Where Facebook goes, consumers follow, and this year the social giant’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the “big theme and strategy that we’re executing is that we’re going to become video first.” What exactly this focus will mean for brands remains unclear—Facebook is still in the testing phase of Live commercials, which analysts hope will provide marketers with a long-awaited and much-needed alternative to the outdated interruption model of pre-roll ads.
One tool allows publishers to serve different ads to different consumers. In August this year, the social network started running tests of mid-roll video ads inside live video broadcasts from top publishing partners. However, a spokesperson for Facebook said it was still “too soon” to provide marketers with case studies for how Live was performing as a marketing platform.
Sean Kinmont, creative director of agency 23red, urges marketers to be patient, explaining that the jump from delayed to live broadcast is technically and logistically very difficult. This has been a key factor in its slow development and while he believes Live has not yet lived up to its promise as a platform, the opportunities it affords brands are enormous.
“Live is real, and this experience brings brands even closer to their consumers,” he explained. “The risks are in ensuring that the reach justifies the investment in technology and logistics. The problem is that live streaming requires an appointment to view.”
To date, predicting what type of content will create the ever-elusive “appointment to view” moments for brands has been challenging. Marketers would be forgiven for concluding that pointless content is the most compelling, given the examples of the most high-profile and most-watched broadcasts on social video so far. Over half a million people watched the live stream of people attempting to cross a puddle on Periscope. While, according to Facebook, BuzzFeed’s live broadcast featuring two journalists exploding a watermelon “one elastic band at a time” hit a peak of 807,000 viewers and a total of 10 million viewers.
However, not all trends in live social video are as hard to predict, and brands could do well to follow Facebook, which has been paying celebrities and publishers to stream on Facebook Live in order to attract consumer attention.
According to Antony Mayfield, CEO of agency Brilliant Noise, getting the right distribution partner is key for brands as currently the market is offering little that’s convincing in terms of engagement or outcomes. “Unless a brand has some leeway for experimentation with its branded content, then I would advise partnering up with the likes of BuzzFeed and learning as much as you can,” he said.
As well as partnering with publishers, the audiences drawn by celebrities on the platform underline the potential for live video to provide cut-through to brands who can offer access and behind the scenes footage. Actor Vin Diesel racked up 8.9 million views (not concurrently) for a Facebook Live stream from the set of Fast and Furious 8.
Jamie Toward, managing partner for content at Karmarama, said Live would provide a conduit for brands to connect themselves to big real world events. These could include alternate Super Bowl broadcasts, streams of the Oscars party, or joining the party in the VIP area at Glastonbury. Brands going down this route, however, will need to consider the specific risks that come with live streaming and weigh those against the potential advantages.
Just like blogging before, live social video is also helping launch a new generation of influencers such as tattoo artist Liz Cook, who has attracted over a million viewers to her live-streamed inkings. Or the now infamous “Chewbacca mom,” who reached 160 million views through trying on a mask of the Star Wars character while laughing hysterically.
According to Jason Foo, CEO at BBD Perfect Storm, Live could be the natural real-time successor to YouTube for a new generation of “celebrities.” He said: “As traditional, linear viewing is being dispensed with by younger audiences, the platform could be a replacement for ‘live’ broadcast amongst a Netflix generation. The challenge is how to tell a story in real time around this—only certain people can hold an audience in real time in this way.”
Production Values Shift
For retailers such as Debenhams, which have partnered up with key designers including Henry Holland, Live is a way to extend the reach of in-store experience. While for Benefit Cosmetics, its weekly “Tipsy Tricks” broadcast of drinking and make-up tutorials on Thursdays is driving brand engagement by raking up to 60,000 views a week.
Crucially, these broadcasts do not feature the same high production values of traditional broadcasts and many in the industry believe if brands are to make the most of live video, they must embrace its raw aesthetic.
Rob Hunter, managing director of Hunterlodge Advertising, said the advent of Live presented a shift away from the high production values of ads. “Live video can help brands cut through some of the noise in the market by offering advertising in a slightly different format with a different quality of footage,” he explained.
There is no question that the excitement afforded by Live directly correlates to the risk involved. It is difficult to ignore the fact that Facebook Live’s most infamous broadcast is the disturbing video of the shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer in Minnesota, which was uploaded to Facebook by his girlfriend and watched by 5.7 million people.
According to Karmarama’s Toward, the greatest challenge for brands is one of control. He warns of the need to be “very careful” in pre-preparing “live” formats to minimise the brand risks whilst maintaining authenticity. He believes both brands and agencies will “need to get comfortable with the risks in the lack of control and understand that to mitigate those risks requires a lot of upfront work.”
Yet many believe this work will be worth it in the long term. “As with all new platforms, getting traction quickly and being an innovative first mover should pay off in the long term," said BBD Perfect Storm’s Foo. The advent of live video may feel like it has been a long time coming, but it will, nonetheless, be transformative to brands.