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Vertical Video: From Blip to Buzzword

Many of us don’t flip our phones or other digital devices sideways when we record a video or watch a movie, never mind the small picture and awkward framing.  It’s a hassle, right? Now we don’t have to.

Welcome to the vertical video revolution.  With remarkable speed, the video technology – which has a 9:16 aspect ratio – is replacing the traditional 16:9 landscape and 1:1 square formats.  It’s taller and narrower, addressing our mobile-centric entertainment habits and the fact that we hold our devices vertically 94% of the time.

Vertical technology is not only changing the way we create and consume video, it’s also becoming the preferred storytelling format for individuals and brands alike.  

Flipping the Switch

Because our eyes view the world on a horizontal plane, we’re much better at seeing in a landscape aspect ratio.  That’s one reason why it’s been the industry standard for our desktop computers, laptops, and televisions.

In fact, vertical video was first treated like a joke (see this clean version of the mock PSA “Vertical Video Syndrome”).  But Snapchat wasn’t laughing. The social media network forced its users to film in portrait mode and, after introducing video support in 2012, now has more than 10 billion vertical video views per day.  

Instagram (which last year introduced IGTV for vertical content up to 60 minutes), WhatsApp, YouTube, Mashable, and vertical streaming apps Meerkat and Periscope quickly followed.  

Today, the vast majority of content captured on smartphones is shot vertically, and vertical ads are viewed to the end nine times more frequently than horizontal ones.  Vertical videos also succeed when it comes to reach, unique views, click-throughs, swipe-throughs, ad recall, and completions, in part because viewers don’t interrupt content by turning their devices to the side.  

According to Facebook Business, 65% of consumers consider brands that advertise with vertical video ‘more innovative’ and 79% of ‘novice video consumers’ prefer the vertical format and consider it more engaging.  That makes it a critical tool for brands who understand that mobile-centric stories are key to an effective and far-reaching brand strategy.

If you have any doubt, check out this Adidas commercial or a vertical film trailer by the makers of Mad Max Fury Road.  Take a look at the biannual Vertical Film Festival’s winners or Netflix’s 30-second vertical movie trailers, introduced last year.

A Vertical World

It’s not just millennial-friendly social networks that have rolled out vertical video.  

  • Old school publishers and media companies like The Washington Post, the BBC, and Conde Nast have joined the trend.
  • Samsung recently announced a television in Korea that can be flipped 90 degrees.
  • Luxury car company Mercedes Benz reached 2.6 million people (and saw a 9 point increase in ad recall) with a vertical video ad campaign featuring a short film called “The First Driver.”

“As we see mobile and the importance of mobile continue to climb, especially for higher-brand-level awareness campaigns, we know you’re capturing those audiences on their mobile screens,” Mark Aikman, General Manager for Marketing Services for Mercedes-Benz in the US, told Forbes last year. “As we brief our agencies and start developing creative, we’re actually thinking about it with both screens in mind.”

The vertical format requires closer cropped shots, but directs the user’s attention where you want it because there’s no clear horizon.  And because it’s native to mobile devices, and most video is filmed on smartphones, audience expectations are different than in the past, notes Owen Williams, a technologist and writer.

“If the types of people you’re targeting with your video are likely to be on the go, such as commuting to work or browsing through their feed in a line, go vertical,” he advises. “If they’re more likely to be sitting in front of a computer to watch a long lecture, for example, horizontal is fine. Consider that watching vertical video on a computer is far less annoying than watching a horizontal one on your phone, in case you can’t decide.

During Advertising Week last year, Instagram’s head of business Jim Squires spoke of living in a “vertical world.” Williams agrees. In a four-part “How to Master Vertical Video” series for, Squires says it represents “a larger shift to quick hit, visual-first content” that feels authentic, even if it’s coming from a brand.

If you want to succeed on mobile and are building video content, vertical is the way to go, he says. “It fills the screen, doesn’t require the viewer to readjust their grip, and best of all, feels right at home in the palm of your hand.”

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