As people become more accustomed to smaller screens, quicker information gathering, and shorter posts with more pictures, attention spans are naturally shrinking too – so how can brands captivate and hold the attention of their audiences on social media, rather than be discarded with a swipe of the thumb?
Jill Gray, head of the UK Creative Shop for Facebook, leads a team that helps brands build successful advertising on social media for a targeted audience. With the Creative Shop’s recent launch of products, including 360 video, Canvas, a platform which builds in-app microsites allowing brands to advertise and sell at the same time, and live streaming service Facebook Live, the team aim to help brands captivate audiences and avoid the dreaded news feed scroll.
Gray spoke at this year’s PromaxBDA conference in Barcelona about how to captivate your audience – we caught up with her after her talk about how brands can make the most of social media platforms by creating bespoke content, thinking mobile-first and being inventive. Here are her top tips.
As technology and mobile phones continue to develop, consumers expect more sophisticated video content. “The biggest trend we see is the shift to visual communication,” says Gray. “It’s important to think people-first. If that’s the mode of communication that people prefer, then make sure you’re giving them that experience.”
A step beyond regular video footage is a new format known as 360-degree video, which has similarities to virtual reality in that it immerses users within the content – something Gray calls “spatial storytelling”.
Creative Shop has worked with brands from all facets to incorporate 360 video into their advertising campaigns – from large-scale, exciting projects such as the launch of the new Jungle Book and Star Wars films, to an ad for an insurance company. The company used a “choose your own adventure” theme for the video, creating a scenario with a broken down car, which offered viewers the ability to choose their own sequence of events by scrolling either left or right.
“We directed viewers to be actively involved in this story,” says Gray. “It really is just about crafting great stories – if we can make insurance interesting, we can make anything interesting.”
Aside from immersing your audience in a virtual world, there are a host of other maverick techniques on the horizon for advertising on social media. Gray says that “no-sound storytelling” is making a comeback, with subtitles and silence lending themselves well to news-feed scrollers.
“What can we learn from the Charlie Chaplins of the world, who were doing their messaging without sound?” she says. “When working in a feed environment, you need to be ‘thumb-stopping’. It’s about making content fit for news-feed and getting their attention in a mobile environment.”
Another concept early in development is the idea of “non-linear” storytelling, Gray says. “For decades, story arcs have gone through a linear sequence of beginning, middle and end,” she says. “That’s just not the behaviours of people within a mobile environment.”
The idea of an ad that doesn’t follow a typical structure is still quite new in the making, but it’ll probably work well with technologies such as virtual reality and 360 video, Gray says.
Employ high levels of craft
While quality of creative advertising naturally tends to be higher on platforms like Instagram, says Gray, there’s no reason why this approach can’t be applied to Facebook too. “The biggest difference between the two platforms is that Facebook is more about people, and Instagram is more about passions,” she says. “This can play out in creative work. Instagram was born as a mobile-first platform, so is fundamentally visual – there’s a very high bar for the quality of creative on Instagram.”
She says examples include a Heineken ad campaign for Bulmers cider, which included kaleidoscopic illustrations, a campaign from clothes brand Banana Republic, which included animations that showcased how the company designs its clothes. “It’s amazing to see the craft that gets put into that platform – my advice is that that level of craft is equally beneficial on Facebook.”
With the current intelligence of website algorithms and data collection, online advertising has been given the opportunity to provide relevant, personalised content for specific consumers in a way that wasn’t possible with print or television advertising. While the internet’s ability to know everything about us can seem unnerving, it provides brands with the opportunity to fine-tune its content to really make its audience feel involved.
Gray says a key example is Creative Shop’s work with the Premier League, which was a campaign with custom ads for Facebook users that were specific to the club they supported. Another was the launch of Topshop’s European counterpart Zalando, which saw a series of films featuring Cara Delevingne saying the name of specific European cities.
“When stuff is useful and relevant, it’s not annoying,” she says. “We call it personalisation at scale. You can’t create custom ads like that in many other mediums. The ability to be precise means advertising remains a positive experience for people. We call this the ‘elegant sale’, because you’re not just sticking a product in somebody’s face and saying ‘Buy me!’. You have the precision of retargeting.”
Make it suitable for news feed
When creating adverts for social media, there are a few things brands need to remember to make them appropriate for news feeds, says Gray. Otherwise known as “feed-proofing”, this includes using features such as the aforementioned “no sound” ads; “setting stages quickly” within ads, by cutting to the chase and making them aware of what the ad is about instantly; maximising the space on a mobile phone screen, by shooting film vertically; and “extending stories”, by creating complementary elements to ad videos, through things like gifs and carousel ads.
Dove used the concept of creating a brand story through multiple elements, says Gray, with its shampoo advertising campaign which saw a number of animated gifs accompany the video. “These things all just help solidify your message,” says Gray. “You only have the amount of time it takes for a thumb to scroll up the screen – what’s going to stop them?”