Lights… Camera… Silence: Are Silent Autoplay Videos the Commercials of the Future?

Video Ads

Silent Autoplay Video Ads

Flying broomsticks, talking portraits and invisibility cloaks were a few of the magical forms of entertainment we got to see on the big screen during the Harry Potter films.

Animated newspapers

Animated newspapers were common features in the Harry Potter films.

Though each of these unusual props worked in tandem – along with other forms of wizardry – to make the films the popular blockbusters that they became, it was the animated newspapers that often intrigued me (of course!). Moving, flashing images of Harry Potter or Sirius Black displayed across the traditional, black and white tabloid newspaper were eye-catching, to say the least.

Much like these silent, animated pictures, autoplay videos that have become common on social media sites like Facebook and through Twitter’s Vine app, have the ability to catch our attention as we scroll. In an attempt to make newsfeeds more engaging, Facebook began allowing user-uploaded videos to auto-play in-line when they’re scrolled over in 2013.

autoplay video

An example of an autoplay video on Facebook.

You’ve probably encountered this in your own Facebook newsfeed by now – you’re scrolling along, skimming the posts in your feed when a video enters the screen and begins to play, silently (more than likely, it’s a feature on babies, or cats and dogs… just kidding… kind of). Only when you click or tap on the video does the sound pop on. Once you’ve scrolled past the video, it immediately ceases to play. No harm, no foul, right? If you don’t want to engage with the video, you don’t have to. But, then again, there might be more to it than that…

The Autoplay Argument
Much banter has been made over the rise of the autoplay video. Some marketers say video autoplay has the ability to discourage consumers and damage a brand’s reputation because of its annoying disregard for allowing users an “opt-in” option before playing.

Still, other marketers have called Facebook a “super troll” because of its move to blast “intrusive” video ads into newsfeeds at a time when marketing is moving in the direction of giving MORE control to users.

And then, others are concerned about having to create new content to fit the autoplay format, instead of being able to re-purpose old video content.

To these arguments I say, silent autoplay video advertising is here to stay. To conclude that autoplay video advertising will damage a brand is simply fear-mongering brought about by an unwillingness to accept change.

I do think silent autoplay video formats will require marketers to specifically design video in such a way that complements the new silent feature, but this is not necessarily a bad thing…

To design ads for silent video it will take solid creativity on the part of content developers, strong visual storytelling skills and a deep understanding of the content consumer.

On April 16, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced their Top 5 Digital Innovations Changing Advertising and Marketing in 2015, and the report included some insight about silent video. CEO of Decoded Advertising, Matt Rednor, was quoted saying brands need to consider silent video in their plans for 2015.

“Autoplay on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter starts with the video muted and a majority of people don’t take the extra effort to click to turn on the sound,” Rednor said. “As brands shift their spend to online video this year, they’re going to see that just running TV commercials online won’t work as well and will start designing for the flick, creating short-form video ads that people consume in their feeds without sound.”

Rednor predicted 80 percent of brand content on Facebook in 2015 will be video, and the network will be more effective than TV.

Adding fuel to this flame is the fact that video in general is far more shareable than any other form of online content. According to Douglas Karr of MarketingTech Blog, video is the easiest online content to grow on social media, with 12 times more chances to be shared than links and text combined. Twitter users share 700 videos every minute, while 60 percent of social media users choose Facebook to share their videos.

“By 2018 video will make up 79% of all Internet traffic, up from the current 66%, so you have to be prepared because the so-called online video boom will never cease to grow.” – Douglas Karr, MarketingTech Blog

Where consumers are concerned, consider some of these stats on video usage from Hubspot:

  • 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.
  • Posts with videos attract 3 times more inbound links than plain text posts.
  • 85 percent of the US internet audience watches videos online, with the 25-34 age group watching the most online videos.
  • 25 million smartphone users stream 4 hours of mobile video per month. 75 percent of smartphone users watch videos on their phones, 26 percent of whom use video at least once a day.
  • Viewers are 85 percent more likely to purchase a product after watching a product video.

