The return of the silent film: Does your branded video content make sense with the sound turned off?


By Michael Scantlebury | Creative director

October 20, 2015 | 5 min read

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have decided that you don’t want, or need, sound to be turned on with your auto-play newsfeed films. And they’re probably right about that. Most social content consumption happens on mobile. And, I don’t really want my phone to start making noise because your video has kicked off while I am waiting for the bus at a crowded stop.

Michael Scantlebury of Impero.

At the recent Dmexco, Martin Sorrell suggested that 50 percent of video online is viewed without sound, with the majority being viewed in 'sound off' platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

So, silent films were killed by technology, and now they’re back - because of technology!

However, brands (or publishers-that-sell-stuff as we have come to think of them these days) haven’t all cottoned onto this fact yet. Money is being poured into films that require audio for consumers to understand and for brands to land their message. But if nobody bothers to turn their sound on - well, that could be money wasted.

Those in the business of content (I mean, really in that business) like news organisations have worked it out and been quick to adapt to the change. Check out BBC, MASHABLE, INSIDER on Facebook or Instagram and you’ll notice you don’t need the sound turned on to understand many of their news films. Like the old days, you read while you watch.

Silent video, coupled with users’ ever-depreciating attention and focus, mean that engaging users’ in video content is becoming more and more challenging, and forcing change in the output of content, or at least tailoring specific edits per social channel to align to users’ behaviour and expectations. (i.e. sound is auto-play on Youtube - just not Facebook, Instagram or Twitter).

This new challenge is exciting - making film content that makes sense with audio or not is going to test brands creativity. But it’s not a challenge you should take on at the editing desk - it’s one you should take on at the concept stage. Trying to ‘fix it in post (production)’ as we say isn’t going to be a sure fire win.

Before you start filming your next bit of content, ask yourself:

Can my story be told without sound?

If no, then this shouldn’t immediately kill the project, just think about which platform to promote it in: a ‘sound-on’ platform or a ‘sound off’ platform.

Will I need to make two edits?

One for ‘sound on’ platforms and one for ‘sound off’ platforms. If this is the case, then also consider the consumption behaviour and expectations of the users on each platform as this may mean a difference in pace and use of graphics and headlines.

If I am going to use graphics to ‘do my talking’ - are they large enough to read if (when!) played on mobile?

You know that’s how users will see them, so don’t be shy, make them readable.

The key takeaway here is that as users, we don’t treat all platforms the same, and as publishers we shouldn’t either. We need to respect how users use platforms to get the most out of them as brands.

When it comes to video, making it work without sound in a ‘sound off’ will increase your results, enhance your viewers’ experience, and make them want to come back for more. If you do that, you’re going to be making your content more Liked and your brand more likable.

Michael Scantlebury is the creative director and founder of social and digital agency, Impero.


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