Commentary

Making Digital Video Ads Work

Americans are downloading more video every day, and brands are putting more and more money into monetizing those views. Our continuing shift to mobile gives video an extra boost of accessibility. No longer are consumers tied to TVs and PCs -- they have video to go on their tablets and smartphones. Now, thanks to Apple, we can add three million new iPad owners -– a mere weekend’s worth -– to that pool.

So why aren’t we making video really work for the industry?

As we speak, 91 percent of video ad spending goes into pre-roll, the 2012 equivalent of a static banner ad. Sure -- pre-roll does its job to bring the sight, sound, and motion that display ads generally lack. But with one-dimensional targeting, forced view, and limited scale, it falls embarrassingly short of delivering on or advancing the true potential of digital video advertising: to take what’s great about television – the most engaging medium, hands-down and add to it the targetability and measurement that advertisers desire and deserve.

How do we get there from here?

First, we need to help the brands and agencies we support reach the audiences they need. But we can’t do that until we move beyond basic demographic- and genre-based targeting. The most effective display advertising is contextually relevant to the content of a page, and the same holds true for video advertising. Until we can offer video ad targeting that leverages the full breadth of digital data, we’re selling ourselves short.

Finding the right content

I’m not talking about repurposing television spots that your brand happens to have overspent on. A hit television commercial does not an engaging online video make. Brands need to recognize the differentiated qualities of top-performing online video ads and tailor their creative to exploit the medium’s advantages, by keeping video ads short (15 seconds max), sharp (engage me!), and simple (one brand message per spot, please).

How the ad is delivered

As entertaining as a video might be, no user wants to be forced to watch it. And with pre-roll, mid-roll, or post-roll that’s all we’ve got: forced-view advertising. If we want ads that can deliver qualified views to demonstrate real engagement, we need to put the user in the driver’s seat.  Even pre-roll that offers choices to viewers has been shown to increase ad effectiveness. Add to that the new video formats from Tremor Media and other firms that are bringing an immersive experience, and you’ve got video ads brands can bank on.

Where's the ROI?

The beauty of digital, as we all know, is our ability to measure to our hearts’ content. But pre-roll falls desperately short on this front, and all we get is a completion rate. It tells us that shorter ads fare better -- especially if they’re interactive -- and that the content behind the ad is compelling to the viewer. But it reveals nothing about the effectiveness of the ad or the user’s engagement with the brand advertised,  We should be able to tell advertisers how long a user spent watching a video, what they did afterwards, whether they shared the ad, and what the impact was. As Brian Mandelbaum wrote recently: “It’s time that the accountability and transparency of traditional broadcast buys find their equivalent in the online world.”

The issue of scale

One reason that advertisers love TV is its mass reach. Because there’s not a lot of video ad inventory, it’s hard to reach scale right now with digital video campaigns. Brands often need to make a tough decision: should we go for reach and compromise quality, or sacrifice scale to protect our brand experience? The problem is there’s lots of demand for premium video advertising, but not enough premium content to meet that demand -- so ads end up on sites with low-quality, user-generated content that doesn’t reflect well on the brand. For video to realize its full potential, the industry needs to make a more concerted effort to respond to the needs of agencies and marketers.

Where do we go from here?

So where do we go from here? We need to see video solutions that bring together the best of television and the best of digital: a targeted, relevant, measurable, brand-safe advertising experience. While we’re at it, we also need to do a better job of educating brands about the potential of video advertising -- so that when we build it, they will come.

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1 comment about "Making Digital Video Ads Work ".
  1. Corey Kronengold from CKPR , April 12, 2012 at 1:42 p.m.
    A few thoughts on a mostly spot-on piece. I think you're hitting on the difference between what "can be done" and what people are "actually doing." Video ad targeting and dynamic message can be done leverage any first or third party data source. The technology (yes, Eyeview is one of these providers) is there to do amazing things leveraging behavioral or social graph data. But the overwhelming majority of pre-roll is still just repurposed TV. Pre-roll is easy to buy at scale and doesn't require a lot of manual labor. But we shouldn't fault people for it. On the ROI front, again, we need to handhold our clients and teach them the right way to measure. Completion rate isn't a success metric for a video ad. Its a measure of tolerance and a proxy for the quality of content. We talk about "branding" and then try to measure success with interactivity metrics? Thats just silly and needs to stop. Vizu, Dynamic Logic, Knowledge Networks and countless others will help you measure the brand impact of your video campaign. As many people in this industry have heard me say, "You can't tell how much someone weighs with a yardstick." Figure out what you want to measure and how to measure it. Dont just measure what's easy and available. "Whats the temperature outside? Rainy." Not right. One question that needs to be asked, though, is why an advertiser is asking a user to interact with a video ad when it runs counter to the actual experience of watching video. It is, by nature, a linear experience, and asking a user to forgo their personal mission to play with an ad is an uphill battle, and the metrics show it. The goal isn't to get a user to play with your ad. If it is, try an advergame, not pre-roll. I do agree wholeheartedly that we need to help our industry rethink how they use video. The new IAB Video Rising Stars program is a great start. And we're working closely with creative shops to provide them with tools that unleash their video creativity. There's a long way to go, but plenty of potential. Just don't ask me what inning of the game we're in.