A massive shift to video is underway — and it’s not just the editorial side of the publisher house. Publishers’ branded content operations are also rushing headlong into video.

As the video space becomes more saturated, the question is: What can brands and agencies do to take advantage of this shift that that will engage their audiences? What works, what doesn’t, and what makes digital video so different from TV ads?

To find out, we looked at the data.

We paired our proprietary branded content benchmarks data with analytics from the top 50 most-viewed branded videos of Q3 2017 on Brandtale. We then built a comprehensive look at what's been happening in branded content, and what brands and agencies can expect in for 2018.

What has become clear is how branded video is diverging from traditional linear TV due to the nature of how it is consumed.

Some of our biggest findings were:

  • All 50 of the top viewed videos were published on Facebook - no other platform matters for branded content
  • The average running time is just under 2 minutes
  • The biggest category is food and drink, but other categories had surprising performance
  • Audio is pretty much irrelevant 
  • There are some interesting differences between other video formats to consider

Here’s a closer look at we found, and what this means for brands investing in branded video.

They’re all on Facebook.

Seriously. All 50 of the most-viewed branded videos were published on Facebook, even though Brandtale pulls videos from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other web platforms.

Just look at the most-viewed video: a DIY banana berry smoothie video from Chobani and BuzzFeed’s Tasty.

 

Again, this influx of videos on Facebook might not be too surprising (though we were certainly surprised that 100% of the top videos were published there). Facebook is banking hard on video and viewers are tuning in. It should be noted, however, that there’s been some controversy around their metrics system. Facebook counts a view after just three seconds of watching; YouTube counts a view after 30 seconds of watching.

That’s why some took these numbers with a grain of salt: In 2015, Facebook was reported to be driving 8 billion average daily video views, and in 2016 it was reported that Facebook users collectively watched 100 million hours of video each day on the platform.

Still, if you’re looking to get eyes on your videos, it’s hard to argue against the importance of creating video for Facebook, which hosts over 2 billion monthly active users. And there are a few strategies both brands and agencies commissioning branded videos as well as producing their own can use to make sure their videos perform on the platform. For instance, they can create square videos (1:1) instead of landscape videos (16:9). Square videos work better on mobile because they fill up 78% more of the screen than landscape videos do.

And you want your Facebook videos to be easy to view on mobile; in 2016, 92% of Facebook users accessed the platform via mobile, and more than half of all video views also happen on mobile.

This success of square video also shows in the Brandtale data: 7 of top 10 and 31 of top 50 branded videos of Q3 2017 were in square format.

They’re 1-2 minutes long.

The average running time of the top 10 videos is 70 seconds. And nine of the top 10 are under 90 seconds. Interestingly, running times increase as we make our way down the top 50 list; the average running time of the top 50 videos is 117 seconds or just about 2 minutes.

This lines up with Wistia’s findings that two minutes is the sweet spot for videos. Longer than that, and engagement starts to drop significantly.

Average Engagement vs. Video Length Graph

This is also longer than the sweet spot for TV ads, which is 30 seconds according to the World Advertising Research Center.

Consider this video from Samsung Mobile and NowThis. It’s only 46 seconds long and it accrued over 13 million views.

 

It’s interesting that brands can fit more content into their online videos than their TV ads. Perhaps this is because a Facebook video like this one isn’t necessarily seen as an ad or an interruption. It’s seen as the content. It’s the TV show and the commercial wrapped into one package.

They fall into a few verticals.

Food is by far the most popular content category among these branded videos. Seven of the top 10 and 20 of the top 50 include some sort of food, drink, or recipe. They often share a new way to use a traditional product and DIY instructions for making a dish.

Again, they’re largely under a minute long, like this video from McCormick and Food Network about making the perfect cheese sauce.

 

There’s an interesting distinction between digital video and TV ads here. On Facebook, food videos are mesmerizing and great templates for branded content. Meanwhile on TV, people don't normally get excited about CPG ads unless they are funny, very expensive, primetime commercials. That is, you don’t really see full commercials showing a whole recipe or DIY meal prep. But as the Brandtale data proves, Facebook users are more than willing to stop scrolling for these videos and tune in.

This lines up with SimpleReach’s branded content benchmark data for 2017, which found that the median level social referrals for food and drink branded articles is twice the average for all content types, and higher than every other vertical except for sports. This supports the argument that food and drink branded content drives traffic via social.

SimpleReach also found that top keywords for food and drink branded articles include “cheese,” “chicken,” and “cream.” Just look at the top 10 videos on Brandtale, which contain videos in each of these categories. There’s a video about making the perfect cheese sauce, creating a chicken caprese salad, and getting a taste of Thai icea cream.

The big takeaway here is that food brands shouldn’t map their TV ad content onto digital video. They should see branded video as a way to find alternative formats of content that are engaging.

But food brands aren’t the only ones that can learn from this.

Other popular categories include:

  • Animals: 9 of the top 50
 

These videos usually include DIY projects for your pet/pet-friendly home or informative videos about pet adoption and animals around the world. For instance, the above video from Rachael Ray’s Nutrish pet food brand isn’t like a typical pet food commercial. It doesn’t show a dog running in the park or a cat feasting over a pretty dish. Instead it’s one minute of how to build an in-home recreation area for your cat.

With branded video, there’s more room to play with ideas like this one. There’s more room to inform and entertain instead of just sell.

  • Travel/culture: 9 of the top 50
 

Travel videos typically profile interesting people around the world who are doing cool things and seeing cool places. For example, this video from Korean Air combines two pieces of Korean culture into one: K-pop and Taekwondo. Unlike a TV commercial, it doesn’t just tell people to choose their airline. It tells them, “Here are some awesome pieces of our culture. We want to share them with you.”

They don’t rely on audio.

None of the top 10 videos relies on audio to convey their stories. They subscribe to the adage, “Show, don’t tell.” To be clear, all of these videos do have sound but it’s negligible, like background music or noise. This no-audio trend makes sense, as Facebook by default auto-plays without sound.

Just look at this video from Bank of America and Bon Appétit Magazine. It takes viewers across “Shanghai's neon-colored streets to find some of the best food in the city.” With sound, viewers can hear the hustle and bustle of the Shanghai streets. But they don’t need the sound to enjoy the video. It’s also aided by subtitles explaining the food at the street market.

 

If there is expository dialogue in the video, it’s also often complemented with subtitles. For instance, 21 of the top 50 videos have expository dialogue. They all contain some type of subtitle or caption to aid the video, but only 15 of them contain actual transcriptions of the dialogue.

Take this video from TruTV and College Humor, which explains the financial manipulation behind fine art:

 

If people are viewing on their mobile devices, on-the-go, or at work, it’s often easier to view things without sound. As Digiday found, 85% of Facebook videos are viewed without sound. And according to Facebook, captioned video ads increase view times by 12%.

This is different from TV once again, where it often seems like it's a fight to have the loudest and most ear-grabbing ad. On Facebook, brands are challenged to find things that are most visually interesting about their products and messages.

They educate instead of promote.

The most-viewed videos don’t just sell products; they provide value to the consumer through education or entertainment. They aim to show viewers something they’ve never seen before, help them improve their lives, or share new ways to use a familiar product. Instead of inspiring viewers to say, “Hey, I should buy that product,” they’re first and foremost about inspiring viewers to say, "Hey, that's pretty cool" or "I never thought about it that way."

Some brands don’t even sponsor videos about their industries. For instance, Dunkin' Donuts sponsored a video on Business Insider about an inflatable "bull-ride" pool float. The only ad message was a card in the middle and at the end that said "Stay Cool" this summer with Dunkin' Frozen Coffee.

 

This isn’t too surprising, and actually a bit like TV. Sure, Dunkin’ Donuts might not run a TV ad about how it’s coffee is cultivated and brewed. But it would probably show people hanging out, having a good time, and using its product, as with the pool float video.

Final thoughts

Branded video is one of the biggest trends in advertising heading into 2018. There’s a major opportunity for brands to branch away from their TV ad content and reach an engaged audience of digital video viewers. This is especially true on Facebook, where native video is pushed to the top of people’s feeds, and brands are already jumping on board with publishers who have the ability to tap into large audiences, particularly in some particular verticals.

But it’s important to be smart about your strategy if you want to cut through the noise. As the Brandtale data shows, it’s best to keep videos around 1-2 minutes long, educate instead of promote, and not rely on audio. And hey, if you can incorporate food, drinks, or recipes into your videos, that’s undeniably the hot ticket to gaining views right now.

About the author:

Amanda Walgrove covers content marketing, social media, and digital tech, and has written for Facebook, American Express, Advertising Week, ShareThis, and A&E Networks, among others.

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