Picture this: Exploring the Internet of Visuals

As eagerly awaited as it is wide-ranging, Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report is a data goldmine for anyone who wants to better understand the current state and future direction of the Web.
Meeker, an analyst with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has been presenting this report for over 20 years. Her 2016 presentation ran to 213 slides, delivered in a whistle-stop 24 minutes.
Given her typical breakneck speed of delivery, Meeker had little more than three minutes to devote to one of her most interesting observations, but it’s one that has huge implications for online and mobile marketing.
In short, the Internet is becoming a far more visual medium, as consumers and businesses increasingly opt for pictures and videos over text-based communications as a means of storytelling. It’s the younger generation (between the ages of 18 to 34) that shows the most marked preference for pictures over words.
The rise of images has a lot to do with users’ increasing use of smartphones for storytelling, sharing, messaging and creative expression, Meeker said. Worldwide smartphone users grew 21% to over 2.5 billion in 2015, with Android shipments continuing to gain share over iOS: 81% to 16%, respectively. The global mobile user now has, on average, around 33 apps installed on their device, 12 of which are used daily and spends around 4 hours per day on their smartphone.
Because these devices combine cameras, comms and social media access in one handy package, it’s never been easier to take and share images – and to view and comment on images taken and shared by other people.
Every day, almost 3 billion images are shared on Snapchat, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp – all but one of which (Snapchat) are owned by Facebook. That’s up from just under 2 billion in 2014.
When it comes to video, meanwhile, daily video views on Facebook rose from 1 billion to 8 billion between 3Q2014 and 3Q2015. On Snapchat, they reached 10 billion in the first quarter of 2016.
User-generated content can result in surprise wins for brands. Take, for example, ‘Chewbacca Mom’ Candace Payne’s viral video, which saw her hooting with laughter, alone in her car, over a Star Wars mask she’d just bought from department store Kohl’s.
The video was viewed over 150 million times in one day – and also sent Kohl’s mobile app straight to the top of the rankings in the iOS app store. Demand for the mask, naturally, went through the roof. It’s the kind of result that not even the most carefully planned (and costly) marketing campaign could have orchestrated.
But at the same time, brands are working hard to get in on the act, by tuning into our passion for visuals and using them to help promote their brands in new and creative ways.
Pinterest, for example, is fast emerging as a potential goldmine for brands. According to Meeker’s data, around 55% of the site’s users (who passed the 100-million mark in September 2015) say they use the visual bookmarking site to find and shop for products. In response, Pinterest is ramping up its online shopping capabilities, announcing in June 2015 that it is introducing not only shopping carts to the site, but also visual search, which will allow users to upload a photo of a product they like and see images of similar, competing products.
Snapchat filters are another emerging use of Internet-based visuals by brands. These allow users of the site to superimpose masks on photos of themselves, friends, family or public figures. This year’s Cinco de Mayo festival, for example, saw Taco Bell release a branded Snapchat filter that turns the subject’s face into a giant taco. This won the fast-food brand 224 million views.
But creative thinking like this will be key, because traditional video ads simply do not pass muster with modern audiences. In fact, said Meeker, they are largely “ineffective” at engaging audiences: 62% of users say they’re annoyed by the ‘pre-roll’ ads that precede, for example, a YouTube clip; 81% say they mute them; and 92% say they’ve considered using ad-blocking software. A picture (or video) may be worth a thousand words – but not where it fails to delight, entertain or inspire.