The Rule-Breaking Science behind Killer Content

Earlier in the year our Head of Strategy, Kathryn Jubrail, attended a content training day held by a large social platform with predominantly creative agencies. Below are her key thoughts and outtakes from a session, which ultimately proved that there is always an exception to the rule…

As the aforementioned social platform started working through their ‘best in class’ case studies, you could feel the uneasy movement in the audience. We were being shown a social ad that was 2 minutes long and the brand didn’t appear until the end frame.

Click here to view the ad in question

The room twitched. Hands started to rise and throats were cleared.

The problem? Most individuals sat in that room had been advised that the optimum video length was 8 seconds, and that branding should appear within the first 3. If they hadn’t learnt this from the platforms themselves, then their clients had, and enforced it with their agency.

Next up, an Apple ad from 2016. Beautifully executed and captivating, but full of copy. And yet up until a year ago, any social ad that comprised more than 20% text was penalised by Facebook.

By the fifth case study, it became evident that every single one demonstrated brilliant creativity. And some of them, but not all, creatively leveraged the format they were being played in. e.g. Hotels.com.

Slowly, in a smug wave, it dawned on the room that social ads are like all other forms of advertising: only as good as the creative idea. Yes, there are new things to learn about optimising creative in these channels, but let’s not forget that we’re still in the industry of creativity.

Unlike the 300 years of experience creating newspaper ads, or 97 years’ experience of what works in radio and 75 years in TV, we’re still learning what does and doesn’t work in social. We’re still getting to grips on what a ‘like’ means commercially, or if we can really count 3 seconds watched of a video as a ‘view’. Which means it is hard to live by a set of ‘rules’ when the platforms and their associated behaviours are still evolving.

So, what can we learn from the twitchy room of agency folk and the unfortunate social platform representative who just wanted us to get excited about their channel formats?

There were three key take-outs for me:

Without stating the obvious, the first, was that we shouldn’t lose sight of the creative idea in a sea of ‘best practises.’ So rather than the emphasis being put on creating an 8-second video, it should be on creating an inspiring / interesting / shocking / emotional / surprising video that can be any length (within reason), if like all good stories, you grab someone’s attention in the first 3-8 seconds.

The second was to use the format and its ‘restrictions’ to your advantage to push the creative execution.

And the third was we should take advantage of the fact that the platforms and their user behaviour is still evolving. As such, we should treat it as an opportunity to experiment, test and learn; the more we do, the more we’ll learn, the better we’ll become.

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