Mars threw out its standard playbook for its Super Bowl ad this year. The company ran the usual 30-second spot for its Snickers brand during the game but with a twist: It was live.
The ad featured actor Adam Driver in a Western-themed setting in which everything went wrong, including flubbed lines, missed cues, and a scenery implosion. It was all scripted, of course, and got across Snickers’ long-running “you’re not you when you’re hungry” messaging.
To get maximum bang out of the effort, Snickers had presented a 36-hour live stream on Facebook Live. “We know that advertising is about being noticed and being relevant,” said Berta De Pablos-Barbier, VP of marketing at Mars Chocolate North America, in an interview with CMO.com. “The relevant part is [why we went] live, not only with Facebook, but with other platforms.” She claimed that the brand engaged with about 1 billion people before the Super Bowl.
As Snickers’ experience shows, the lure of live video can be enticing. Taco Bell, Lowe’s, Southwest, BMW, Marc Jacobs, and Ralph Lauren have experimented with live programming over the past year or so as well. Going live can be a challenge, though. To get people to tune in, brands need to “market their marketing.” The metrics aren’t yet well-established, either. Yet there’s reason to believe that live programming is the format of the future. It’s huge in China right now, for instance, and live and long-form video is top priority for Facebook and Twitter as viewing habits shift from TV to social media.
Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was obsessively focused on making Live a success. During a Q&A in Berlin last February, Zuckerberg described Live as “one of the things I’m most excited about.” The company also spent $50 million on content deals to entice celebrities and media companies to use the format and launched a TV campaign beckoning users to try it.
Twitter, meanwhile, viewed live video as integral to a turnaround effort and has tried to woo TV producers and YouTube stars to use Periscope, its live-streaming app. YouTube, with its Alphabet unit, also jumped into the fray earlier this week.
A Facebook rep outlined some reasons why live video is an effective format for brands: It’s immediate and social. “There is a real sense of community when you experience a Facebook Live moment with others, especially because you can interact with each other and the broadcaster,” the rep told CMO.com. Comments on Facebook Live videos are 10 times that of regular videos, according to the company.
Live video also lets brands show a more unfiltered version of themselves and speak directly to customers. Southwest Airlines, for instance, used Facebook Live to address an outage last July that grounded many of its customers. “We see live streaming becoming more ubiquitous,” said Brooks Thomas, social business adviser for the airline, in an interview with CMO.com. “For an airline like Southwest, we’d love to see the utility of live streaming expand. Our goal from the starting line has been to go live with a purpose, and we look forward to evolving as platforms unveil new ways to reach our audiences.”
Which Metrics Matter
Live videos may get more engagement, but brands don’t always put up huge numbers for live streams. BMW’s press conference at CES this year, for instance, netted 114,000 views on Facebook Live--not terrible, but that’s a figure that would be considered low on YouTube. Despite Mars’ De Pablos-Barbier’s claim, the Snickers’ Super Bowl live stream only displayed 118,000 views at this writing. (A rep said De Pablos-Barbier was referring to “the reach of media outlets, social influencers, and others that talked about the Snickers Super Bowl efforts in one form or another.”)
Many of Facebook Live’s most-viewed videos of 2016 weren’t actually viewed live by many people--the vast majority of views came after the fact. “Chewbacca Mom,” which featured Dallas mom Candace Payne giggling about a Chewbacca mask she bought at Kohl’s, netted some 160 million views; however, very few people actually saw the video live when it aired on May 19. As Recode noted, “Ultimately, the watchability of the video had nothing to do with the fact that is was live.”
Nick Barber, an analyst with Forrester Research, said view counts aren’t the final word. “We’ve been conditioned since online video came on the scene of defining video success with view counts,” Barber told CMO.com. “What we’re going to see as we move further down this path is that video success is defined not by how many people watched, but who is watching.”
On Facebook, for instance, advertisers can see what members of an audience have liked, where they’re located, and demographic information. That means even if the view count is relatively low, there’s a much better chance that those viewers will buy what an advertiser is selling.
Live video, according to Mike Mikho, CMO of Laundry Service, which has created live streams for BMW, among others, is often a launchpad for viral discussions in social media. “A significant portion of people watch live. [Then] that gets people to talk about it, [which] triggers the [Facebook News Feed] algorithm to reach people in the right ways, and that’s what drives the interest to get people to tune in,” he explained to CMO.com.
The New TV?
Another reason brands are interested in live programming on social media is that, for younger viewers, social media is supplanting TV. A 2016 study from Defy Media found that consumers ages 13 to 24 watch 2.5 times more Internet-based video than TV. Twitter, for one, has also begun streaming full NFL games on its platform.
Perhaps that’s why Facebook is considering mid-roll ads, which would interrupt live viewing a la TV.
For brands, the challenge is to mimic the elements that make live TV programming compelling. That means creating anticipation for an event and embedding some risk into the programming. It also means tune-in ads. “There’s this interesting component that if you’re going to do live video, you have to let people know you’re going to do it,” said Heidi Besik, group product marketing manager at Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company). “There’s the issue of how to get the word out that this is going to be happening at a particular time.”
In addition, the content itself needs to be compelling and have some built-in drama. “Live videos do best when they build to some sort of anticipated or unexpected moment,” Mikho said. That’s why so many brands have used the format to launch new products. (Apple pioneered this approach.) “People need to tune in until the end to find out what happened,” he added. “It’s the same principle as television.”
Live video could be even bigger than TV. While streaming is a curiosity in the U.S., in China it’s a phenomenon. In June, for instance, 46% of the country’s Internet population had used a live-streaming app. Live streaming is projected to be a $15.9 billion industry by 2020, which dwarfs the current box office in China.
“As technology evolves and people find new ways to consume the content that they’re interested in, the landscape will shift,” Mikho said. “What’s happening in China could certainly be seen in the United States as well.”