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Have a Second? That May Be All Facebook's Video Ads Will Need

By John-Erik Koslosky - Mar 18, 2016 at 9:20PM

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Research is shedding new light on how fast we process what we see on our smartphone screens.


As tech companies forge ahead developing better ads and getting them in front of the right people, Facebook (META 5.10%) and Twitter (TWTR 0.39%) are making some important discoveries about how our brains handle the information we take in from different mediums.

What they're finding could drive changes in digital advertising, affecting what we see on our screens -- and for how long we see it.

Among their more interesting findings are revelations about just how much faster we tend to process what we see on our smartphone screens compared with how we process the same type of information on larger screens such as our laptops, desktop computers, and TVs.

Just how quickly we're processing information from our mobile devices is remarkable.

A study from Facebook and Nielsen showed that nearly 74% of the "cumulative impact" of ad recollection took place in the first 10 seconds of a video spot. Even more striking: Nearly half of the total impact of ad recollection took place within just the first three seconds of viewing.

The study showed similar findings when it comes to brand awareness and viewers' intent to purchase. These first few seconds are critically important.

It could be even shorter
What's more, independent studies from Facebook and Twitter showed that the recollection of messages can occur in even shorter amounts of time – "even in the first second."


The implications of these findings are likely to drive advancements in how companies try to reach us as consumers, particularly with the ads they will be choosing to serve to us in the years to come.

Twitter research director Jeffrey Graham and Facebook product director Fidji Simo shared some of what they've been learning in a co-authored article in AdAge recently. The competing social media companies agreed to collaborate on the article, the two say, because their independent findings have been so similar and are consequential for the entire industry.

Of particular importance to the two companies is how people process information differently when viewing content in feeds, such as your News Feed or Twitter feed, than they do other formats. In a nutshell, when we view something on a phone and in a feed, our brains process what we see extremely quickly.

From their research, the two companies are looking to develop a playbook for digital video ads that, among other things, calls on creators to employ "entertaining stories" to demonstrate a product's value and get people into scenes right from the start.

Mobile video growing
There's a lot at stake for companies like Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet, which all generate the lion's share of their revenue from the ads they serve up to their users and through the network of websites they have each signed on to carry display ads their respective platforms.

The online video ad market is growing quickly. The overall digital video display ad market in the U.S. alone is expected to mushroom from just more than the $5 billion recorded in 2014 to nearly $15 billion in 2019, according to eMarketer.

On top of that, people are consuming much more video via smartphone than they were just a few years ago. According to an eMarketer survey last June, some 56% of respondents said they watched video on their smartphones at least once a month, a number that more than doubled from just two years earlier.

Shaping the future of ads
Looking ahead, the fastest growth in digital advertising is expected to come in video ads directed at smartphone users. Just $1.5 billion in 2014, the U.S. mobile video ad market is expected to ring in at nearly $7 billion by 2019, eMarketer forecasts. The U.S. generally comprises around a third of digital ad spending worldwide, so that gives us some idea of how large a market there is to be had for companies such as Facebook, which generated some $18 billion in total revenue last year, and Twitter, which generated $2.2 billion.

The research Facebook and Twitter conducted is likely to shape the ads we see every day for years to come. If video ads end up being shorter -- or more eye-catching right from the start -- we'll have this research to thank for the changes.

But for these companies, it's also about delivering the best experience for their respective users. And if they can deliver a better ad that also takes up a lot less of your time, that's something akin to the proverbial win-win.

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