Use vertical video ads for mobile

Vertical mobile video ads are 13% easier to mentally process, so we like them more. Besides, nobody wants to flip their phone anymore.

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We hold our phones upright 94% of the time. Even when faced with a horizontal video, only 30% of us turn our phones (2017 data).

Those of you who rely heavily on mobile ads are likely already aware of the need to adapt to vertical formats.

Facebook and YouTube have been recommending them since 2017-2018, and for other platforms (e.g. TikTok, Snapchat) it’s a no-brainer or even mandatory.

Still, considering the likes of Facebook’s track record in reporting evidence to inflate their revenue, it’s great to have real evidence (scientific, public, and peer-reviewed) to back this up. Vertical it is!


Use vertical mobile video ads. It’s what people expect so they work better

Impacted metrics: Ad performance
Channels: Video ads | Apps
For: Mostly B2C

Tip type: New research (February 2021)
Previous tip: How to stop new customers from pushing away existing ones (All tips here)

Recommendation

Prioritize vertical video ad formats for mobile, even in channels where you have both options (e.g. Facebook, YouTube).

If you have the capacity, produce both vertical and horizontal formats.

Effects

  • Vertical mobile video ads are more engaging than horizontal ones, even when both are full-screen:

    • An A/B test of the same Facebook mobile video ad in vertical vs horizontal formats found significant differences:

      • 57% vs 43% views to completion

      • 55% vs 45% engagement

    • In a lab experiment, students mentally processed the vertical version of a Nike ad 13% more fluently than the horizontal version of it (they were asked to flip their phone for the horizontal version, so both were full-screen)

  • The effect is stronger for younger generations (e.g. Gen Z) than older ones (e.g. Gen X) since they’re more used to vertical video on mobile.

(From left to right: Horizontal mobile ad, horizontal ad viewed vertically, vertical mobile ad - Click to zoom in)


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Why it works

  • Over the past years, we’ve become used to vertical content on mobile. This makes it easier to mentally process. It’s well studied that when something is easier to process we like it more.

  • As core users of TikTok and Snapchat, Generation Z is the most used to vertical video, compared to older generations who often experienced watching video on mobile horizontally (e.g. YouTube).

  • Watching horizontal videos full-screen requires some effort to flip a phone 90 degrees. And in reality, we’re unlikely to do that if we’re scrolling a vertical feed (e.g. Facebook) so we’ll just watch a smaller version.

Limitations

  • Although the Facebook ad A/B test was significant, the sample size was quite small (2,377 unique views in total) and it was tested on only one ad in one category (asking viewers to participate in a study). In the lab studies, the researchers focused on what are the drivers of the effect rather than testing in more ways how powerful it is.

  • The study didn’t:

    • Test the effect on conversions, only engagement (the sample size used was too small). Typically, however, more engagement relates to more conversions

    • Measure the effect of horizontal videos viewed while holding the screen vertically (middle version in image above), although we can assume it performs worse than both other versions since it’s smaller.

Companies using this

  • Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and TikTok have vertical video-friendly interfaces and encourage their users to adopt vertical formats. Since 2018, even YouTube has (somewhat) started encouraging vertical videos.

  • Some artists have started releasing vertical music videos (e.g. Billie Eilish) and the trend is likely to accelerate, including as a background for their songs on Spotify.

  • In the past few years, ad creatives have been adapting to vertical video formats. Yet, the switch doesn’t seem to be as advanced and complete as it should if you consider more than 75% of all video viewing is on mobile.

Steps to implement


Study type

Lab and field experiment (A/B test of horizontal vs vertical Facebook mobile ad with 2,377 unique views). Belgium

Research

Mulier, L., Slabbinck, H., & Vermeir, I. (February 2021). This way up: The effectiveness of mobile vertical video marketing. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 55, 1-15.

[Link to paper]

Affiliations

Ghent University, Belgium

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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