Marketers Turn Up the Volume on Vertical Video

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Article ImageHold the phone, Mr. and Mrs. Marketer, and not so fast, John Q. Publisher: That mobile video content you’re preparing to post better be future-proofed beyond just the message and branding. Viewable convenience and an amenable aspect ratio are also key criteria today and likely will be for the foreseeable future—which means that your video better be vertical.

Here’s the hard truth: Less than 30% of consumers today turn to their smartphone to watch horizontal video ads; when they do, they view only 14% of the content, according to internal MediaBrix research. Consider that more than 50% of all video viewing now happens on mobile, per Ooyala’s “Q1 2017 Global Video Index” report.

A MediaRadar trends report, “Vertical Video,” found that 112 mobile and mainstream websites ran vertical video spots in Q1 of 2017, a new industry high; the study also revealed that vertical video yields three times the return of horizontal video.

It’s little wonder, then, why an increasing array of marketers are scaling their short-form videos in a 2:3 or similar orientation versus 16:9, taking advantage of increasing consumption of mobile video and the way the vast majority of people hold and look at their mobile devices.

Tracing the Vertical Vector

“Until recently, advertisers have been treating video as one-size-fits-all,” says David Sanderson, VP of creative strategy and operations for Tapad. “But devices vary wildly in aspect ratio and screen size, and to think that a commercial shot with the intent to be shown in a movie theater or on a widescreen TV is going to look as good on a phone is a major mistake.”

John Greenstein, VP of sales, Americas, for Qumu, says it’s no surprise that, as video is consumed wherever and whenever downtime occurs, there’s been a spike in vertical video consumption. “Within the enterprise, where our technology is primarily used, we’re seeing a trend away from the structured consumption of content to a model that is more organic and spontaneous—where most content, especially short-form videos, are consumed almost reflexively and without planning,” says Greenstein. “Even if your target market is Forbes’ Global 2000, it’s easier and more convenient for your prospects to hold a smartphone vertically in one hand to snack on a quick video than it would be to watch horizontally.”

The rise of portrait mode video isn’t necessarily a public rejection of widescreen. Rather, it signals “the adoption of a smart and appropriate conforming tactic to deliver a video experience in a way that makes sense to the device and mode in which users are watching the video,” Sanderson says. He notes that people are used to watching shorter-form videos on their phone and are willing to endure a lesser experience for a shorter amount of time, similar to how music fans may put up with low-quality tunes streaming out of their tiny smartphone speakers.

“The viewer doesn’t care about the minutiae of details they are missing out on by not turning their device to view the video horizontally,” adds Sanderson. “The best quality experience doesn’t matter, as long as they get the experience.”

A Trend With Long Legs

Troy Dreier, editor of, says 2017 was the year that vertical video became the next big thing. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

Vertical video “was a hated trend a couple of years ago by consumers because it often meant losing a portion of the horizontal video,” he says. But today, “creative agencies are realizing that they have to adapt to this if they want to appeal to social users on different platforms.”

Sanderson predicts that vertical video will be huge in 2018, with “a willingness from publishers to push vertical video from Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook,” which have set vertical video as a default method of shooting video in their platforms, he adds. “We will also continue to see a huge increase by news outlets, which are taking vertical video and adding clever treatments. For example, adding blurred-out vertical video duplication that’s used as filler for the two-thirds of the screen, on either side of the content, when shown on widescreen formats.”

Greenstein agrees that vertical video is more than a passing fad. “For some social applications, including user-generated content, it may actually become the dominant format going forward,” he believes. But that doesn’t mean horizontal video is an endangered species. Expect to see plenty of widescreen content on small and big screens alike in the years ahead.

Tips of the Trade

For best results, follow some commonsense rules before creating vertical video content. “Research and planning is the most important step—knowing what the visuals are and understanding the platform where the video will be viewed and how its users will consume that video is key,” says Amani Channel, founder of Video FearLESS and creative services writer and producer for WAGA Fox 5 in Atlanta. As with any spot, “the content has to be entertaining and add value without the brand being forcefully mentioned.”

That also means content the consumer actually wants to interact with, insists Dreier. “Get out of the 30-second TV ad mindset and think about the immediacy and intimacy of somebody holding a phone,” he says. “Things that are more stimulating and engaging and come off as fun that the viewer wants to tap and scroll and explore, that’s what’s going to succeed,” says Dreier, who believes that any brand can adopt vertical video. Try to keep it short, though: MediaRadar’s aforementioned report revealed that seven out of 10 vertical videos are running 15-second ads.

Additionally, Channel suggests employing bold text, text overlays, close-ups, and interactive elements such as swipes and taps to advance the story. These are often used in branded vertical video content on Snapchat.

“Think outside of the box, be creative, and have fun. And analyze the metrics carefully to accurately measure engagement,” Channel says. “Also, be prepared to create two versions of an ad or marketing message—one for vertical social networks and another for traditional viewing.” If you’re not prepared to shoot additional content framed vertically, you’ll need to do some creative cropping in post-production.

Ultimately, if you’re a publisher, advertiser, or marketer that wants to attract attention, be prepared to target both vertical and horizontal simultaneously, say the experts.

“Think vertically, because viewers are watching vertically,” says Greenstein. “Chalk it up to increasingly short attention spans or whatever root cause you choose, but users value convenience and immediacy.” In other words, give the people what they want. 

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