Jonathan Rudd
Jul 19, 2016

Is mobile video killing the importance of sound?

Like 'video killed the radio star', is mobile video killing the starring role for music in advertising?

Jonathan Rudd
Jonathan Rudd

Without trying too hard, think back to an ad you fondly remember seeing on TV. Depending on your age and where you’re from this will vary drastically, but what made the one you’re thinking of memorable?

It almost certainly provided some sort of emotional reward, whether it was funny, inspiring or nostalgic. You probably remember the characters (if there were any).

How about the music? Or the jingle that you couldn’t get out of your head? There’s a good chance that for most of the adverts you remember, you also remember a song that helped take you on an emotional journey and made the ad memorable. Or a jingle you’d find yourself unexpectedly singing in the shower.

'Thank you for the music'

Effective jingles have just that; the power to stick in your head. Whether with an accompanying tagline or just a melody, they can be used for years, remixed and contemporised. An obvious example is McDonald’s global and long-standing ‘I’m lovin’ it’ jingle (here in a Japanese ad). Reinforced through various media touchpoints, jingles are another brand code that helps build mental availability of a given product or service.

Playing a different role, a good soundtrack can really help dramatise a story. A recent neuroscience study found that music can ‘make or break an ad,‘ with ads driven by their soundtrack being more effective at creating long-term memory associations. I always think of the Cadbury Gorilla with the Phil Collins soundtrack and remember the anticipation that went with ‘in the air tonight’ building up as that big gorilla sat at the drum kit against that purple background. Levis use of Shaggy’s Mr Lover Lover is another (showing my age). In fact, most good ads have great soundtracks.

Mobile muting

Now to the point of this article; would your favourite ads work in a social feed?

Think about how we consume video content in social feeds on mobile. Between 75 and 90 percent of Facebook usage in Asia is on mobile (depending on the country) and globally the platform has over 8 billion video views a day. However when these videos start (like on Twitter or Instagram) they autoplay with the sound off.

This is a big challenge for advertisers and their agencies. I continue to see brands across the region persisting with putting content made for TV onto social platforms. This typically results in a very poor view rate (which translates back to a very high cost per view) and little to no impact on brand metrics. This is because there isn’t the time to build the story with a captivated audience like there is with TV, or to wait for the ad's emotional apex, fuelled by the power of a soundtrack, to introduce the brand.

News feed environments certainly don’t seem audio-friendly. A recent Digiday interview found up to 85 percent of Facebook video plays without sound. However online video formats can also struggle to deliver audio. Many top publishers have video units that also autoplay without sound, or that are of the click-to-play type (and therefore are often ignored).

No sound, no go?

Great video ads have sound, so does that mean I should forget social video?

The short answer is no. However you should forget running the majority of ads created for TV on social platforms.

I’d typically recommend still advertising in social as it’s important to have an audience-first approach and be where your audience is. With 30 percent of online time being spent in social (which rises north of 50 percent in certain Southeast Asia markets) it would be a mistake to stop just because your TV ads don’t work particularly well.

It’s also important to note that the typical buying method for social is CPM, which means brands pay the same for a static post as for video. You’re not getting ‘ripped off,’ you can always run a static ad, but the opportunity lies in customising your content to work most effectively on the platform. This includes formats like Canvas or cinemagraph on Facebook, or GIFs and scratchreel ads on Twitter. And not forgetting good old video that can be re-edited so it gets across your key brand message faster and without sound by resequencing and/or using subtitles.

Facebook's Creative Shop, which works with agencies to create effective ads on the platform, advises the ‘three-second audition’, which means captivating your audience straightaway. A great example is Apple music’s Taylor Swift ad that ran on Facebook and Instagram. The massive advantage in this case being that Swift is guaranteed to stop millions of people from scrolling away. However it’s also worth noting that apparently Drake’s iTunes sales of the ”Jumpman” track in the ad rocketed 431 percent as a result, showing music can work too (sometimes).

Sound-friendly digital platforms

News feeds aside, there are other digital platforms where sound can work for you and is even encouraged. However, whilst sound can indeed play a powerful role in dramatising your product or story, you’ll need to customise your content experience to reflect how people use it for maximum effect. Just putting a made for TV video on any these platforms won’t do.

As part of the planning process, it’s important to take an audience first approach and understand what platforms you’re going to leverage for content distribution upfront before any assets are created. This means the creative platform can be expressed using assets that reflect on platform behaviour and therefore stand a much greater chance of being effective. Examples include leveraging sound, branding and creating intrigue in the first five seconds of a TrueView ad, or creating 10-second vertical ‘native looking’ content (again with sound) for Snapchat.

From a media perspective, this will result in greater cost efficiency, which means more views and engagement for clients’ budgets. Simply put, it’s more expensive to distribute creative that people don’t want to watch.

Finally, don’t forget that just like digital has changed how we watch video, it’s also changed the way we listen to music. Platforms like Spotify offer ads that can play the same role as radio and deliver that jingle, but often offer accompanying video or visual units with clickthrough opportunities. More than two-thirds of Spotify users still use the free service, meaning they can be reached with advertising. Which could result in people singing your brands jingle in the shower...

From my perspective, audio is still very much alive in the new, platform-first world of digital marketing. Like everything else, it’s the approach that needs to be reconsidered.

Jonathan Rudd is regional head of digital strategy at Carat. Follow him on Twitter @jrudd_digital.

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