Scouts to Snapchat: Ad Formats Evolve to Mobile



Over half a century before American Idol and The Voice reinvented the singing competition, there was Arthur Godfrey’s Talent ScoutsA mix of variety, talk and comedy, Talent Scouts was broadcast on CBS from 1948-58 and was a ratings winner.

“Ratings” is a relative concept. Fewer than 100,000 US households had a television set in 1948. While a minuscule audience by today’s standards, advertisers clearly thought TV was a medium worth investing in. Talent Scout’smain sponsor was Lipton Tea, a long-time relationship carried over from Arthur Godfrey’s 2o years as a radio broadcaster.

Radio’s influence on early television is obvious. Godfrey sits at a desk behind a large announcer’s mic, and his on-camera presence is best described as “laid back”, especially compared with today’s TV hosts. This is unsurprising as networks were just beginning to comprehend the power of TV as a visual medium, rather than simply as radio with pictures.

As the number of TV households exploded to 52m by 1960, both programming and advertising became more sophisticated. New technologies were introduced, but adoption was sometimes uneven. The first color TV broadcast was in 1954, but it wasn’t until 1972 that the last black and white show went off-air.

We’re in a similar transition period today as advertisers grapple with digital and mobile channels alongside traditional television. The 30 and 60 second TV commercial is still for now the dominant video ad unit. Although digital ad spend will overtake TV next year, billions worth of airtime was pre-sold at the Upfronts last week.

Advertisers believe that nothing beats the impact and reach of a high-production value, widescreen TV commercial placed in a high-rating show. Watch the NBA playoffs this week and you’ll see the state-of-the-art in slick visual communication. Even Slack, a born-digital unicorn with no salespeople, is on air with a new commercial.

Because these spots cost millions to produce, brands reuse creative across digital channels like YouTube. Just like the first television ads were essentially radio on TV, digital ads are repurposed from the big screen. This works fine for PC and even tablet, but on mobile, it can be found wanting.

Progress is being made however. While there’s debate around the natural way to watch video on a mobile (horizontal or vertical), brands are beginning to experiment with the latter. Snapchat’s 100m+ daily active users are in the vertical camp, and the industry is taking note. Snapchat created a standard called 3V (vertical/video/views) and early adopter marketers like Intel, Universal Pictures and Hungry Jacks are embracing it.

Vertical video screenshots from Hungry Jack’s, the Aussie Burger King 👍🏼

While these efforts are nascent, it’s great to see the brands exploring what can be done with vertically-oriented video. Like the transition from radio to TV, creators begin by using the conventions of the previous format. With time and experience, a new set of standards develop for the medium, both creatively and technically. For example, shorter formats like 6 and 10 second spots could be optimized by pre-loading onto handsets instead of streaming.

Is vertical the future of mobile video? It has to be a a larger part of media budgets for 2016 and beyond. The average Snapchat user is on the platform for 30 minutes a day, and that won’t be the only place that makes sense for 3V. New implementations are emerging that make sense for vertical e.g. lock screens and wallpapers. Brands go where the audiences are, and vertical video is becoming part of the mainstream media landscape.

Mark Adams is CEO of Incoming Media, a startup increasing ARPU and engagement for mobile operators. Like this and follow me for regular updates on mobile, media and the video value chain