This post first appeared in AdAge India
"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world."- Philip Pullman
Advertising is storytelling. From the Mad Men of the 1960's to now, the Don Drapers of the world want to tell us a story. And storytellers don't advertise products, as much as invoke heart-warming, magical connections between users and brands. By hammering out what a brand stands for, the product defines its emotional connect and shapes an identity for itself. India presents a unique opportunity in the storytelling narrative, because it is a mobile first country. And by virtue of that fact, the medium of narration is as important as its message. If mobile is a foregone conclusion, the power of video advertising is still at its evolutionary stages. And I want to delve into why we've transported a desktop experience to a country that has more mobiles than PCs.
So what makes India ripe for mobile video?
India is a truly mobile-first country. The majority of Indians accesses the internet through their mobile and not a desktop/laptop. More than 200 million Indians access the Internet via their mobile devices. India's 4G and 3G user base is expected to touch 300 million by March 2018, according to research by CLSA. The explosive increase in the country's smartphone penetration, underscored by price wars waged in a hyper-competitive smartphone market, has resulted in Indian consumers buying more smartphones each year.
Mobile video consumption is led by millennials - that age group which marketers, brands, recruitment offices and everyone in the world wants to understand. Studies by PwC indicate that by 2020, Millennials are projected to be 50% of the workforce and by 2025 this number is expected to reach 75% in the US. Naturally, products and services are being conjured across boardrooms to satiate the needs of millennials. Any company that's building for baby boomers has a limited shelf-life.
Not surprisingly, we don't have India specific numbers here, but advertisers are sitting on a virtual gold-mine in India. There's an untapped user base of more than 426 million millennials in India making it one of the largest workforces in the world.
So what changes for brand advertisers?
Traditionally, brands and agencies have conceptualized and created 'video' content with a TV screen in mind. That's the first impediment for a user - brands need to conceptualize and create video content keeping a smaller, though an equally powerful, mobile-screen in mind. What exactly does this mean?
While the basics remain the same - production value for video storytelling in mobile needs a rethink. For one, less is not always more and mobile is not always about 'quicker', but is often about being 'relevant'. In an experiment run by Google, a mobile video ad had a 26% higher VTR (View Through Rate) compared to shorter versions of the same ad played on desktop and TV. That's an important metric because the mobile video ad was three times longer; yet, it was viewed more. Clearly users are willing to engage more with video content on their mobile screens viz-a-viz other traditional screens. In this case, the content was intriguing and fun and piqued the interest of users nudging them to watch the 'longer' mobile video ad till the end.
New Rules in the New World of Mobile Video
Brand advertisers in India would benefit significantly by allocating budgets to test different concepts, video ad lengths etc. of mobile video ads to compare key metrics across screens. Running experiments to test the efficacy of different mobile video ad formats will be critical to yield confidence in the early days. Vertical video, a video format that renders in the portrait mode with9:16 aspect ratio on mobile phones, was first introduced in 2015 by Snapchat, and has since seen rapid adoption. As observed by Snapchat, with 9 times the viewing completion rate when compared to horizontal video, Vertical Video is establishing itself as the most natural format for mobile users.
Once you have nailed down the format for the mobile video ad, it is important to further enhance the user experience by avoiding some basic rookie errors. For example, Serving the same video pre-roll multiple times during a content series, forcing long-form ads ahead of short-form videos and one of the personal favorites - auto-playing video, with audio, without the user's consent.
Mobile video is a storytelling format where advertisers can get instant feedback. Much like a theatre artist gets a standing ovation or a muted applause at the end of a performance, advertisers can get immediate feedback too. The end card for each mobile video ad, gives users specific directions allowing brands to drive measurable actions - visits to the brand's website, signups for an event, sharing on social platforms etc. In fact, the InMobi network shows that combining mobile video with rich media doubles the time spent on the ad unit and drives phenomenal brand engagement for advertisers.
Compared to display advertising, which includes both video and banner, the mobile video offers greater creative possibilities, more opportunities to engage viewers with relevant, entertaining content and a more immersive experience. Also, contrary to popular belief, research suggests that mobile video screening is "far less distracted than it is on TV." I think of mobile video ads as a sort of 'private screening' opportunity that brand advertisers in India should be harnessing.
If users like the ad, it can also be viewed 'on-demand' (on various social media or video content platforms), resulting in a powerful resonance in a brand's message. Once you have the user interested in your 'story', you've established a personal connect that so many brands crave for. And in this endeavor to make advertising relatable on mobile, video needs a complete rethink.