Facebook Auto-Play Video Ads Will Work, And You Might Even Like Them

Auto-Play Facebook Video Ads

Back when Facebook first started discussing the possibility of auto-play video ads nearly a year ago (!!), I thought it was a terrible idea. And I’m someone who has been using Facebook since 2007 and tends to keep an open mind.

The backlash to something that doesn’t even exist yet was huge. We didn’t know how it would work, but we already hated it. As a result, Facebook did something they rarely do: They allowed the negative reaction to redirect their launch plans.

While I think it’s important to listen to the consumer, I’ve also admired that Facebook will often push through the negative reactions in the name of innovation.

Facebook should learn from feedback. But the public is also generally averse to change, and initial reactions are rarely a good indicator of what users will think of that change months down the road. Facebook has innovated by understanding that, sometimes, people don’t know what they like.

So that just shows how significant this backlash — again to something that doesn’t even exist yet — was. As a result, those auto-play ads won’t be rolled out in 2013, and there’s no immediate plan for when you will see them.

But you will see them. The groundwork has been laid with auto-play user video. It’s now just a matter of time.

The following is an excerpt from an interview by InsideFacebook’s Justin Lafferty with James Borow, CEO of Facebook Strategic Preferred Marketing Developer SHIFT. It underscores my current stance (and backtrack) on auto-play video ads.

IF: I know the big thing with video is auto-play video. Facebook has kept pushing back, pushing back, pushing back. It’s assumed that we’re going to see this at some point in 2014. What kind of effect do you think this will have both on the user experience and for advertisers?

JB: I don’t think it will be auto-play in the sense of being a bad experience. I think it’s going to be more like scrolling through Vine or Instagram. Your feed is going to become alive based on what you’ve interacted with. I think it’s going to be awesome, and it’s not going to be just for ads. Similar to Vine — as you scroll through, the News Feed will come alive. It’s like the newspaper in the Harry Potter movies.

I think from a user standpoint, it’s going to be great and then from an advertiser standpoint, it’s going to lead to incredible profit.

A few months ago, I would have scoffed at this like everyone else. But Borow is right.

It turns out that this delay was the right move. In fact, I’m convinced that when these auto-play video ads are finally rolled out, you won’t even care. You may even like them (whether you’ll admit it or not).

Here’s why…

You’ve Already Proven to Love Auto-Play Video

When Facebook first started talking about auto-play video ads, it was a concept that was difficult to visualize for most of us. If you’re like me, you expected something that took over the page and completely destroyed the user experience.

We think that because of what we see on sales pages and websites that have auto-play audio and video. It’s incredibly annoying for those of us who have multiple tabs and browsers open and can’t find a source of that sound.

But since the initial discussion of auto-play ads, something important happened: Vine and Instagram video exploded.

If you haven’t used either of these services (you’ll soon be in the minority), video automatically plays on your phone as you scroll through your feed. But they don’t all play at once. Only the current video is displayed. When you scroll past, the experience moves to the next video.

And you know what? It works well. And people love it.

Auto-Play Video is Happening on Facebook, and It’s Awesome

Have you noticed? Auto-play videos from your friends have already started when viewing from your phone.

This is not at all what I expected. It’s a seamless experience. Audio does not play, so it does not interrupt or annoy my browsing. If the initial few seconds of a video interest you, click it to bring up a video viewer with audio.

Guess what? I welcome this on my phone. It’s inviting. And I’m much more likely to watch a video as a result.

Auto-Play Video Will Come to Brands

So, why isn’t this capability rolled out to brands yet? Pretty obvious. The minute that happens, they can immediately be turned into ads.

Facebook determined that users weren’t ready for that yet. But in the meantime, we’re being warmed up to it through Vine, Instagram and auto-play videos from our friends on the Facebook app.

This functionality will come to brands. And by then, it will be functionality we’ll be accustomed to seeing.

When that happens, you will be more likely to click and watch those videos. And it will be enormously effective, when used correctly.

We’ve been bracing ourselves for the worst, but — in all likelihood — the only difference between an auto-play video ad and an organic auto-play video from a brand will be the “Sponsored” label. Will you hate some auto-play video ads? Absolutely. Just like you hate some organic content and many of the ads that are horribly done.

It really doesn’t matter if it’s an organic video from the Page you like or an ad. When done well, users will embrace them. When done poorly, they will be marked as spam.

Will users revolt and leave Facebook in droves? When initially announced, I saw this as a possibility. But now, thanks to Facebook holding off while we unknowingly get warmed up to it, I expect this won’t be such a big deal after all.

What Do You Think?

Here is what I said about the prospects of auto-video ads back in December of 2012:

Not only do people hate auto-play, but apparently, this will be available for advertisers to target non-fans in the news feed. It’s a recipe for disaster. There has been all kinds of blowback from non-fans over suggested posts and promoted posts. Can you imagine the response to auto-play video? Unlikely to be worth it to the advertiser.

Of course, there’s still plenty we don’t know about how this will work — whether audio will play automatically or not. But based on what I know, I just don’t see any positive angle to this.

