Video ads: Which social-media network rules?

From Activision's "Call of Duty" trailer on Instagram.
From Activision's "Call of Duty" trailer on Instagram.

Platforms are offering new options to brands, but all video advertising isn't created equal

This year, social media started making serious money. Facebook has been posting record earnings, Twitter turned a profit for the first time, and Tumblr isn't far behind.

Much of its success has been thanks to concerted efforts by social-media platforms to court advertisers by offering more user data, easier programmatic buying tools and a wide array of targeting options. Till recently, the bulk of the ads running on those networks were standard image and text units. But now, the focus has shifted increasingly to where the real money is — video.

In recent months, Facebook and Twitter have started testing video ads from a select group of advertisers and last week, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr followed by introducing their own versions of online video ads. So far, here's how all those platforms stack up against each other:


With the biggest audience and the most advanced targeting tools, Facebook is still way ahead of the other networks, and it's charging advertisers accordingly. Industry insiders report that Facebook is charging the kind of rates typically reserved for television networks. Of course Facebook could argue that no network can deliver the kind of targeted views, customer data and performance metrics that its platform can. But its high price could end up being prohibitive, especially with Twitter offering much of the same targeting capabilities at a lower price. The ads themselves have received plenty of positive attention, as they show up in users news feeds and play automatically without sound. It's the sort of less intrusive model that's been adopted by Tumblr as well, however, the auto-play feature tends to inflate video views, something advertisers need to keep in mind when looking at Facebook's performance figures.


Unlike Facebook, Twitter will be selling its video ads on a cost-per-view basis, which is considerably cheaper. In addition, it offer advanced targeting tools and it is increasingly seen as the place for real-time marketing opportunities, instead of Facebook. It might not have the huge reach Facebook has, but arguably, it make a better pitch for advertisers, especially for visual entertainment brands such as movies, TV shows and sporting events. 


If Twitter is ideal for real-time marketing opportunities for TV shows and sports, Tumblr is the platform for "the day after" marketing. Tumblr comprises small, highly engaged communities that congregate around very specific interests, and the key for advertisers is tapping into those communities with native content. That's why the video ads on Tumblr are likely to be less polished, but organic to the conversations they are shown in. Like Facebook, the ads play automatically without sound unless you click on them, but unlike Facebook, it only counts as a view after you click on the ad and it plays for more than two seconds. However, there's only a basic level of targeting available on Tumblr, since users don't give up as much information to use the platform. Advertisers do however have an incentive to to run content on Tumblr, since its back end is developed by Yahoo, who can also run those same ads across its other sites.


Instagram has been the most cautious about introducing ads on its platform, working only with a handful of initial advertisers and strictly monitoring the content shown. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom has been extremely vocal about not letting ads ruin the Instagram experience for users, making sure they look extremely native and can surprise and delight users much the same way as any other good content on the platform. It currently offers limited targeting options like age and location, but with Facebook's backing, you can bet it'll start getting better in that department.


Snapchat has adopted the most laid-back attitude toward its video ads. Video ads only show up as a link in users "Recent Updates," and you can choose to click them or not. Once you view an ad, it disappears. That's great for users, but with no targeting options (Tthat would be super creepy," says Snapchat) these ads offer little to advanced advertisers. However, it's still in the pilot stage, so you can expect Snapchat to respond to advertiser's demands as it steps up its revenue generating game.

So which platform is best for advertisers? In terms of reach, targeting and price, Twitter currently looks like the most attractive option for regular brand advertisers. And despite Facebook having started its advertising program far earlier than Twitter's, the latter platform has caught up fast, and making a much more concerted effort to be advertiser friendly. 

However, no matter which network you choose to place your ads on, a few common principles apply. Dayna Moon, social media director at the digital agency 3Q Digital, says good content will be rewarded on every platform; nevertheless, there are a few other things advertisers need to keep in mind.

"Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr audiences skew young, and advertisers must keep that in mind when creating and executing campaigns," Moon says. "At least 80 percent of the time, users are accessing these channels on the their mobile devices, presenting advertisers with another hurdle of connectivity (WiFi) as they try to capture attention in an environment that moves with the speed of all 6 and soon to be 7 'The Fast and the Furious' films."

This story first appeared on The Hub.

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