Are Silent Movies the Future of Advertising?

For Genuine Interactive and RB, Facebook Video Means Making the Most of Three Seconds of Silence

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Charlie Chaplin may be the future of advertising, at least as Chris Pape sees it.

As exec creative director at the Interpublic agency Genuine Interactive, Mr. Pape is creating a growing number of Facebook videos for brands such as Lysol, K-Y, Airborne, Amopé footcare and Wellness pet food. And it's become clear that he has three seconds at most to grab the attention of users restlessly scrolling through their news feeds ... without sound.

Facebook's default video setting is autoplay, but muted. And 65% of its video views are on mobile devices, where users impatiently thumb their way down the small screen, stopping for more than a moment only when they encounter something they like. That means marketers' clips have to be able to catch consumers' attention both quickly and silently.

"We call it the three-second rule," Mr. Pape said. "If you want to stop people on a mobile device, it can't be long-form copy. It's a visceral reaction to the image, some movement, some motion, something that really grabs you."

With Facebook having already topped 3 billion daily views, it's quickly become the dominant player in mobile video. But Mr. Pape believes the viewing habits and creative approaches that Facebook engenders could ultimately have far broader reach.

For Amopé Pedi Perfect, an electronic foot-callus remover from RB (Reckitt Benckiser), grabbing people is as simple as starting with images of feet in stiletto heels. For a series on first-time motherhood from Lysol, it means opening BuzzFeed-like mini-documentaries with crying infants and baby bumps. "It has to be short, punchy, silent and visual," Mr. Pape said.

Through tests, RB may start to discover as early as next month whether the same approach can improve its TV creative.

Lysol, whose broader creative account is handled by Havas, is at least considering the same notion, said Kevin Truong, digital lead for the brand. "We used to have separate agencies handling TV vs. digital, but nowadays everything, all agencies, are becoming more vertically integrated," he said. "So I think the learning can inform TV and vice versa."

One reason Facebook video is gaining favor is that "the learning is real time," Mr. Truong said, citing feedback such as completed video views, Facebook likes and comments.

While Genuine and RB declined to share measures of viewership or engagement for their Facebook video ads, both said they're using the data they have gained for continuous improvement. Practically, they have little choice. Facebook ultimately may not show videos that lack thumb-stopping power, as its engagement algorithms help determine what ads get served, so annoying ads don't turn off users. "They call it 'defending the feed,' and we take that mindset as well," Mr. Pape said.

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