Our latest study reveals the surprising importance of thumbnails and the first three seconds in capturing viewer attention.

We did a study of sample (n=87) advertisers on Meta to try and understand what creative directors should be focused on to maximize their impact on marketing effectiveness. The study was limited to videos (average length was around 7 seconds).  The study unveiled three surprising insights that can help marketers optimize their video ads for better performance: 
  • In 18.5% of impressions, all the consumer sees is the thumbnail
  • In 80.5% of impressions, the consumer doesn't make it to the 3-second mark
  • In only 5% of impressions will the user make it to the end of the video

Implications of these findings...

Based on these findings, it's evident that the thumbnail and the first three seconds of a video ad are crucial in capturing the viewer's attention. Let’s go a little deeper though and see if there are any other practical applications of this knowledge…

A. The Importance of Thumbnails

Let us repeat a crazy high number…in 18.5% of impressions…. the viewer only sees the thumbnail. There are a few reasons why this could happen (1) The user is scrolling too fast for the video to start (2) The user has disabled autoplay and (3) edge cases where Meta can’t track the data (low tech phones and some audience network limitations see here).  This means that the thumbnail itself can make or break the performance of a video ad. Let’s focus on #1 and #2 as the likely most prevalent cases for just seeing the thumbnail and dive deeper into the implications and opportunities to improve marketing efficiency… This audience is too big to ignore  18.5% is roughly one in five viewers. If you conclude that this cohort is unlikely to convert anyway, you are also making the statement that “18.5% of my impressions are acceptable waste”. That can be a tricky statement to make in performance marketing. Taking the extra time to select a thumbnail, whether that be a “click-baity” screengrab or a curated image, ensures you won’t miss out on those falling in camps #1 and #2.  Your thumbnail should be intentional (because it might be the only thing people see) In instances where the user disabled autoplay, your thumbnail is likely to get longer viewership than in an autoplay setting. This means that your thumbnail to this type of viewer is the same as an image ad. You need to have quality thumbnail to either convey information about your product / brand or entice the user to click on the video.  Your thumbnail offers a different type of testing opportunity You can choose to use your thumbnail to either (a) convey a basic level of information (like you would with a normal image ad) or (b) Give the user some sort of "interesting" image that invites users to watch more.  Route A: Most commonly taken by Darwin clients (generally larger and more brand conscious performance marketers), allows you to provide key information: logo, primary phrase, brand name, etc.  Route B: Often taken by weight-loss companies, is to showcase something weird or startling to entice the viewer. Many advertisers utilize and test a mix of both, interchanging different thumbnails with different video content.  Darwin’s unsolicited advice  Our recommendation (if it isn’t obvious yet) is to treat the thumbnail like a separate creative with the singular focus of getting someone to stop scrolling. The simplest way to do this is to watch your video and ask yourself which section (or specific frame) is the most visually interesting (or curious) and set that as the thumbnail.

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B. Maximize Impact in the First Three Seconds

Now that you know how many people drop off before the video even starts, you may have a newfound respect for the audience that watches less than three seconds of content. This is your largest cohort, comprising 62% of your impressions (the 80.5% - 18.5% that don’t even start the video).  What do you want to say to this cohort? It’s up to you, but the average American adult can read (on the high end) 4.2 words per second, and that’s when they aren’t busy scrolling on their phones. In short, you won’t have time to tell a story or convey much nuance about your product.  It's vital to make a strong impression within those initial moments. Make sure your brand and message are clear from the start. Use striking visuals, large, readable text, and keep the content simple and focused.  Too often we see longer video ads “slow down” when presenting new information. The creators (presumably) have more time to fill and so they don’t feel the “rush” to try to convey everything all at once. This is a natural tendency when creating a longer ad, so our recommendation is to preview the first three seconds of the content as a “standalone” creative, and ask yourself if the message conveyed holds enough weight by itself.

C. Focus Less on the Latter Part of the Video

The study found that only 5% of viewers make it to the end of the video (averaging just 7 seconds). That doesn’t mean you have to focus less on the content, but if you are prioritizing your time, you would be much better off customizing the thumbnail and focusing on the first 3 seconds than anything beyond that.  Simply put, focusing on the first few seconds of the video will likely yield better results. If you have content that you think is important towards the end of the video, our recommendation is to break the creative into “modules” (think of it as 3 second chunks) that can be re ordered and tested as ordered groupings of modules. This approach allows you to be nimble and see which messages resonate with the viewers, without having to rely on the small cohort that makes it to the very end of the video.

Study Fine Print

Data was taken from the last 30 days on Meta (FB + IG) across all audiences with the average video length of just around 7 seconds. It should be noted that all clients in the sample were primarily performance focused (instead of branding). These marketers were targeting USA markets only.

Our Conclusion...

Darwin AI's study highlights the significance of thumbnails and the first three seconds of video ads in capturing viewer attention. By focusing on these crucial elements, marketers can improve the performance of their campaigns and drive better results. Leverage Darwin AI's Creative Analytics technology to gain valuable insights and optimize your marketing performance with data-driven creative decisions. Schedule a 30-minute demo to explore how Darwin AI can help you improve your marketing performance by 25% over a 90-day period.