Not so long ago, it was taboo to turn horizontal video on its head, as marketers grappled with doing more for mobile than merely refitting TV spots for smaller screens.
But today, vertical video, once seen as a Snapchat anomaly, is gaining traction and providing publishers and advertisers with perhaps another way to win over the ever-growing mobile audience—with some 163.7 million Americans owning smartphones by the end of this year, per eMarketer.
Virool, a programmatic video distribution company, is planning a vertical video ad unit called Vertical Reveal. Using a portion of the $12 million in venture capital it recently raised, the San Francisco-based firm is betting on a format that, as Virool CEO Alex Debelov and many others have noted, best matches up with how we hold our mobile devices day-to-day.
"We're excited because in the last 18 months, Snapchat has been a lone wolf in this fight, but we now have the opportunity to really make this the new standard," he said. "So our vision is that over the next year, this will become something you will see everywhere, and that will provide a much better advertiser and user experience."
One of the first brands to sign on with Virool is DJI, a Chinese drone manufacturer that also recently started making handheld cameras. It will start running ads in the next few weeks, as Virool ramps up its vertical debut for the second quarter. Meanwhile, a European rollout is planned to coincide with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June.
"We need to be in front of [users] in some way that's not intrusive—it isn't a banner, it isn't boring," said Gabe Chan, global director of digital brands at DJI. "So vertical video seems like a very logical choice to us and to any advertiser in digital marketing now."
Rubicon Project will be the programmatic platform for Virool's new unit. "From everything that I'm seeing, we believe that there will be a lot of momentum behind this unit because of the way everyone is consuming and how marketers really want to capture that experience," said John Peragine, head of video at Rubicon Project.
Mike Foley, director of programmatic at The Daily Dot, said that his website is exploring the possibility of adding vertical video, while agency 72andSunny is starting up a studio called Hecho en 72 that will test the format.
Why are publishers and agencies getting into vertical video? In a word, Snapchat. Having garnered the most experience with the format, the platform claims that vertical video earns nine times the viewing-completion rate of horizontal video.
But the format does have its drawbacks. For example, Colleen Leddy, head of communications strategy at Droga5, noted that shooting vertically could add an extra expense for clients because it takes more time and a wholly different setup.
The added time and cost might prove to be worth it, however, considering that the time spent on vertical screens continues to increase. Mobile users last year spent at least 150 minutes per day on vertical screens, according to eMarketer.
"It's about painting to the canvas and understanding the canvas," said Pete Sena, chief creative officer at Digital Surgeons. "When you think about your iPhone, you're not turning it to the side. The medium is the message."
This story first appeared in the May 2, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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