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Vertical Is the New Black: 3 Aspects of an Effective Vertical Video

How to harness the power of vertical video

Remember the emergent days of online video? Those primitive, pixelated clips were laughable at best.

Social media is one of the biggest catalysts changing the video landscape, especially when it comes to creating new outlets for content distribution. With faster internet and smarter phones redefining how video content is consumed, millions of films that were created for the big screen have been repurposed for streaming on handheld devices.

Like Hollywood films, today’s digital video ads still have lights, a camera, and some action, but the stage is now your smartphone, and the audience is everyone. Interactive content on Facebook helps people and brands engage with their fans, Snapchat filters make sharing videos more fun, and newcomer app Periscope allows people to share a glimpse into their world.

In short, social media has completely upended the way we view and create videos — and one major factor driving this evolution is the popularity of vertical video.

A War of Convenience on Tradition

Now that most social media is devoured rapidly via smartphone, marketers are beginning to notice certain trends. When scrolling through a news feed and quickly digesting content, for example, viewers may stop to play a video every now and then, but they’ll rarely turn their phones to view it in landscape mode.

How rarely? Only 6 percent of the time. Why? Because they don’t want to — simple as that.

So, while video producers continue to stubbornly create videos for the beautiful widescreen 16:9 format we’ve come to know and love, users continue to view a tiny version of it with their phones held vertically — for a finite amount of time, of course.

According to MediaBrix, videos designed for vertical viewing are almost twice as likely to be watched to completion than horizontal ones on its mobile ad platform. The disparity is far greater on Snapchat, where vertical ads are viewed all the way through nine times more than horizontal ads are.

While these numbers alone are telling, they’re even more significant than they may initially appear. TV advertising is still big business, but more and more people are tuning out, probably distracted by their devices. Case in point: Millennials are twice as likely to focus on mobile videos compared to those that are televised.

Yes, We’re That Lazy

When I think about studies that attempt to explain the rise of vertical video, I can’t help but imagine a group of people coming up with every possible explanation except the most obvious: Holding your phone sideways with one hand is kind of a pain. Moreover, if you really flipped it around every time a video in your news feed piqued your interest, you’d have even more cracks spider webbing across your screen.

What about those who will inevitably argue that holding your phone sideways is easy? Maybe so — but keeping it vertical is even easier, and this is forcing marketers to (literally) view video from a new perspective.

Because vertical videos were once associated with amateur content creators, many big brands were hesitant to adopt the look. Fast-forward to the modern influencer era and marketers are adopting vertical video specifically to make the content seem more organic and authentic: It’s not a big-brand ad; it’s a selfie video from your favorite celebrity!

Just kidding — it’s an ad in the form of a selfie video. As we all know, marketers will do anything to capture attention.

Keys to the Evolving Video Landscape

The CEO of marketing agency Laundry Service reported CPM rates for a vertical video that showed it was three times more efficient than traditional video, making vertical video CPM only a third of the cost. Vertical video is here to stay, at least until methods of content consumption and delivery evolve yet again.

Smart marketers will embrace vertical. Here are three ways to incorporate it most effectively into your digital marketing campaigns.

1. Play to Vertical's greatest strength: authenticity.

Vertical video was born in the world of amateur content creation, and the imperfections that come with an amateur style open up many doors of possibility to hold your audience’s attention.

If you want your commercial to “look like” a cellphone video, for instance, base it around the inherent limitations of the audience riding alongside the person holding the cellphone. When the camera work is less polished, shaky, and even missing the shot, you can use these imperfections to imply magical elements that would be too difficult or cost-prohibitive to create.

In this John West salmon commercial, for example, the wide angle of the shot helps simplify the delivery of the action shots, and the blend of “bad camerawork” and comedic elements creates a ridiculous but somewhat believable fight between a fisherman and a bear. The viewer is forced to go along with the concept because he or she is simply never given another camera angle.

2. Look into their eyes, and they’ll look back.

Vertical video rose to newfound popularity on cellphones. So there’s a certain implicit level of intimacy and connection when you’re speaking directly to your audience members via their smartphones.

Case in point: Ever heard of the “Here in my garage” Lamborghini guy? Basically, he’s standing in his home garage in front of his new Lamborghini, creating a selfie video and casually talking about his current status in life. At first, it seems like a strange but down-to-earth attempt by one human to try to connect with other human viewers — no thrills, no fancy camerawork or lighting, just a guy speaking directly into his cellphone.

This video has generated more than 3 million views because it feels “real” — even though it was just an advertisement, no different than the millions of ads you’ve already seen in your lifetime. I’m sure it genuinely engaged many people simply because it did not feel like an advertisement.

3. Explore the same space from a different angle.

People are used to seeing the same things — surprise your viewers. Just because everyone seems to be shooting vertical nowadays doesn’t mean you can’t differentiate your brand’s vertical video. Consumers truly crave fresh content, and they’ll engage with something they aren’t accustomed to seeing.

Even though Jeep paid an exorbitant sum for a Super Bowl ad, for example, the company made it stand out from the rest of the million-dollar ads by creating a completely vertical TV ad. This broke two rules: First, Jeep made a vertical video with high production quality; second, the brand premiered the spot on a traditionally (and famously) horizontal medium.

The advertisement is beautiful, peaceful, and nothing like the vertical videos we typically see on social media (mostly because of the quality — vertical ads are commonly not top-tier quality) or on TV (as almost all TV ads are horizontally oriented).

In social media marketing, vertical video is essentially mandatory. This is why Instagram was quick to imitate the success Snapchat enjoyed with vertical ads and now features ads that can run up to 15 seconds in its Stories section. If you need more proof that vertical is the direction of the future, the emergence of video platform Vervid is further evidence; the site is exclusively designed for sharing vertical HD video.

While people do still sometimes look down on vertical video as amateur content, forever associating it with beginner content creators who have no equipment aside from cellphone cameras, there’s a growing demand for vertical video content. With foresight and smart planning, strategizing for this space at the start of any online marketing campaign will pay off.

The video ad landscape has changed, and — for now, at least — it’s portrait.

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