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Vertical Video Was a Joke. Thanks to Snapchat, It’s Now the New Order

Be Careful What You Laugh At, says Fast Company’s editor. It may be tomorrow’s new standard.

Vertical Video Was a Joke. Thanks to Snapchat, It’s Now the New Order
New puppeteer: Glove and Boots’s viral YouTube hit skewered vertical video, but Snapchat has turned the format into a serious business.

I first heard about “vertical video syndrome” 18 months ago. A colleague introduced me to a faux public service announcement on YouTube that humorously pokes at those who neglect to turn their phone to landscape view when filming. Posted in 2012 by an outfit called Glove and Boots, the satire is so spot-on, so funny, that it now has more than 6.7 million views.

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But 18 months is a long time in the world of media these days. Vertical videos, which used to be a joke, are now a booming entertainment format, thanks to one company: Snapchat.

When it launched, Snapchat seemed like a curiosity—photos that disappear after you view them!—but it has grown into the social platform of choice for 100 million people, 86% of whom are between the ages of 13 and 34. If there’s a single media entity that has a passionate hold on millennials, it’s Snapchat. And because the company and its users have embraced vertical videos, media titans such as ABC and the Viacom-owned MTV and Comedy Central are now shifting their aesthetic assumptions to satisfy them.

Snapchat may mystify nonusers—as well as many investors, partners, and competitors. And that may be one of its key advantages (as Austin Carr explains in “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost”). In today’s era of flux, there is no formula for success, no one-size-fits-all strategy. As this issue’s cover package on the Secrets of the Most Productive People illuminates, what works for some will not work for others. Oprah Winfrey has literally retreated into a closet in her office to find a moment of peace; Google’s Lorraine Twohill goes to the other extreme, scheduling 17 to 20 meetings each day. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says he needs at least seven hours of sleep a night to maintain his equilibrium; DJ Steve Aoki has trained himself to go days on catnaps, yet manages to thrive across time zones and continents.

We can learn from all of these examples (including Stephanie Vozza’s “15 Easy Ways to Work Smarter”), but that doesn’t mean we can copy someone else’s tactics wholesale. The irony of our digital age is that while it has dramatically improved efficiency in so many ways, it has also enabled—and requires—more personalization, even the atomization of activities and strategies.

For us as individuals, and for businesses, this makes things both easier and harder than ever before. As our Snapchat story shows, we can’t afford to stand still: Just when we think we know which social media platform is most important (Facebook, Twitter), or what matters most in TV and advertising, our assumptions are upended. Even the generation that we’ve dubbed “millennials” continues to defy categorization.

Perhaps it’s always been like this. We need to find ways in which we are alike, and at the same time recognize how each of us is different. That’s the essence of human existence, even in a digitally driven time. Snapchat’s photos and videos may disappear—even Snapchat itself may succumb to competition in the future—but our individuality will always define our world.

About the author

Robert Safian is editor and managing director of the award-winning monthly business magazine Fast Company. He oversees all editorial operations, in print and online, and plays a key role in guiding the magazine's advertising, marketing, and circulation efforts.

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