Autoplay video in email

Video in email is not a new concept. A static image with a “click to play” call to action that starts the video playing in the browser or media player is a standard technique. However, since the advent of HTML 5, having a video that starts to play in the email client as soon as you open the email has become simpler. In theory.

Whether this is something you want to do in an email campaign is open for discussion. In the Implix 2010 Email Marketing Trends Survey, video in email marketing was shown to increase click-through rates by over 96% in some cases. I believe, like many marketing techniques, there is a time,place and audience for which autoplay videos will work and give improved campaign results. If someone is sat at their desk at work they might not appreciate a video playing in an email with the soundtrack blasting out of their speakers. Video is probably better targeted at a B2C audience rather than B2B but thats not to say it wouldn’t work for B2B with the right content. Horses for courses.

Unfortunately HTML 5 is not the total solution for video in email. Not all email clients support HTML 5 and of those that do, some have disabled the support for the <video> tag. But lets look on the bright side.

Hotmail starting supporting HTML 5 in 2011 and you can get a video to autoplay in Hotmail for most browsers (not IE7 or IE 8 as HTML 5 isn’t supported). The same is true if your email client is Apple Mail. On IOS devices (iPhone or iPad) the video shows as a clickable video link which then starts the video in the media player. For all other desktop and web based email clients the fallback  image is displayed, which can include the call to action to click the link to play the video.

So, using HTML 5 you can get a video to autoplay in Hotmail and Apple Mail and all other recipients will see the fallback image with a call to action to click to watch the video.  Using an alternate technique you can also get the video to autoplay in Yahoo.

Earlier this year Yahoo released the Yahoo! Mail Widget Engine which allows you to play video in the body of the email received by Yahoo without using HTML 5. The first stage is to email them and ask nicely if you can test drive the widget engine. Once they email you back  and you accept the invitation you then need to enable the widget within your Yahoo email account. The widget engine doesn’t use any custom html tags so the code will work in any email client and the video is identified by the id of the span tag “yEmbed1″.  Yahoo then converts the span to an embedded flash video player.

If you send yourself a test email with the subject “witness the inline video magic” the video should automatically start to play in your inbox. The initial span class is treated as an image so unless you are a certified sender the image will be blocked by default and hence the video won’t play unless you enable the image. If Yahoo agree to approve your production emails then they will whitelist your DKIM-verified sender and the recipients won’t need to change anything to see the autoplay video.

So what do Yahoo gain by creating their own way to play inline video rather than supporting the HTML 5 video tag ? Firstly I guess it gives them more granual control over who can send inline videos to Yahoo email addresses. Probably the biggest advantage is that they convert the span tags to an emded object so the video should play in any browser including those that don’t support HTML 5. However in my tests I couldn’t get it to play in either IE 7 or IE 8.

I think autoplay video could have a massive impact if used in the correct scenario with video content that is relevant and exciting to the recipient. Due to the technical limitations some segmentation is required to achieve the best results and as ever test,test,test.


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Simon Hill

About Simon Hill

Simon is the co-founder of Extravision, a privately owned ESP based in Manchester and have been involved in email marketing for over 10 yrs. His role has been to develop the technology and product from the ground up to provide a stable and secure infrastructure. Today his current focus is moving more towards looking at how we deliver the emails and our “delivery reputation” as well as growing the business and investigating new technologies.

Before Extravision, Simon was development manager at Productivity through Software, a software house specialising in reselling and developing tools for software developers. They started using email as a marketing tool in the late 1990’s and Simon headed up the development of their first email marketing tools. Simon joined the DMA Email Marketing Council Best Practice and Legal Hub in May 2010.

  • ActivePath

    Thanks, Simon. Thorough article about embedding video. Just wanted to point out another option that ‘activates’ email content: ActiveMail, which effectively brings full website capabilities into the email, regardless of HTML5 support from your browser or email client.

    We really believe that this is where email is at. It’s long overdue that aside from reading content or downloading bulky attachments, an inbox can offer a powerful, engaging experience with these kinds of features.

  • Sentori

    Sorry, this is bad advice Simon. 

    Autoplay video should never happen in email, just as it should never happen on the web: you remove the choice of the user and that’s simply rude.

    With mobile opens on email creeping easily upwards of 30%, you’re going to piss a lot of people off. That bandwidth you’re making them use (to be marketed to!) is still charged at a premium price.

    • Simon Hill

      Hi ,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not advising everyone to use autoplay video but merely discussing how it can be done and whether it has a place. I think if the video is relevant, the audience is highly engaged and you use intelligent segmentation then good results can be obtained. Autoplay doesn’t work on IOS devices, I expect for exactly the reason you mentioned.


    • Rich – IG

      I have to agree I detest autoplay videos; many people, myself included, have a costly bandwidth limit, and having ads use that up is iritating to say the least.