growing and early-adopter brands are hopping on the bandwagon, some significant challenges stand in the way of universal acceptance.

Adam Kornblum, Head of Content Distributon at [email protected] urges brands to keep their audience in mind. “Older millennials and beyond are more accustomed to turning their phone horizontally (widescreen) to watch YouTube videos,” he says. “For teens and younger millennials, Snapchat has changed the natural behavior of watching vertical videos. The underlying communication of those videos is different in nature.”

A brand should assess whether its audience makes use of vertical video before even diving into pros, cons, and costs.

From a cost perspective, going vertical requires – at the very least – a second edit for the format if not an entirely separate set of source video. Horizontal video players are still the standard for desktop and TV viewing, requiring a traditional cut for those platforms lest one risks the often-mocked “vertical video syndrome” where black bars appear on either side of long, skinny clips to fill the horizontal players. With vertical video being an “and” not an “or,” brands and content producers need to weigh the extra resources required vs the value of portrait-mode content given the relatively small number of native vertical apps.

So if one of the strongest arguments against vertical video has to do with cost, can’t a brand just crop its existing content? Whether to film vertically or adapt existing content is an ongoing discussion. General content marketing best practices suggest creating with the platform intended in mind. Beyond desktop vs. mobile, this applies per channel as well.

While there are few quantitative stats to support the ROI of vertical video at this time, Creative Strategist from Snapchat, Sam Goodman recommends shooting vertically simply because you’ll be able to envision the story in that frame and build a more cohesive piece of creative, instead of retrofitting. Goodman believes that the quality of storytelling – not just visual framing – suffers when adapted. Two-thirds of the vertical content Mashable produces is created using editing software to crop horizontal source clips, while most of the vertical content produced by online stars and creators is native to portrait mode

Consumption of content on mobile might be leaning towards vertical, but advertisers are still in the driver’s seat. “Social platforms, even Snapchat, are not designed to be vertical only, it’s just the way people decided to use it,” says David Cyngiser, Senior Social Strategist at Ogilvy & Mather’s Social.Lab. “When it comes to paid social, advertisers can still choose which placement they want to display their video in order to maintain the best experience on both mobile and desktop.”

Who is doing it well?

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 11.12.16 AM

In the year since Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel announced the higher completion rates associated with vertical videos, a handful of brands have been quick to try their luck. Among this relatively small base, some brands have emerged as leaders:

Audi – Audi has launched several campaigns using vertical media on Snapchat. In 2015, an Audi campaign around the brand’s involvement in the Le Mans race, a 24-hour race of endurance in France, “delivered a 36 percent video completion rate, which is 80 percent higher than automotive benchmark at Celtra, the ad tech partner on the effort.“ (Mobile Majority). The campaign repurposed TV assets by cropping them to the vertical aspect-ratio while also shortening them to 8-seconds.

Taco Bell – Taco Bell leveraged Snapchat to film a 4-minute short film called “Rush Order” starring Vine and Snapchat influencers during the 2014 MTV Movie Awards to announce the new Doritos Locos Taco. The video achieved 74 million impressions and the brand doubled its number of followers in just one day.

Viacom (below) – For the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, Viacom partnered with Snapchat for a Live Story that drew on content from users who were given exclusive access. In addition to sponsoring the story itself, they also produced four 10-second ads shown during the Live Story. Over 12 million viewers tuned into the content, exceeding actual broadcast viewership of 9.8 million.

Want to know more about vertical video? Follow @Ogilvy on Snapchat for a whole week of vertical video devoted content, from 4.25-4.29.

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