Should Facebook Move Forward With Autoplay Video Ads?

By Justin Lafferty 

On Tuesday, a report detailed that Facebook is planning to implement 15-second video advertisements that automatically play — an effort to grab television ad dollars. The reaction around the Internet was swift and negative, criticizing the social network for being too invasive by making the ads play instantly, forcing users to push pause or stop. But how effective are video ads in the first place?

Video posts from pages and brands are generally used less than photos, links, and text updates. We’ve seen evidence that photos and text posts are the best ones for engagement, but how often are people commenting on and sharing videos?

Alchemy Social, an Experian company, told AllFacebook that video ads have been successful in generating likes. Alchemy Social has been working with a couple of brands on video advertisement. The company found that in those campaigns, mobile video ads generated more than 200 percent more likes than ads on desktop, but desktop generated 200 percent more views.

Emeric Ernoult, CEO and co-founder of AgoraPulse, noted that it’s hard to track the effectiveness of video ads because it varies so much from page to page.

He shared with AllFacebook graphs showing the reach of different types of posts from brands — one from a sports magazine, and one from a gaming company.

Here’s how video performed for the magazine:

Here’s the graph for the page in the gaming industry:

While there’s plenty of information to show when a simple status update would be best, or when a photo would get the most engagement, video is a different animal, as Ernoult’s graphs suggest. The video posts by the magazine were less frequent but reached more people. The opposite was true for the page in the gaming industry. Whether or not a video ad would be effective relies largely on the people to whom it’s targeted.

Ernoult told AllFacebook that he’s open to seeing what Facebook does with these new kinds of video ads first, then marketers can tweak their strategy or stop using video ads if they are not an effective way to reach out to potential new fans:

Tricky question, like all new stuff, it needs to be tested, tweaked, fine-tuned, and maybe, at the end, it will work. I never say it will or will not work, I remember the time when Google introduced paid ads along with search results and most “commenters” said this would never work because people would know it was paid for and therefore irrelevant to their search. Well, this turned out to be a multibillion-dollar business. So, let’s try it and see how it works.

However, there’s the issue of autoplay. Several sites, such as ESPN, regularly have videos included in their stories. In many cases, users can opt to switch autoplay off, but the default setting is for the video to start playing as soon as the page loads — but these aren’t paid ads. It’s unclear, from the AdAge report, whether or not users would be able to change the default to stop autoplay. The story also notes that Facebook engineers are trying to find ways for autoplay ads to work on mobile, as well.

As sister site Inside Facebook notes, many advertisers have been asking Facebook for a more prominent kind of ad to catch the attention of users — and an autoplay video would definitely do that. However, users may not have many (if any) options on mobile to hide or block these kinds of stories, giving an inaccurate read of negative engagement on these types of posts on mobile.

AdAge‘s story also shows that Facebook is debating whether or not to have the audio accompanying the ad also play automatically.

When AllFacebook reached out to Facebook after the story broke on Tuesday, the site had no comment regarding autoplay video ads.

These video ads would also come from pages that users have not liked yet. Although ads suggesting that users like a page are now ubiquitous, there was an initial brushback from users, who only wanted to see content in their news feeds from pages they’ve liked and people with whom they have connected. If Facebook combines autoplay — which many users don’t like — with ads coming from pages they don’t have any connection with, it might be more of a detriment than an asset for advertisers.

Facebook marketing expert Jon Loomer, who has previously written about the amount of negative engagement on promoted posts, wrote to AllFacebook about these proposed autoplay ads:

Not only do people hate auto-play, but apparently, this will be available for advertisers to target non-fans in the news feed. It’s a recipe for disaster. There has been all kinds of blowback from non-fans over suggested posts and promoted posts. Can you imagine the response to auto-play video? Unlikely to be worth it to the advertiser.

Of course, there’s still plenty we don’t know about how this will work — whether audio will play automatically or not. But based on what I know, I just don’t see any positive angle to this.

Is it possible that auto-play video would be effective? Sure, it’s possible. But my bet is that this will be one of the rare occasions where backlash will be warranted and Facebook will pull back — potentially before it even happens. A new video ad unit could be a nice opportunity for advertisers. But auto-play — particularly in the news feeds of non-fans — is too much.

Mike Onghai, founder of social marketing platform AppAddictive, sees both sides of the argument. He wrote to AllFacebook, saying that he knows video has the potential to be a powerful tool for brands, but also feels that Facebook has done and will continue to do its homework, regarding keeping its user experience clean and friendly:

As our clients continue to demand better return-on-investment metrics from their social media ad budget over the next 12 months, brands will find that video content is not only a great way to engage with their audience, but also to track the marketing funnel for social advertising – that is, audience, engagement, and conversion. Combined with links to call-to-action landing pages, video content can also be very effective in conversion. There will be pushback from a percentage of the Facebook users. Facebook does unbelievable amount of split testing on every pixel of its website, and I am sure that Facebook will track the pushbacks very closely. All in all, my experience with big clients and Facebook users tells me that the benefits of video ads for all the stakeholders in the ecosystem will far outweigh the negatives.

Readers: How would you engage with a video ad that played automatically?

Graphs courtesy of AgoraPulse. Mobile screenshot image courtesy of Inside Facebook. Main image courtesy of Shutterstock.