Abid Hussain Barlaskar

"Marketers have a long way to go": Facebook's Sunita GR on 10-seconders

We spoke to Facebook India's marketing head on the platform's 'Thumbstoppers' initiative of telling crisp brand stories in short, vertical and mobile-first video formats.

Launched in May 2019, Facebook's Thumbstoppers is a ten-second-long vertical video ad format. The social media platform partnered with leading ad agencies and brands in India for the program. Most recently, Facebook got filmmaker Kiran Rao to create a couple of sub-ten-second video stories, examples of the Thumbstoppers initiative. While one of the ads was about domestic violence, the other was about deep-rooted gender inequality in India.

"Marketers have a long way to go": Facebook's Sunita GR on 10-seconders

Thumbstoppers: Domestic violence

"Marketers have a long way to go": Facebook's Sunita GR on 10-seconders

Thumbstoppers: Gender inequality

So why 'vertical', 'short' and 'mobile'? Also, we have seen ultra-short, seconds-long ads on social which are usually squeezed and trimmed versions of longer ad formats. Both the ads directed by Rao end with the note - "It takes a few seconds to show change."

We spoke to Sunita GR, head of marketing, Facebook India.

Edited Excerpts

Why is the ten-second vertical format a thing for today's advertising?

Mobile has fundamentally transformed consumer behaviour; people consume as well as recall content faster on mobile. With declining attention spans, one has just a few precious seconds to get the consumer's attention. If content doesn't interest them quickly, they will scroll their thumbs, and move on. The story arch and design of traditional advertising formats is different from mobile advertising. In traditional formats, dialogues are key, they are shot in 16:9, with the brand and message often landing towards the end. What makes mobile storytelling unique is that consumers' attention needs to be grabbed early with upfront branding and messaging. It is experienced best when served in vertical, has to be designed for sound-off, and is a delight with sound-on. With mobile penetration and consumption becoming more ubiquitous, there has emerged an ardent need for marketers and creative agencies to create mobile-first ads - ads that are built for mobile and not merely adapted from other formats. The purpose of advertising is to evoke an emotion and change human behaviour towards a brand or a cause, and what we are saying is that it can be done in a few seconds for mobile. The industry needs to embrace the possibility that stories that stop thumbs from scrolling, evoke emotions, and change human behaviour can be told in under ten seconds. That is the premise of Facebook Thumbstoppers - Short stories move hearts.

What does it say about the consumer?

People have short attention spans. What marketers and creative agencies need to know is that shorter attention spans don’t imply that people have stopped seeking meaningful connections on mobile phones - they are just seeking it faster.

Squeezing existing ads vs creating new.... your suggestion.

Short mobile video ads have to be an integral part of the creative asset repertoire. Some brands have adapted existing assets to mobile and some brands have created campaigns designed for mobile. But there is a long way to go for every marketer to embrace this. When we trim a television edit down to a ten-second mobile video ad, we are focusing on merely the duration and not storytelling. Moreover, we are ignoring a host of consumer behaviour that is specific to mobile video consumption. Television edits cannot become Thumbstoppers because they are built for the television audience and not for the mobile video audience who are seeking a meaningful connection to the brand or the ad in the first few seconds. The marketing and the creative community needs to create for the mobile rather than use an edit from a long-form video.

Why was India considered fertile ground (consumers/advertisers/agencies)?

Rising smartphone penetration and the reduction in data prices together make India one of the largest online markets in the world. With more Indians coming online, including in semi-urban and rural India, video has emerged as the preferred choice of content consumption that traverses limitations of literacy.

The gap that between consumer trends and where the industry is at makes Thumbstoppers relevant. The consumer has moved to mobile, spending up to three hours a day there as per some industry estimates, but the advertising and marketing community is yet to move whole-heartedly to mobile-first advertising. That’s the reason why we’ve partnered with the leading creative agencies.

What does the Kiran Rao partnership bring to the table?

The two films Kiran Rao has made on two of the most glaring societal truths - gender inequality and domestic violence against women - duly speak for themselves. She has brought alive the power of storytelling on mobile by understanding the consumer behaviour on mobile as well as by understanding what works for the medium to land these powerful films.

We are absolutely thrilled that she has chosen to return to film direction after eight years with stories that are built for the mobile-first audience. She has brought alive the power of storytelling on mobile by understanding the consumer behaviour on mobile as well as what works for the medium to land incredibly powerful films. From the canvas of cinema to that of mobile, it is easy to tell a story as long as one designs it with the medium in mind.

Marketers react:

"Marketers have a long way to go": Facebook's Sunita GR on 10-seconders

Shruti Samant

Shruti Samant, head of digital marketing for the health vertical of a leading FMCG company, says, "If the content is relevant and exciting, the message can be delivered in five seconds too. Today, customers lack the patience for long ads unless there is enough inquisitiveness built up or there's a big pull towards the ad. Short formats allow simple but direct communication without intruding. While consuming content on the internet for leisure or an objective, customers don't want to get unnecessarily influenced. The ten-second ads serve a great purpose both for marketers and customers."

When asked if short formats worry her, Samant says, "Absolutely not. They are wonderful for consumers, take the least bit of time and create curiosity. Short ads don't make customers want to scratch their heads, unlike long-format unskippable ads. It is a common scenario on OTT platforms. Anywhere you go, you are reminded of what you didn't end up buying or even worse, shown what you least want to see. As a customer, you are thinking twice before even attempting a search online. The crisp interactive ad formats can not only be used on digital platforms but also on GDN (Google Display Network) ad spaces or as native ads instead of the usual static/gif banners."

"Marketers have a long way to go": Facebook's Sunita GR on 10-seconders

Anirudh Pandharkar

Anirudh Pandharkar, CMO, VIP Industries, says, "The quality of content matters more than the duration. Sometimes a ten-second ad film can also convey the same message that a video of the same duration delivers. Thus, if you know the brand and the audience, you can hit the right nerve in ten seconds. Facebook is an important platform to bring your brand into the limelight. If you have the right message, it can create an impact even in a short span of time."