HighQ, a software development company, called 2015 “The Year of Video Marketing,” and supported their claim with this interesting infographic on the rise of online video.

If all of this isn’t enough to convince you of the importance of having an online video content strategy that works across all networks, in January, Strategy Analytics published its latest figures for advertising spend in the U.S., reporting that social media — advertising on sites like Facebook and Twitter — will see the most growth at 31 percent this year, followed by video (29 percent) and mobile (20 percent). By 2018, it’s predicted that TV’s share of ad revenue will fall to 40 percent, whilst digital’s will have grown to 35 percent.

Ad Spend chart

Ad spend across different mediums from Strategy Analytics

A Less Intrusive Form of Video Advertising
Have you ever visited a website and, while browsing through the content, some invisible person suddenly begins talking to you? You scroll back up, looking for the source, only to discover an audio autoplay video has opened at the top of the page, effectively slowing down your page and causing a lot of undesirable noise.

With silent autoplay video, a video will never yell at you. Facebook, for example, has made it a point to make these videos as non-intrusive as possible. According to Social Media Today, mobile users will not have to worry about data usage with this new video system; Facebook’s autoplay is only pre-downloaded by devices that are already connected to the internet. Videos will not play with sound unless you actively turn the sound on.

Example of a Business Insider autoplay video, utilizing features that work with silent video.

Example of a Business Insider autoplay video, utilizing features that work with silent video.

Great examples of brands using silent video content (thought not necessarily advertising) to their advantage are already cropping up.

Take Business Insider, for example. The business news site makes daily posts to Facebook that showcase the silent video storytelling format. They post educational videos on such topics as “The Simple Science behind Weight Loss,” and “8 Essential Tips for Making Google Search Better and Faster.” Each video, playing silently, makes use of large, bold text, well-developed graphics and powerful images. This video at left was viewed more than 12,000 times, with 300 shares.

Southern Living Magazine is another brand doing silent autoplay video content development right. The video below visually walks users through substitutions for common baking ingredients. The video was first posted on Facebook on April 18, and was viewed (silently) almost 200,000 times, with more than 5,000 shares. The video is high quality, and almost as entertaining as it is interesting and informative.

So, what is it about silent autoplay video advertising that makes it effective? Consider these reasons:

  • They’re not pop-up ads or road-blocks.
  • If you don’t want to view them, you can keep scrolling.
  • They won’t yell at you. The sound won’t play unless you click on the video.
  • They won’t burn up your data plan.

What do you think about the silent autoplay video feature? Do you think it’s here to stay? Can you think of any other brands who are creatively using the silent autoplay video feature to their advantage?


3 thoughts on “Lights… Camera… Silence: Are Silent Autoplay Videos the Commercials of the Future?

  1. I think silent auto play is here to stay. It’s practically taken over social media. While I can’t think of any businesses that are using this effectively, I do know that I enjoy silent auto play when it comes to the many videos I see on my Facebook newsfeed. I like that I can see them first and then decide if I want to engage with sound. And, I think it would be awesome if all ads on websites were silent. Sometimes I go on link binges where I will click on 3-5 different articles I want to read. The most annoying thing in the world is when an ad starts blaring and I don’t know which website it’s coming from. All of this to say that I am all about silent auto play ads. This world is so noisy and busy. I think giving consumers the choice of adding sound does give them more control. Great post! I always enjoy reading your articles.


  2. Great post, Kati. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at this technology. And yes, I think silent autoplay is here to stay. Personally, I much prefer it to more intrusive ads.


  3. I was one of those people growling about autoplay videos in my Facebook feed when they first started but, having lived with it for a while, I’ve decided that they’re pretty interesting and I’m fine with them sticking around. As you mentioned, marketers won’t be able to just mute their tv ads and stick them in my Facebook feed and have their message work. I think this is going to have the same effect as the 5 to 30-second pre-roll ads on YouTube, which is to create a new genre of advertising message.


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