Facebook Will Start Automatically Captioning Video Ads

Brands Can Also See What Percentage of People Watch Spots in Silence

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Credit: Courtesy Facebook

If you're one of those people who's complained about video ads playing automatically with the sound blaring, Facebook has heard you. Loud and clear.

According to Facebook's own research, 80% of people react negatively when mobile video ads begin playing loudly in content feeds and blame the platform as well as the brand. But on the other hand, it found that 41% of videos are meaningless without sound.

To reduce the negative noise without silencing ads' effectiveness, the social network plans to begin automatically putting captions in video ads running in its news feed, which play automatically with the sound off by default. Facebook will roll out the automatic video ad captioning first in the U.S. and Canada for ads in English.

Brands can already add captions to their videos on their own, but now Facebook is offering to do the work for them. Advertisers will be able to review and edit the captions that Facebook automatically inputs or pass the buck to Facebook, which will check the text as part of its ad review process.

The automatic captioning is part of Facebook's push to reduce the friction in getting people to check out the content that appears in their news feeds, particularly on mobile where people may be quicker to scroll a piece of content out of view. In the case of videos, and particularly videos that companies pay Facebook to put in people's feeds, it can be especially hard for someone to determine if they want to watch something when they can't hear what it's about. Maybe they would grab their headphones and tap on the video to turn on its sound, but more likely they'd skip past it to something that requires less effort.

"Captions are a way to tell someone who's in a sound-off environment what the video is about quickly. What we've seen in some of our internal tests is adding captions actually increased view time by an average of 12%," said Matt Idema, VP-monetization product marketing at Facebook.

While Facebook is unburdening its advertisers by automatically captioning their ads for them, it is asking its advertisers to put in some effort to make their video ads more mobile-friendly.

"We don't want captions of existing videos that were designed for a longer view duration environment or a sound-on environment to be moved over to mobile feeds," Mr. Idema said. He added, "what we really want to do is get to a place where visually the content has been created for the native feed environment, so it's designed for sound off."

Last year Pernod Ricard's Absolut brand, with its agency 360i and Facebook's in-house agency Creative Shop, created a video designed to be watched even with the sound off to promote its limited-edition Spark bottle. That spot showed Absolut's logo and a silhouette of the bottle in the opening three seconds and fetched an 8-second average view time.

"If you're able to bring them in within the first two to three seconds, their likelihood to complete the video is significantly greater. So again, it really starts with having something that's visually appealing and draws the intrigue of the consumer and causes them to want to stay," said Absolut Brand Director Nick Guastaferro. According to Facebook, 65% of the people that watch the first three seconds of a video end up watching at least 10 seconds of it.

To help advertisers get a better idea of how many of their viewers are watching their videos with the sound off, Facebook will start showing brands what percentage of people watched their videos with the sound on versus those that watched with the sound off.

Automated captions will be available later this month for advertisers in the U.S. and Canada, according to a Facebook spokesman. Brands will not be able to download the captioned videos in case they want to use them elsewhere, such as on their own sites or as ads on other services, he said.