After months of speculation, including stories that it was dead in the water after appalling user feedback in trials, Facebook began rolling out its auto-play video ad format in US News Feeds last week.
The format is simple. As users scroll through their feeds on mobile or desktop, video content from brands will start to play automatically without sound. If a video is tapped or clicked to play in full screen, sound will begin. The ad stops playing if users scroll past.
Called "Premium Video Ads", users in the UK "can expect to begin seeing these new ads over the next few months", according to a spokesman. Susan Buckner, the product marketing manager at Facebook, said the goal is to make the ads "as good as other content people see in their News Feeds".
Once the film has played, users will have the option to view two additional videos from the same advertiser. The latest development is part of a growing advertising arsenal Facebook is offering to marketers, who have been able to embed videos in their own sponsored page posts for years. The ambition is clear: to tap into larger media budgets, perhaps even those previously earmarked for TV.
Facebook is keen to stress the new video format will be objectively measured against "performance indicators" and "tailored to the Facebook environment". It will be bought based on targeted gross rating points to reach a specific audience over a short period of time – a shot in the arm for marketers looking to make a large-scale impact.
Not everyone is convinced. Jonathan Lovatt-Young, the head of service and experience design at Tribal Worldwide, fears it could lead to "video blindness" in much the same way users now ignore mid-page unit and skyscraper ads, or simply exacerbate the rise of ad-blockers developed specifically for Facebook.
Lovatt-Young highlights the need for brands to invest in creating video that has genuine interest to users and has been produced with the silent auto-play format in mind. He warns: "Cheap repurposing of existing content won’t cut it."
So, a fine line from the outset. But will the video ads be welcomed by brands?
YES Jonathan Lovatt-Young, head of experience design, Tribal Worldwide "Yes. But will it be attractive for users? No. In every research study, auto-play and other non-user-invoked elements always get the same response: ‘I hate it when these things just have a mind of their own."
YES Carl Read, head of digital, OMD "This is a welcome addition. It’s a natural evolution as TV, social and video converge and presents an opportunity for brands to talk to Facebook’s users in a very different way. But brands will need to make those 15 seconds count."
YES Ben Wood, global president, iProspect "I like the look of the product – there’s room for innovation and creative use of the format. The unit can offer compelling storytelling to a broad audience in one day. If advertisers set the creative bar high, performance will be great."
YES Henry Arkell, group social advertising director, Manning Gottlieb OMD "The new format is really interesting. Whether limitations around video length and the inability to apply Facebook’s more advanced targeting put some advertisers off, though, remains to be seen."