What Facebook’s and YouTube’s Video Changes Mean (and How Location-Based Ads Should Respond)

The implications of Facebook’s and YouTube’s video ad updates cut across all brands and publishers.

Let’s be clear about one certainty, when platforms as big as Facebook and YouTube change the ways they work with online video ads their decisions impact every marketer and every creative team in the industry. Every consumer, too.

And recent weeks have brought some significant changes to both platforms in terms of how they approach users’ video experiences with advertising. Let’s look at the developments, at what they mean, and at what mobile marketing and creative should focus on when it comes to these shifts.

Facebook Goes All-In: Autoplay-with-Sound and Mid-Roll Ad Breaks

Facebook is adding autoplay-with-sound to the video content that appears in users’ mobile feeds and the Social Network last month also threw the switch to add mid-roll video units — 20-second breaks to within the platform’s Audience Network — for advertisers buying space in its live-stream and on-demand video content.

This amounts to not-great news for the mobile consumer, with both choices running counter to the idea that mobile innovators should be crafting location- and context-aware, un-intrusive engagements. Diving deeper into the implications, the changes break out in the following ways.

  • Autoplay-with Sound: Obviously, when it comes to this announcement, intrusive is the name of the game. Especially when we’re talking about the smaller-scale and increasingly intimate user experiences that mobile devices provide it’s significantly more annoying to be force-fed audio in a smartphone feed. Consider how much more personal these devices feel to us; we cradle them in the palms of our hands, we plug our senses into them with earbuds and headphones, we make decisions in the moment with them when it comes to brick-and-mortar visits and location. Granted, Facebook has promised consumers the ability to turn off autoplay-with-sound, putting an opt-out in its user settings. It will be interesting to see how many people exercise the option.
  • Mid-Roll: The mid-roll video development may also potentially annoy users within Facebook’s Audience Network. Bottom line, consumers are about to get served additional interruptive video ads, ones that break up the content they initially chose to watch. Again, this is the kind of decision-making that can lead to less-than-awesome user experiences — it’s generally bad for brands, bad for publishers, and not good for the consumer when ad units disrupt underlying content and/or overtake the overall environment of a site or an app. But, if mid-roll is now a certainty, then Facebook would do well to lean further into in-app capabilities around location data, beacons, and geo-fencing. Every play should align with the user’s contextual experience. Checking Facebook in the food court, for example, should result in mid-roll that leverages relevant restaurants and retail in the mall; scrolling the feed while waiting in line at the stadium should deliver mid-roll moments that provide value around concessions, team merchandise, and the like.

The bottom line on these announcements will probably amount to an increase in both features across platforms. Meaning, as Facebook starts selling the new options to advertisers, other publishers will likely feel pressured to fall in line. Advertisers will say to publishers, “Well, do you want my dollars? Facebook does it, how come you guys can’t?”

Ultimately, we should be moving forward, however, not designing ad experiences that were unwanted even when they first emerged back in, say, 1999. And so, the next bit of news, in the next section, should come as a welcome relief for mobile consumers on another platform.

YouTube Recognizes the Video-Ad Sweet-Spot (and It’s Not a 30-Second Pre-Roll)

YouTube is axing its un-skippable 30-second pre-roll units and the video-sharing platform’s users are absolutely not crying about this change.

In essence, YouTube is saying to its base, “Hey, we’re not trying to force-feed you anything. In fact, we know that you don’t like this longer-form content. And if that’s the case, we’re going to give you the sweet-spot amount with which we know you’re already actually engaging.”

Putting its emphasis on six or seven seconds, or the 10 or the 15-second slots, YouTube’s move highlights context and user control. And it’s simply politer and more courteous to the individuals that are watching on YouTube’s site or app. Again, the more these shorter spots align with consumer-granted location data, and with what the app can tell the advertiser about the user in the moment, the better the overall change in policy. Ten seconds or 30, brands lessen the potential for intruding on underlying content when they serve mobile creative that reflects where they are, where they tend to go, and what aligns with their shopping histories. It’s not just a divide between long-form and short-form — although that is an inarguably important detail — it’s the difference between serving context-blind and context-sensitive content. Even with these factors in mind, YouTube’s move away from 30-second pre-roll is a positive step, and the industry should encourage and demand more moves like it.

The ‘Facebook/YouTube’ Effect: Why We Care About Autoplay and Mid-Roll

When big publishing players make big policy moves they change the way marketing and creative ecosystems work. When these moves are for the betterment of the space, it’s all good. But when the changes introduced drag us back to old approaches of disruptive desktop advertising, not so much.

Brands and publishers clearly want to get to a point where they’re offering both meaningful, location- and context-sensitive experiences and meaningful monetization. But the industry is still in the early days of defining how video content on the smartphone and mobile device can achieve that goal, contextual and otherwise. Success in all these efforts comes down to finding smarter ways to engage.

The future of mobile creative can’t be about controlling users’ mobile experiences. It has to be about creating fresh interactions that will allow users to dictate their own opportunities and engage with content and ads on their own terms. Enticing mobile audiences with unobtrusive, geo-contextually appropriate, and just essentially gentler and more generous approaches to creative wins users’ clicks and their loyalty. It’s better for brands. It’s better for publishers. It’s best for the consumers we want to reach.

Walter T. Geer III is Vice President, Creative Director at Verve in New York City.

This article first appeared on GeoMarketing.com

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