Marketers Are Slowly Experimenting With Audio in Their Snapchat and Facebook Videos

Though most are still viewed without sound

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For the past year or so, Facebook has conditioned advertisers and publishers to create video that can be understood without sound, as more clips that play automatically (and silently) when users scroll fill news feeds.

With 100 million hours of video viewed every day and the explosion of autoplay and live video outside of Facebook, the push for muted clips has been widely pitched by social platforms and ad-tech companies alike. So, it is a bit surprising that Snapchat claimed earlier this month that two-thirds of its 10 billion daily video views are viewed with the sound on, the app's default setting.

Droga5, for one, says that up to 95 percent of its ads are viewed without audio, so like other agencies, it's experimenting with captions, voiceovers and plugging brands' messages into the first three seconds of clips. Still, change is always hard, particularly when it comes to changing the creative process behind long-form ads with big, overarching story arcs.

"We're seeing as little as 5 percent video views with sound, prompting some of our more social-leaning clients to mandate that we adopt the practice of producing videos without sound," said Brian Nguyen, group communications strategy director at Droga5. "However, there is still some resistance, especially when promoting longer-form content. Facebook is one of the few platforms outside of YouTube where we can promote long-form content with paid support and people will watch."

That approach is a complete departure from Snapchat, where "sound is a major consideration," according to Nguyen, since shorter ads rely equally on visuals and audio to hook viewers into watching full clips.

"It's also important to note that the nature of Snapchat, in terms of user-experience, plays into the prominence of sound on the platform," Nguyen noted. "Users on Snapchat simply expect sound whereas on Facebook they don't."

Specifically, audio cues and voiceovers are crucial on Snapchat, and the agency uses the app's vertical formats to create ads in which the talent looks straight at the viewer when speaking. "The words 'epic' and 'attention-grabbing' to describe the audio have been included on more than a few Snapchat creative briefs I've worked on," Nguyen said.

Plus, using Snapchat's plethora of colorful stickers, filters and other add-ons that are practically an inherient language for the the app's core group of teens and millennials helps.

"You want the video to feel native, so it's important to make creative use of text, drawing and sticker overlay functions—get to the point and don't bury the lead," said Jill Sherman, svp of social strategy at DigitasLBi.

On the other hand, Amy Peterman, vp of paid social strategy at 360i, said there hasn't been interest from advertisers to create audio-specific creative for Snapchat. Instead, the digital shop is noticing more subtitles and Facebook-like features coming to Snapchat.

Last week, Netflix ran a sponsored story to promote the new season of Orange Is the New Black with text that read, "Busted! Swipe up to see an exclusive clip from Season 4." Toggling a phone's speakers off prompted subtitles to pop up.

"It's a pretty smart move to make the content reactive to the user habits," said Peterman.

That doesn't mean brands should port their Facebook captions to Snapchat, though.

"In both cases, you typically need some level of subtitle that helps describe what is going on," said Kyle Bunch, managing director of social at R/GA. Pithy text tends to work better on the messaging app.

While a two-minute speech may require every word to be subtitled, one or two words may get the point across in a 10-second Snapchat video.

Still other agencies are sticking with soundless video across the board for every platform.

"Unless we felt that the content we're creating is so desirable that someone would save it to view later, we are currently directing toward audio-free," said Deutsch's vp and digital strategy director Rachel Mercer.

Or, as Bunch puts it, agencies still need to "design for the lowest common denominator." In other words, marketers can't assume that everyone watches video the same way.

"If people are listening to audio, great," he said. "But we don't want to take something like our advertiser or brand message and have it exclusively live in voiceover, even if the numbers are really good of people listening to ads on Snapchat—we know there is going to be a percentage of people who aren't, and we don't want something to get lost."

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