Now That Vertical Video Is Finally Legitimate, Creatives Need to Rethink Everything

Starting with new concepts

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It's hip to be vertical. With smartphones held upright rather than sideways, such full-screen video started gaining big buzz last year as a way for Snapchat to build out an advertising business. Now, "vertical" has become the biggest buzzword in digital marketing. Periscope, Meerkat, Mashable and even YouTube have latched onto the concept, and with wider acceptance, traditional creators and designers are finding ways to adapt for video shot straight up.

It was only a few years ago that funny PSAs like 2012's Vertical Video Syndrome mocked long and narrow video, claiming that when phones are held sideways, "Your video will end up looking like crap." Today, social media is the primary way brands distribute commercials and short clips, forcing creatives to experiment.

"This is the first time in my advertising career that there's been a big, major story on aspect ratio, which is pretty interesting," said Gerry Graf, founder/chief creative officer at Barton F. Graf 9000. "If you have a real idea, you can format it any way you want, depending on where you're playing."

From launching an in-house advertising agency with WPP to signing deals with publishers like Hearst and Buzzfeed, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel has spent the past 10 months trying to persuade advertisers to run full-page video campaigns and content inside his app. Meanwhile, marketers are also experimenting with livestreaming apps Periscope and Meerkat that take advantage of full-screen video players.

The key to nailing content for the platform starts with the concept, said Graf. From there, the agency has to find new techniques to film scenes and subjects. For example, close-ups of people work well vertically.

"Whenever you're concentrating on one object, vertical works better," Graf said. "If you're trying to shoot a conversation vertically, you're wasting the space at the top."

Wasted space is particularly noticeable on Facebook and Twitter, which both play videos horizontally. As the former looks to build out a huge video platform, Facebook is reportedly creating full-screen video ads for brands.

Barton F. Graf 9000 recently came up with a clever hack for Little Caesars Pizza to show just how much space creatives are missing out on.

Indeed, video not developed with vertical in mind is one of the biggest gripes among filmmakers and production companies. Without a vertically conceived concept, video has to be shot twice, doubling production time and money.

"It's very easy for my directors that are super young to be able to quickly flip a switch and turn vertical—it's just a matter of where the idea is coming from," said Matt McLaughlin, a partner at creative studio Acres.

Sid Lee New York's head of digital Kwame Taylor-Hayford agreed, saying that if the agency were to produce content for Snapchat Discover, "The way that we're going to have to go and capture those assets will vary wildly from building something and throwing it on YouTube."

Vertical's Offline Impact

Vertical video may be getting all the buzz online, but can it become a mainstay in traditional marketing? Plenty of outdoor ads, for example, are vertically oriented.

It's possible, said Mike Daitch, group creative director at The Via Agency.

"If you're talking about Times Square billboards or bus stops, you're dealing with all kinds of different shapes and sizes," Daitch said. "I don't know if it will always be an easy solution that will capture all different possible formats, but if you're thinking vertical versus horizontal in a general aspect ratio, I do think there's a lot more room for that."

Still, don't expect to see grainy, vertical ads on TV anytime soon.

"It's like the old standard definition of a HDTV screen—you know you have those extra pixels on either side, but you're not allowed to play with it too much," Daitch said.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.