#SMWNYC: Why visual content is key to the future of advertising

According to a Facebook rep, consumers are increasingly gravitating toward visual content to connect. / Facebook

Visual content allows us to connect in far more meaningful ways almost instantly in part because 90% of information to the brain is visual. That’s according to Michelle Klein, marketing director of North America at Facebook, who spoke Wednesday (March 1) at Social Media Week in New York.

Because 40% of the nerve fibers in our brains are connected to the retina, we process images much faster than words, which is in part driving a historical shift in how consumers communicate from written text to visually expressed ideas.

“Educators say they worry about the death of handwriting because everything we do through swiping,” Klein said.

Indeed, smartphones have yielded 2.3bn connected storytellers around the world and the number of smartphones sold each day is moving at a phenomenal pace – 85,000 during Klein’s 25-minute talk alone, according to her figures.

Further, in each minute on the Internet, consumers are creating a phenomenal amount of data – to the tune of 5 GB every ten minutes, which Klein said allows consumers to become super-human and squeeze in the equivalent of an additional eight hours each day thanks to said devices.

And this is all the result of a fundamental desire to connect among human beings. Which is also why Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in the first place, she said.

“He wanted to make college more connected [and create a space where] we could be our authentic selves and share in a trusted environment,” Klein added.

To be sure, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected – and it’s now doing that for 1.9bn people. What’s more, per Klein’s figures, if you combine Facebook and Instagram, one-fifth of time spent on mobile overall is on one of these platforms. And connectedness is only going to increase with the advent of VR and AR, which allows new communities to come together, she said.

But it’s also simply easier and faster to consume visual content. To wit: According to Klein, 1.8m words – or 40,000 pages of typed text – is the equivalent of one minute of video to our brains. And by 2020, 75% of all mobile data will be video.

That’s in part because video is so real and emotive, she said. But it’s also because, as noted, humans want to connect with one another and video is a great way to do that.

“Marketers need to embrace this and be there in real time,” Klein added.

And many are doing that – 150m users tap into Instagram Stories every day and one-third of the most viewed stories are from businesses, she said.

“People are saying it’s a great way to connect with businesses – it feels real and live,” Klein said. “We’re creating the ability for communities to trust and build affinity with brands. Sharing stories brings us together.”

Examples include the Super Bowl – and Lady Gaga’s halftime performance specifically. Klein said it was the most-watched musical event of all time with 118m people tuning in to the broadcast and an additional 150m online, not to mention 240m Facebook interactions and 150m Instagram interactions during the game itself. But examples of online video bringing consumers together also include the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised $115m in 90 days, Chewbacca Mom, who netted 140m views in five days, and the Women’s March, which brought together 5m participants in 81 countries.

“[Video] changes how we operate and connect,” Klein said. “Storytelling is about me, you, all of us…we’ve become mobile, visual, fully expressed storytellers.”

But she also noted while connected devices make us better parents and friends, and has created billion dollar companies overnight and has created meaning and raised money for noble causes, the journey is also just beginning. And an additional 4bn people are still without Internet access around the world, which will have profound implications moving forward.

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Lisa Lacy

Lisa Lacy is a senior reporter for The Drum, covering digital and search marketing. Based in New York, she writes about how brands use technology to connect with consumers, particularly as innovations like voice search, digital assistants and the Internet of Things change consumers’ lives forever – not to mention the data these platforms increasingly collect and the security and privacy issues therein. She is a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism. Her bucket list includes riding in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

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