Taking the Annoying Out of Autoplay: How to Make Intrusive Marketing Work

If most people agree with me (and I think they do), there are few greater turnoffs to a casual web browsing experience than running into a page that has a video (or sound) on autoplay. You know, like when you open a webpage and suddenly there’s a newscaster’s voice sounding out from the ether… or worse, an automated voice yelling, “Congratulations! You’ve won!” Few things will make me click out of a window faster, even if there was content on the page that I actually did want to see. For people who play music while browsing or are surfing the internet while in a quiet workplace, this is especially annoying!

However, as content marketers, we are always looking for new ways to capture the attention of potential readers, and most of us also know that video content is a great way to add engaging dimension and interactivity to a webpage. Many marketers believe that autoplaying video content is a way to immediately grab the attention of readers without taking into account that many people browsing the web simply don’t want to see it.

A Notorious Turnoff

Autoplay has been referred to as the “most hated digital ad tactic.” The stats are staggering, when 84% of 25 to 34 year olds have exited a webpage because of an “irrelevant or intrusive ad.” Marketing is largely moving in the direction of more control by users, which is why content marketers are pushing interactivity. Somehow, autoplay has slipped in under that radar. Even major publishers – such as The Washington Post, ESPN, and ABC News have autoplay videos on their websites. One reason many smaller companies still use autoplay is simple: video is expensive, and they want to make sure their content is seen. As a result, user annoyance may seem like a small price to pay.


Does Autoplay Actually Work?

Autoplay will definitely get your content noticed in a very immediate way. And while the viewer is shuffling around to find the volume control on your video or rapidly clicking through tabs to figure out which one has the automatic sound, you’ll get at least some of your message through. It’s also true that your autoplayed content could grab their attention enough that they’ll actually watch it all the way through to the end.

For marketers who are afraid that their message isn’t engaging enough, autoplay may be a go-to strategy. A major part of the reason that brands use autoplay is that they’re emulating television, where the viewer has to wade through a series of commercials before they can get back to watching their favorite TV show. After all, it works on sites like YouTube and Hulu, where the user has to watch an ad before they get to see the video they were looking for.

So the answer is this: kind of. But is this really the way you want to reach people? Let’s look at a brand using it successfully.

Facebook’s New Autoplay Success (and How Autoplay Can Work for You)

If you’ve been on Facebook over the past couple of months, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the new system for videos that has recently been released. The social media giant has called it “richer storytelling for advertisers,” and here’s a breakdown of how it works.

As a user is scrolling through their Facebook feed, the video will begin to autoplay – silently.


If the user doesn’t want to engage with the video, they can simply scroll past it. However, if the user does want to see the content, they can click on it and watch the video with sound. Facebook has also made it easier for users to discover other content, as well. When the user finishes watching the video, they are presented with the opportunity to click on other videos created by the same marketer.

Facebook has made it a point to make these videos as non-intrusive as possible. For example, mobile users will not have to worry about data usage with this new video system; Facebook’s autoplay is only pre-downloaded by devices that are already connected to the internet. Videos will not play with sound unless you actively turn the sound on.

Take a look at this video (created by Facebook), showing how it works:

A Less Intrusive Version of Intrusive Marketing

As it turns out, video marketing is here to stay. The big name social networks are all embracing it, with Twitter’s Vine app already autoplaying ads. Facebook is just hopping on the bandwagon. And it’s working. Facebook’s version of autoplay is simply not an interruption: it’s not a pop-up, it won’t talk to you unless you ask it to, and nothing is going to keep users from scrolling past if they don’t want to watch the videos. (Though with more and more targeted marketing tactics coming in from Facebook, content relevancy promises to be on the rise – even with video.)

Ultimately, effective marketing isn’t about interrupting what people are interested in with content; rather, it’s about creating content that people are interested in. That’s partly why the Facebook autoplay formula is actually working out: it gives users a taste of what they would see if they were to play the video. By simply taking the sound out of the formula, Facebook has figured out how to make intrusive marketing work by reintroducing a critical part of content creation: user choice.

What do you think of autoplay? Could you see your business using intrusive marketing tactics?

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Tree is a somewhat nomadic graduate student pursuing an MFA in Poetry and Literary Translation from Drew University. A self-identified “diplobrat,” she spent over 16 years living as an expat in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, and Tanzania. Tree graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature, a minor in Studio Art, and a concentration in Landscape Studies. In between writing poetry for school and content for CEM, she dabbles in goat herding and freelancing. Other interests include reading, watercolor painting, gardening, and traveling.

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