Is it possible that auto-play video would be effective? Sure, it’s possible. But my bet is that this will be one of the rare occasions where backlash will be warranted and Facebook will pull back — potentially before it even happens. A new video ad unit could be a nice opportunity for advertisers. But auto-play — particularly in the news feeds of non-fans — is too much.

I’ve done a complete 180 since then, at least regarding whether I think they will work. I was on the right track here regarding audio. It was true we didn’t know the full story yet. And I even nearly predicted the launch delay.

But I did not expect to embrace the idea nearly one year later the way I do today. Now I can’t wait.

What do you think? Do you support or oppose the idea of auto-play video ads on Facebook, and has your opinion changed?

  • Jeenfer Wilson

    Would not be a bad inclusion to Facebook. But as a marketer you should have your video dead right or people will be quick to mark as spam!

  • João Barbosa

    Has anyone considered the costs for the user in mobile internet subscriptions?

    • http://www.theclothingbroker.com/ Valerie

      They might only play on wifi initially. Just how you can advertise on mobile/wifi only.

      • João Barbosa

        Maybe. But I don’t see a reference to that anywhere. And you said it yourself… “initially”

  • http://xpedrooliveirax.wordpress.com/ Pedro Oliveira

    Thank you for the touch Jon. Be original to me is the first thing after launch any thing or a appl, brand …
    to me is a great idea and step the FB launch the auto – play videos ads for many reasons.

    The companys in this auto-play videos ads only have and can win, of couse there are the reverse too but for sure the time can deal with this “some auto video-play not goods”.

    Have a great weakend all.

  • Eran Malloch

    Hi Jon,

    I liked the concept of it looking like the newspaper (moving pics) from Harry Potter.

    Puts a different (fun, interesting, unexpected, etc.) perspective on it. :-)

    Thanks for the update.


  • Robert Bradford

    I have recently started to have friends videos autoplay in my newsfeed and it is awful. Either I don’t want to watch the video and am distracted by movement on the screen I wasn’t expecting or worse yet I want to watch the video and have to restart it so I can watch it with sound. If this doesn’t stop soon I won’t be using facebook.

  • Spencer

    This is going to rack up everyones phone data plans. Video’s are data-expensive to download on phones. Have fun with that. I just hope they have an option to disable it.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Auto-play video is already happening on Facebook. Are people complaining about that regarding their data plans?

      • http://twitter.com/HowieGoldfarb HowieG

        Good question. I doubt it will affect data plans because social is still a small time sink for us vs other activities. And if we are streaming netflix or youtube (a much bigger time sink) we already are affected.

        • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

          Facebook has also added the option to auto-play only when connected via wi-fi.

    • http://www.qcmny.com Jeseph Meyers

      You are also able to disable auto play when you are not connected to wi-fi

  • Warren g. hardon

    IT’S AWESOME???? Jon is a digital marketing consultant, of course he would say that because that’s his job. As i sit here and type this an advertisement widget shows to the bottom right saying “book a time with me let’s talk though your strategy and obstacles that keep you from optimizing your facebook marketing efforts” Just as quickly as it appeared, it was added to my adblock custom filters and now its gone. Don’t worry people, in a few days FBP (facebook purity) will have a fix in place for this nuisance and you will be able to have things back the way YOU like them and not the way the sheeple like them. “If you like your old faebook timeline, oops i mean health plan, you can keep it” Nuff said.

  • Claire Chesneau

    If it moves, my readers will watch it. If it is colourful, musical and short, they will share it. If only it smelt of catnip then……

  • http://twitter.com/HowieGoldfarb HowieG

    Hi Jon

    I am just amazed that the value these networks are trying to convince brands on is push advertising. Something anathema to social media. It actually devalues the channels in my view. Talking with customers is what is the golden egg not showing another video or banner ad. We already get that everywhere on the web and TV. As an investor I would be worried that when the newness wears off and brands see low success rates they will pull back. It will be good for users. Verizon doesn’t give me a free phone so they can interrupt my talk with a friend with an ad. They make me pay for their service. And that is where social is missing out. As interpersonal communication technologies we are willing to pay for. And it will be the demise of many networks. As Ben Kunz once blog posted all networks eventually die. Or they get consumed like SMS is now part of your phone vs a stand alone pager.

    I don’t use Facebook much for personal use and don’t use the mobile app. So this isn’t a big deal for me and most small businesses won’t be participating anyway. So will be curious to see how successful this becomes.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Personally, I think we’re making a bigger deal of this than it is. It’s auto-play video — whether brands are using it or not. If users like and engage with auto-play video from their friends (and I think they will and probably already are), they are likely to engage with well-done video from brands (with the emphasis on well-done). Just as the best commercial status update is usually the one that is conversational and doesn’t stick out in the News Feed as not belonging, the same will be true of video (regardless of whether it is an ad).

      We’ll see. Like anything else, user behavior will decide.

      Thanks for the great thoughts!

  • Kathie O.

    These ads are a PAIN IN THE NECK, especially when you’re doing something you need to concentrate on. Here you are working, concentrating and a damn ad shows up in the bottom right corner. If you have multiple screens open you have to search for which one has the ad so you can kill it. You can’t even kill some of the ads. How can I block them? They are sponsored by http://www.arcadeparlor.com. I’ve blocked them, but they still keep happening.

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