The digital marketing industry is famously prone to turnover, but it’s still unusual to see an established best practice turned (literally!) on its head. When it comes to online video, that’s exactly what has happened over the last few years. As recently as 2012, the idea of shooting videos with a vertical aspect ratio was little more than a joke. Fast forward to today, and it’s not just accepted—vertical video is quickly becoming mainstream.
In 2016, mobile devices drive 56 percent of traffic to top sites. Consumers increasingly use their phones and tablets to access content, rather than desktops. For the first time, mobile devices are more relevant for marketers and content producers than computers.
The fallout? Screen dimensions are smaller, people browse differently and sound is often turned off. And frustratingly for some video producers, 94 percent of smartphone users hold their device vertically to view web content.
Seeing Things Differently
The human eye has a wide range of mobility, but some movements are more comfortable than others. “It is easier and more comfortable to move the eyes horizontally than vertically, especially up,” says Dr. Eli Peli, a Harvard ophthalmologist.
Screens have been traditionally built wider than they are tall because our eyes prefer scanning side to side. However, as technology has improved and devices have become smaller, screen orientation has become less important.
The main concern now for content producers is how to engage the most people. Early research shows vertical videos outperforming their horizontal counterparts. In fact, by simply shooting a video in portrait mode, producers can expect up to nine times more views on mobile devices!
From Tiny Acorns
Vertical video owes much of its recent traction to Snapchat. The mobile video- and photo-sharing application is entirely vertical. User-generated content must be shot using the app, almost always in portrait mode. For advertisers and publishers, all ads and content must be vertical.
Snapchat has exploded in popularity recently, beating out both Twitter and Instagram among teens. It would be presumptuous to say that vertical video is the secret behind Snapchat’s success, but it has certainly been a factor. Snaps are short, mobile-centric and usually focused on a single person. In other words, they’re the perfect vehicle to showcase vertical video.
Three years after Snapchat made its debut, two Stanford graduates built Periscope. This live video-streaming application followed Snapchat’s successful example by going entirely vertical. Other platforms soon began experimenting with the format. Even Instagram, once a bastion of perfectly square content, recently caved and began catering to vertical images and videos, too.
As major platforms embraced it, vertical video became a real contender. It may never fully replace its horizontal cousin, but the evidence suggests that it’s more than just a passing trend—vertical video is here to stay.
Pros and Cons
Make no mistake—portrait mode remains controversial. Purists in the film and marketing industries decry the movement as a cheap commercial fad. Commenters ridicule mobile users for being too lazy to flip their screens over when watching a video. Desktop users complain about the black bars they see on the sides of their screens when they try to watch.
Horizontal video will likely remain the dominant format for most media production, but marketers are learning that vertical films allow them to engage specific audiences better. For engagement on mobile devices, vertical is unquestionably the best option.
By shooting upright, you gain several benefits:
- No bars on the top and bottom of the screen
- Users are more likely to watch ads when they don’t need to rotate their screens
- Ability to market on Snapchat and Periscope
- More screen space to use creatively
- Format naturally favors portraits
Of course, there are certain inherent sacrifices as well:
- Videos play poorly on desktops
- The best cameras are built to shoot horizontally
- Less space for lines of text
- Difficult to film conversations
The Bottom Line
Are you looking for a way to engage more mobile viewers? Experimenting with vertical video formats may be a valuable use of your time. For content creators, portrait mode opens up new windows of opportunity. Beyond just using the screen more efficiently, it facilitates marketing on platforms like Snapchat and Periscope.
With mobile devices increasingly dominating the marketing universe, it makes sense to create content specifically for phone screens. It’s no longer a revolutionary or counterculture move to shoot video vertically. In fact, if anything, it displays foresight and healthy creativity.
Vertical video will only become more prevalent as the mobile revolution continues to play out. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay.