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Captivating without Sound: New Mobile Advertising Study

Posted Feb 28, 2017

How often is your phone set to silent, or at least the media volume all the way down at 0? For many people it’s the case for the majority, if not the entirety, of the day. Whilst just a simple matter of preference or necessity for device owners, this trend poses a real challenge to advertisers looking to reach their audiences through mobile video.

Be it a voiceover or a stirring soundtrack, an ad’s audio often drives the narrative and emotional emphasis, so how can brands make up for the lack of sound experienced by these ‘silent’ users?

An increasing number of video ads are utilising additional subtitles or textual overlays in efforts to communicate narrative in the absence of sound, however little evidence exists to support this approach. That’s not to say we didn’t believe it is a viable solution, but why not test the theory?

We were curious to know, and knew our clients would be, too. So, in Autumn of 2016, we invited a select number of brand partners to participate in the Sound & Vision Video Study, with household names such as Disney, Volvo, Bose and Sony Pictures seizing the opportunity.

About the Study
The study took the form of a simple A/B test. Each advertiser armed us with their latest campaign video in its original form: 15-30 seconds long, HD quality and complete with audio.

From this, we worked with each client’s creative agency to create a “sound-off” version, adding descriptive subtitles or visual elements in-keeping with the visual style of the brand and campaign. In the end, we had two creatives for each campaign, one without subtitles, one with.

How the two performed against each other in across basic performance statistics — such as completed views, dwell times and click through rate — would obviously be of interest, but we also wanted to know how the two creatives would perform across more qualitative brand metrics.

To help us measure these, we partnered with leading research outfit Millward Brown, who studied each creative’s performance in areas including brand uplift, purchase/viewing intent and brand affinity.

The Results
The results? Well, as with any piece of research, the study raised as many questions as it answered and the opportunities for further, more exhaustive investigations are rife. However, valuable insight for the participant brands, and the industry as a whole, were plentiful. Here’s a selection of some of the best:

  • Entertainment campaigns in particular enjoyed an 18.8% increase in brand awareness, with some individual campaigns seeing subtitled creatives deliver 9.9% better brand awareness uplift over non-subtitled creatives
  • Entertainment campaigns featuring subtitles enjoyed 5.25% better viewing intent over non-subtitled creatives (10.2% vs 4.95%)
  • FMCG – For campaigns advertising a physical item, creatives featuring subtitles helped communicate the key product features, driving a 12.1% better product understanding than those without

Subtitles and descriptive elements clearly work for entertainment campaigns, conveying the narrative of the movie when sound is not available and helping brands make an emotional link with the audience.

For FMCG campaigns, subtitled narrative worked to communicate specific benefits and key functions of the product on offer, however failed to provide any significant benefits over non-subtitled video in terms of brand awareness or affinity.

What’s Next?
Campaign KPIs are obviously the most important thing to consider when making any creative decision and, given that an overwhelming majority of brand-led mobile video campaigns are judged on completed views, viewability and engagement, it seems clear that the benefits offered by subtitling videos are worth the added time and expense during planning and production.

One possible area future research could look into is whether style and brevity of subtitles and textual elements can affect these KPIs even further. For instance, would stylized subtitles, which use the fonts and colors of the brand secure audiences’ focus more successfully than generic subtitles as we know them?

Or should subtitles elements on mobile be reduced to short, snappy keywords that give enough detail to convey the narrative without reciting a voiceover word for word? The areas open to exploration are numerous.

More About the Study
For additional information about the study, check out the official announcement and the analysis by Steve Smith at MediaPost.

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