In June, Snapchat announced that more than two-thirds of its video ads are viewed with the sound on. This announcement was considered a not-so-subtle jab at competitor Facebook’s track record on sound; 85% of the social network’s ads are viewed with sound off and captions on.
Given that sound and video have been ubiquitously intertwined since the Roaring Twenties, Facebook’s lack of ad sound is stark. Nevertheless, soundlessness has become so endemic to Facebook that the company urges advertisers to take captions into account for their videos. Brands like Hotels.com have launched ads that poke fun at this quality.
Why have Facebook’s ads regressed to a time before sound, but Snapchat’s have not? Here are four factors:
1. Snapchat’s users are in a more receptive state of mind for ads.
People use Snapchat primarily to view “funny things,” according to a study by the University of Washington. With this motivation, an ad will find users in a state of mind that is much kinder to advertisements. In contrast, Facebook is primarily used to provide and check updates among one’s friends and family. A 2014 survey of Facebook users found that “seeing entertaining/funny posts” was only the third-greatest Facebook motivation among women and fourth among men. For marketers, this is troublesome, as people are less receptive to ads when they are focused on sharing updates within their social circles. Ad sound can be interpreted as an intrusion into personal conversations among family and friends.
2. Facebook is used more at work than is Snapchat.
Facebook is more commonly used at work than Snapchat. In fact, Facebook is the most-used social network for work, beating out LinkedIn, employer-provided networks, other and Twitter. As such, video with sound will be particularly unwelcome to workers not seeking to interrupt their colleagues or give their boss the impression they’re slacking off. Snapchat, unburdened by work-related use, is more likely to be used in situations when sound will be less disruptive.
3. Facebook must accommodate a desktop user base.
Another reason Facebook users watch video with the sound off is because sound is more difficult to toggle on desktop than mobile. Snapchat, meanwhile, is currently isolated from the rest of the web; it’s central to the app’s appeal. As a result, its user interface is much simpler compared to other social networks that must accommodate navigation with a traditional mouse and keyboard. With the flick of their finger, Snapchat users can digest quick bouts of content, stopping and starting videos with ease. This is more conducive to sound than more complicated interfaces.
4. Snapchat’s ads are click-to-play.
Perhaps most importantly, all Facebook video is autoplay by default. This may be due to Facebook’s insistence that 3 seconds is a view, and videos are more likely get to that point if users have no choice of when it starts. Having sound on by default, however, would be a bridge too far for users. Even in 2009, four years before Facebook introduced autoplay video, 70% of web users disliked ads playing sound with no prior warning. Snapchat ads, on other hand, are click-to-play, implying those who view them are genuinely interested in their content. This simple difference between Facebook and Snapchat’s videos leads to increased user engagement with ads, sound and all.
At a time when consumers are installing ad blockers in record amounts, marketers are being challenged to find the best ways to engage audiences. Without sound, video ads lose the music, dialogue and much of the emotional resonance that make them such a unique medium for brands.
This stark difference in sound for ads between Snapchat and Facebook is a teachable moment for marketers. Sound in video has been a staple for a century, and because of Facebook users’ state of mind, location, desktop use and the site’s pre-roll video have, in some ways, forced them to revert. Snapchat’s success in sound can be an indication of where the future of advertising is heading.