A few weeks ago, Rich Greenfield at BTIG Research had a great rant of sorts -- which turned into an insightful analysis -- of the repetitive nature of digital video ads. Called “Our TV (Not) Everywhere Experience a.k.a How The Americans on FX Taught Us to Despise Audi,” it’s worth a read. (BTIG’s content is behind a login wall, but it’s free, and I highly recommend signing up, on that note.)
I don’t despise Audi (they make great cars!), and in this case, I actually feel bad for the brand. Because Greenfield’s point is spot-on. What happened in this case is that when people watched “The Americans” online through network FX’s streaming service, they were barraged with frequent interruptive video ads that were mostly the same ad for Audi. Over and over. And people got annoyed, and that’s why I feel bad for Audi.
Advertisers are doing this -- showing you the same ad a zillion times -- because exposure media buying is bought on a reach frequency basis. They want me to be exposed to an ad 10 times because they don’t know which one of those ten I’m actually going to see. But exposing me again and again and again, if I see it every time, is an incredibly negative experience.
You see, digital advertising is still being bought as if it were analog. A huge factor in "frequency" planning is based on traditional advertising models that need to factor in the fact that not every ad exposure (what historically has been called an impression) resulted in actual message delivery. So models are based on needing to "reach" people numerous times for message retention. But when it comes to digital, we certainly have the technological capability to know if someone actually saw an ad.
So, do we really need the same frequency? Making people watch the same ad over and over can make somebody really hate a brand.
Reach and frequency models have historically been based on averages, and factor in waste as a result. But if we could know which ads people saw, and very nearly guarantee that a message was delivered, couldn't we significantly reduce the need for frequency? In that case, Audi could have achieved its goal of reaching Rich Greenfield with its product messaging and positioning once, in a more powerful way, giving him a better content viewing experience by eliminating all the unnecessary interruptions used to generate frequency.
But as long as media is bought without regard to digital’s potential to reduce waste, advertising's relationship to consumers will be a contentious one, where advertisers force publishers to load up more ads, and consumers keep asking the market for more ways to avoid them. Hello, ad blockers.
The idea of moving our benchmark from "viewable" to "viewed" will be the key to fixing digital advertising. Sure, some advertisers may not want to eliminate frequency altogether, but why run multiple times in the same show to the same person, once you know the message has been delivered and you’ve reached the point of annoyance? Maybe even more important, if you’re an advertiser who’s run one message and knows that an impact has been made, you can even progress to a new one to help guide that digital consumer the right way down that purchase funnel. Or better yet, let the consumer guide you. How novel!