How to Keep People Watching Your Social Media Video Ads


You have seen this before. You are at work, your phone is up, Facebook is open, and you are scrolling through your feed. This scrolling movement is not smooth. You are like a sad-somebody with a poison ivy rash in all the worst places stumbling through a CVS first aid aisle. You just cannot not stop from watching at least one video, from reaching your arms out and scooping all of the “videos” off the shelves. Your thumbs, fingers, whatever appendage that you are using, generally move in the same way that your eyes move. Jerkily. In saccades.

Our eyes jump from spot to spot, subject to subject, video to video. They do not scan. The term for each little movement in the same direction is a saccade. Like our eyes, our thumbs move through Facebook and other social media in quick little movements.

Advertisers get this tiny window of opportunity to capture a viewer’s attention as they scroll. Think of it as just one tiny moment.

And in that tiny moment, it is all about the “pattern interrupt.”

On social media, our brains are met with endless new content. Whether the content is a dog walking on its front legs or a baby who cannot stop laughing, our brains seek to organize all that content, to condense it into similar categories, to file it away so that we can move on to other thoughts.

The more social media we see, the less we notice it. We have labeled it. We have put it all into patterns. One sport video ad looks the same as another sport video ad.

Successful video ads break those patterns. They interrupt the filing process going on in our heads. With videos, we have just that one second to interrupt someone’s pattern before they move on. The more a video breaks that pattern, the more exposure the video will get. And greater exposure means more potential website traffic conversions, if that is your goal.

In pursuing the pattern interrupt, there are a few rules that I have learned to follow.


Avoid a Static Shot

And I mean the definition of static here. Shots without action, movement, or change look like photos. If your goal is to get conversions through video advertising, and if you know that video ads perform better than photo ads, then your objective should be to avoid shots that could be identified as a plain-old photo by the scrolling viewer. You lose the advantages of video here.


Use an Open Loop

Some call this the Buzzfeed-effect. Others associate it with click bait advertising. The open loop strategy is to use an incomplete thought (called the open loop) in the title or in the content of the video that compels the viewer to click through to the answer (to close the loop). The title or video, from the viewer’s perspective, screams “Marco!” They feel an urge to answer “Polo!”

The New York Times has gotten very good at this lately with their phone notifications. I will get an alert that goes something like this, “From a few thermoses of tea brewed in his kitchen to a 15,000 bottle request from Whole Foods, this grad student began his multimillion-dollar tea venture.”

The alert raises a few narrow questions. Who is the grad student? What company is it? The key point about the open loop strategy is that it generates questions with limited answers. Unless you are a tea connoisseur, you probably know of only a few tea companies. The questions are not so much about getting the viewer to ask “what” or “who” but about getting them to ask “which.”

This open loop news alert is about Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea.


Create Perspective

The interface of social media is flat. It is a canvas for you. Your video, whether it be 16×9, 4×5, or 1×1 in ratio, is your opportunity to break open that canvas. Open up a hole for the viewer. Give them a sense of depth. Make that thumb feel like it is going to fall through the screen.


Change Your Ratio

Square videos perform better than videos using the traditional 16×9 ratio. The cause seems pretty obvious. It takes longer to scroll by a square video than a video with a 16×9 ratio. That extra time gives the viewer more of a chance to get hooked. did an awesome study comparing 16×9 and square videos. They found that square videos perform better and cost less on mobile than 16×9 videos. Bonus: Avoid letterboxing square videos. Videos that fill the square provide more movement throughout the frame versus text in the top and bottom boxes.


Use Captions

When on social media, how often do you click on that little loudspeaker in the bottom right of videos to enable sound? Publishers on social media have written that as little as 15 percent of their video views happen with the sound turned on. That means that as much as 85 percent of video views occur in silence. If your video’s pattern interrupt strategy depends on the dialogue and you do not include captions, then most mobile users will not hear the dialogue. Your strategy will be ineffective. Both Facebook and YouTube have auto-captioning tools that you can use to create captions.


Take Advantage of FOMO/EOJI

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) or Excitement of Joining In (EOJI).

What can you do with the content of your video ad to get the viewer to feel like they are missing out on an opportunity? Before going further into this, I want to say that I thought about not including FOMO in this list as it can be somewhat unethical.

Here is an example. Imagine that your video ad is for a beverage company. You decide to show imagery of a family at a barbecue. The parents are at the grill. The kids are running through the sprinkler. You hear the sizzle of the burgers. You see the chosen beverages glistening in a halo of light on a mountain of ice. Though the background is out of focus, you can still see the parents behind the beverages. You can see them lean in for a kiss. You can hear the kids playing.

For me, this scene evokes a desire to join in on the barbecue. I associate (“Association,” another hot word in advertising) the scene with my family barbecues in the past and the beverages give me a tool for once again achieving that association.

But, I do not fear missing out on this barbecue experience. In other words, my emotional well-being is not disturbed by this ad to the point that I am emotionally upset about missing a fictional future barbecue.

I would say that this ad is using an “Excitement of Joining In” strategy, where the overriding goal is to first generate good feelings around the product by association and then to propose a way for the viewer to join in on the good feelings.

On the flip side, the concept FOMO taps into the fear of getting banished from the herd, of being ostracized by a society. In the days before long johns, say, out in the wilderness, banishment from society would mean an early death. Ads that utilize the FOMO strategy are effective because they seem to poke at the general location of the thoughts surrounding our mortality. It is a sore spot. Think of banishment, loneliness, failure, depression, and loss.

To me, ads that emotionally destabilize the viewer by poking at that sore spot for the sake of providing a product remedy are not living up to any modern code of ethics.

Strategically, though, ads that first associate a product with an experience and then reveal that the product is the means to achieving that experience are very effective. This can be done in a positive way by encouraging the viewer’s excitement about joining in on the experience with the product. This is Excitement of Joining In (EOJI).

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