Load up the short-form mobile video streaming service Quibi, which hit 1.7 million downloads in its first week, and you’ll see ads from brands like Charmin, Taco Bell and Progressive before the shows begin. And like the programming on Quibi itself, which can be played full-screen in either portrait or landscape orientation, all of its brand partners are optimizing their spots to be viewed in either mode.
Each of Quibi’s 10 launch-year partners—which represent 22 brands overall—have opted to use the platform’s “turnstyle” format. Of the 70 unique ads on the service, 91% of them are in the turnstyle format, according to Nicole McCormack, Quibi’s head of advertising partnerships.
“I’ve been blown away with how many of them have embraced the format, even though it wasn’t something we required for launch,” McCormack said.
Some brands, like Charmin and Pepsi, are using turnstyle tech to test out new ad formats and message structures. Other turnstyle ads on Quibi repurpose creative into spots that work in both orientations.
Progressive used characters from other marketing materials to develop Quibi-specific creative that was suited for the short-form format, where ads run for no longer than 15 seconds.
“We didn’t have to start from scratch,” said Jeff Charney, Progressive’s chief marketing officer. “That advantage limited most of our changes to just making sure the speed of our storytelling matched the speed of the platform.”
It’s too early to determine early success on the platform for Progressive, but Charney said the format has allowed “for a much more immersive and interactive experience” that he thinks is conducive for the brand.
“It really works well with our existing character-based content platform, and by taking full advantage of it we’re able to show a different and cool view of our characters that can only be imagined through the lens of the turnstyle technology,” Charney said.
The different ways advertisers are trying out on the platform’s functionality is just one part of Quibi’s grand experiment, which aims to serve up professionally produced short-form programming on mobile devices, with advertisers and subscribers splitting the cost.
Quibi co-founder and CEO Meg Whitman has said she expects about 70% of Quibi users to choose the ad-supported version of the service; the platform’s 90-day free trials and year-long free Quibi subscription for some T-Mobile customers all come with the ad-supported tier, likely bolstering early ad impressions for the service’s brand partners.
However, Quibi’s debut and its work with its launch brands have been significantly upended by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, prompting dramatic shifts in consumer behavior and leaving just about every industry scrambling to adjust.
On Quibi’s ad side, that meant making room for last-minute adjustments to the spots. Quibi extended its creative deadline so brands had time to pull together alternate advertising creative; some companies swapped creative as late as a week before launch.
Brands like Google and Walmart shifted their messaging on the service to address the new reality as part of larger campaigns. Google pushed a turnstyle-capable public service announcement urging viewers to stay home and seek out more information about COVID-19 on a dedicated Google page, while Walmart’s updated creative “United Towns of America” centered on unity.
“Every brand, Quibi included, is taking it day-by-day,” McCormack said. “It’s been a mad scramble, but it’s amazing to me how well we have all transitioned.”
Progressive doubled down on making its turnstyle-capable marketing on the platform follow “quick-bite story arcs” that reflect Quibi’s own approach to programming.
“Delving into the newness of Quibi and its content is somewhat of an escape itself, so we’re trying to preserve that by making sure our content fits seamlessly into their technology platform,” Charney said. “We don’t want to jackhammer people out of that escapism, so we’re purposeful in making sure our sales and marketing messages are subtle and feel like natural extensions of Quibi’s experience.”
COVID-19 didn’t just mean extending deadlines for ad creative; it also came with broader changes in the Quibi marketing campaigns that included its brand launch partners. Quibi, which had planned major promotions around sporting events including a March Madness sponsorship, was planning for brands to get top billing at a now-canceled red carpet launch event that was to feature interactive Instagrammable build-outs, according to Meg Whitman, Quibi’s CEO.
In lieu of those initiatives, the streamer and its launch partners designed new branding opportunities with a series of Instagram Live videos that Quibi stars released in the days following launch. “We’ve had to pivot, and we’re going to have to be flexible,” Whitman said.
Quibi is using early sign-ups and free trials as the yardstick for early success; the company is also fast-tracking a feature to cast Quibi to connected TV devices as its on-the-go use case has shifted due to widespread shelter-in-place orders.
“We have a lot of learning to do as the platform launches around consumer behavior and the insights around that; what we can learn there is valuable to our advertisers,” McCormack said.
The company is focused on helping its launch partners, which comprise $150 million in ad sales for Quibi’s first year. And McCormack is already having early conversations with brands and agency partners about opportunities in 2021.
“We are hearing from other brands who are interested in understanding what we’re doing, as well as other agency partners, so we are continuing to educate and having preliminary conversations right now about Quibi with those people who are interested,” McCormack said. “The first opportunity will be April of 2021, so while we’re early in those conversations now; as the year progresses, we’ll start to have more.”