By Sam Bradley, Journalist

June 25, 2021 | 13 min read

From TikTok blending sports footage and user-generated content to Apple’s work from Oscar-winning directors, we ask top creatives for their favorite ads shot for the vertical screen.

Filmmakers, artists and advertising creatives have long used the limitations of their chosen medium to inspire, from big-screen adventures to small-screen wonders. More and more, we’re seeing brilliant work created for the smallest screen yet – the one on your phone.

As part of our deep dive into everything Mobile, we asked creatives from agencies across the planet for their favorite ads made for vertical viewing.

Joakim Borgstrom, worldwide chief creative Officer, BBH

Starburst’s Swirlers ‘Best enjoyed vertically’ by DDB Chicago played around with your brain and your perspective in a way that meant you couldn’t help but engage with the ad. It works so well because the craft is excellent – it looks really good and the execution makes it come alive.

Plus, the fact that it only makes sense when viewed vertically was a very a relevant way to get across the new product, which was basically a long, thin version of a Starburst. And it came at a time when we were all itching to get to the hairdresser, so it was very much a nod to the moment in the most light-hearted way possible.

Carla Butwin, vice-president and creative director, Doner

Adidas Originals has consistently engaging vertical video content on its stories, reels and IGTV. It plays with dynamic split screens, kinetic typography and mix stills with live action in interesting ways that feel completely tailored to the space.

Ben Harwood, creative director, Feed

TikTok has created fantastic adverts for TV that use a mobile device as a frame. Its most recent Euros 2020 ad campaign has been a huge success – it's extremely reactive to what’s going on within the product, culture and world in general and highlights the viral and fun nature of the platform itself.

The ads are visually appealing – they start with one vertical phone frame and then often use it as a window in different portions of the film, or overlay it over more traditional ad formats or typography to help tell a story. TikTok is also a pro at using music, which is often custom, to build a captivating and emotive crescendo.

Laura Jordan-Bambach, president and chief creative officer UK, Grey

I was recently served a Klarna ad in my Twitter feed – busting the myths about it using lovely, old-school interactivity.

klarna add

It is a beautiful and sweet simple piece of digital work that plays with the idea of imaginary worlds. It won’t win any awards, but it’s so much better at engaging people than the usual film content.

Beckie Underwood, head of studio, Azerion

A lot of the creative for vertical video is still not hitting the mark. Many creatives think about shooting their ads landscape first and then crop and adjust them in post-production. Yet this results in some of the essential branding and legal lines being pushed towards the outer edges.

Interscroller - Aston Martin - Automotive from Collective Studio on Vimeo.

Consequently, this process is not compatible with mobile devices as some of the ads run the risk of getting cropped out due to the publisher running it under their site navigation bar. Therefore essential branding, product shots and legal lines are not seen by consumers.

For me, the automotive industry has done a great job in transitioning from slick TV ads to a vertical screen. For example, the Aston Martin DB11 ad found a clever way of using landscape footage while showing the best angles of the car’s features and performance. This was achieved by combining several orientations of the footage to create an eye-capturing, short-form vertical video, while its crucial branding on the end frame is viewable.

Betsy Jemas, executive creative director, Organic

I’m going to take this way back – even though the platform is long gone, the Lowe’s ’Fix It In Six’ campaign on Vine (RIP) is one of those ideas that haunts me.

It was such scrappy content, shot vertically, and it took advantage of the six-second time limit on the platform in a way that was entertaining and useful. It paved the way for what’s happening on TikTok and I honestly think changed the way brands think about making custom vertical content instead of just repurposing slick, horizontal, expensive productions from shoots for other channels and platforms.

Kev Exley, UK executive creative director, Momentum Worldwide

There’s now a generation whose natural consumption of the world happens top to bottom – the direction of scroll. It’s caused us to embrace the 9:16 ratio, perhaps never more intentionally than when TBWA/Media Arts Lab enlisted Damien Chazelle to direct ‘Vertical Cinema’ for (and shot entirely on) the iPhone 11 Pro.

