Progressive Offers Its Take on Facebook's Video Ads

What's it like being one of the first brands to use Facebook's auto-play video ads? Progressive and its agency Arnold tells CIO.com the entire experience was easy, liberating and even a 'breathe of fresh air.'

A million bucks certainly doesn't go as far as it used to, but for a select group of advertisers it might be just enough to place an auto-play video ad on Facebook for 24 hours. That's the flat, up-front fee Facebook is charging most advertisers to be among the first to use its delayed and perhaps most overhyped ad product to date, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Facebook recently selected a handful of brands to be the first to run what it calls "premium video ads." Even though the auto-play video ads are muted by default and must be approved by Facebook's creative team before making it into users' news feeds, it's hard to imagine any company balking at the opportunity.

Facebook's unparalleled scale affords it the luxury to make demands unlike any other platform. This is Facebook's world after all, we're just participants or spectators.

[Related: Facebook Rolls Out Video Ads, Takes Aim at TV Networks]

The company says its expects no major windfall from video ads or any other new ad products in the near term. Everything else seems to be working in its favor despite the huge upfront costs and rigorous screening process. New ads from Progressive, Dove, NBC, Summit Entertainment and Macy's have been in rotation with no indications of any problems or major backlash from users.

Are Facebook Users Warming Up to Ads?

"People are responding really positively to the creative," Progressive's head of marketing strategy and innovation Jonathan Beamer writes in response to questions from CIO.com. "They seem to enjoy the humor, and don't look at it as a disruption in their news feed. That was one of our objectives -- to avoid being invasive to people's experience, while still reaching them with our message."

Progressive and its agency Arnold both declined to discuss costs or performance, but shared some insights into what it's like being one of the first brands to use Facebook's latest ad type.

[Related: Facebook's Auto-Play Video Ads Imminent]

"Test and learn is part of our culture and we like to be on the cutting edge of new digital ad formats," Beamer adds. "We've always been early adopters of Facebook ad platforms, from logout pages to promoted posts. Getting in early lets us evaluate new formats and scale those that work before our competition finds them. Because of the audience we were trying to reach, Facebook premium video ads were the perfect vehicle for us to share this message. This new product allowed us to deliver our story to potential customers on a large scale, in a channel they love to use."

So what's Progressive's message to Facebook's audience? "Act your age. Dump your parents' insurance company." The company uses a "baby man" character to deliver it, beginning with a 15-second spot called "The Burping" that leads into a four-part series if users choose to see more.

[Related: Facebook's Declining Organic Reach a Real Nightmare for Marketers]

"We all at some level have been there," says Arnold's creative director Sean McBride. "If you think about [insurance] relative to other things in your life, it's kind of insane, right? What else in your life do you operate that way with that level of inertia?"

Progressive Takes a Different Approach, By Design

Progressive's Beamer says the company ultimately wanted to drive engagement to the creative. "This ad is different than anything people have seen from us before, and that's by design," he adds. "We used imagery that will make people stop for a second and look, because the news feed is a crowded place, and they have a choice if they want to engage with the ad."

[Related: Does Facebook Now Embody Maturity?]

Those choices and others explain why McBride downplays any concerns that Facebook may be too heavy-handed with creative approval. "They just want to make sure that whatever work they do is worthy of someone's news feed. They don't want it to become a place where intrusive things live or uninteresting things live," he says. "I generally had a really easy experience with them."

Overall, he found the ad unit to be a "liberatingly tidy little box that's a 15-second, visually interesting, simple message." McBride thinks those parameters are more of an opportunity than any limitation. Earning people's attention in a forum like Facebook's news feed can be liberating for creatives, he says.

"It may just up the caliber of what we do because it's in a place where everything else you're competing with largely is information on your friends, or pictures that you might want to see or stuff that you're interested in. So this better darn well be interesting too," he says.

"It means you all have to hold yourselves to a higher standard. You can't sort of pay your way into their attention span," says McBride.

Matt Kapko covers social media for CIO.com. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattkapko. Email him at mkapko@cio.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

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