Here, a single storyline plays out across umpteen Hollywood genres – each scene crafted specifically for 9:16 and totally immersive as a result. Full-screen close-ups and dramatic vertical movement deliver a nine-minute banger that not only advertises what an iPhone’s capable of, but shows off the artistry made possible by the format itself too. Solid proof that vertical orientation is anything but a compromise.

Wayne Deakin, EMEA executive creative director, Huge

I’ve long been a fan of the vertical format. One, because 75% of worldwide video viewing happens on phones, and two, because Gen Z is consuming more and more video on phones, so want to be served video in a hand holding friendly way. Gen Z consumers even joke that they can’t believe the crusty millennials are still watching TV. Working with Tommy Hilfiger and Nike I saw first-hand how vertical pieces with video performed super well and were adored by the audience. This format will be even more mainstream coming out of Covid, no doubt.

As far as ads go, however, you can look to progressive brands that get the power of the tall format. Mercedes-Benz is one of those early adopter brands experimenting with vertical video. Its short film, ’The First Driver’, was produced in vertical format for IGTV and is part ad, part content, part long form. As ads go, the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet one, with its interesting motion techniques, using three different angles (at the same time) is cool. But my more recent favorite is the Apple ’Shot on iPhone’ ad, directed by Damien Chazelle (seen below). It’s a proper masterclass of vertical storytelling that uses the full aspect ratio in cool ways to fluidly engage you.

Darren Smith, content director, Bridge Studio

Mercedes-Benz has always had a strong track record for great vertical videos, for example its short film ’The First Driver’ on IGTV (above) tells the story of Bertha Benz taking the first ever long-distance car journey. But personally, I like the brand’s other work that’s more focused on promoting its different models. The car brand uses the vertical format to really good effect with split camera feeds (like Jack Bauer’s 24) and smart editing to give each film real depth. It helps that the cars are pretty stunning too, of course.

Brandie Tan, executive creative director, Wunderman Thompson Philippines

There have been hundreds of vertical videos before ’Shot on iPhone Vertical Cinema’ by Damien Chazelle came out. What these films do is show the full potential of vertical videos in terms of craft. It proved it is possible to intentionally make vertical videos at the same level as the traditional horizontal format.

Damien Chezelle, Oscar-winning director, and Linus Sandgren, Oscar-winning cinematographer, created for Apple a nine-minute film titled ’The Stunt Double’. The story follows a stunt double working in different classic Hollywood sets. Shot entirely using an iPhone. I’d say this is one of the best ways to show a product in an ad – by using it to make the film.

Why this works is the familiarity of the Hollywood scenes, but yet seen in a new way – vertically. Viewers are made to mentally compare from memory how the scenes used to be shot while watching this new way.

Jose Ortiz Diaz, chief creative officer, Wunderman Thompson Mexico

This is not an easy question because there are two ways to judge a well-used vertical campaign. The first one is when you plan the whole shooting for a vertical format, so you can have the complete story on 9:16, and the second one is when the vertical format is used as a creative language to communicate a specific feeling or mood on the ad.

Personally I prefer the second one, so that’s why I picked ’Creativity Goes On’ from Apple. I believe this is the first ad that really captures the vertical format in its own nature. In this piece, we can see several shots on a very native way from people doing what they normally do with their cellphones cameras. It proves that we don’t need to plan a shooting to make it fit on the vertical screen. It’s about creating content in its own and most used format.

Bruno Reggiardo, executive creative director, Wunderman Thompson Peru

This is a real mind-blowing idea that has a simple thought behind it: if people want to match with another, why not give them something really cool to talk about? And then... boom! Tinder released this amazing interactive content that kept people waiting for every weekend to see the next episode.

It refreshed how people match on Tinder cleverly. Based on the decisions people made while watching the series, it found similarities to match one person to other. ’Swipe Night’ definitely redefined a social platform in a very innovative way.

For more in-depth coverage on the present and future of mobile marketing, dial in to The Drum’s Mobile hub.

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