New Video Ad Units: It's Not About The Plumbing, But The Poetry

  • by June 18, 2009
Amidst the flurry of recent dialogue around online video economics, exciting new ad units and new lanes in Vivaki's Pool, one can't help but feel the momentum that the industry is actually, finally... moving forward from the 1.0 world of cutdown TVC pre-roll -- at least that's the hope. Not that we'll see the percentage of standard pre-rolls actually decrease in the next 6-9 months, but there's new energy out there that the space is moving forward. The question is, will the creative messaging and the economics evolve to make the business make sense for buyers, sellers and marketers as well?

From a creative perspective, the premise is simple. Move from a lean-back unit to a lean-forward unit - one that offers new kinds of linear and non-linear narrative structures and functionality that LETS THE VIEWSER INTERACT AND SELF-SELECT from a variety of in-player video content.

What I learned, being the creative lead on that initiative, was that despite how much more sophisticated player software plumbing has gotten across the industry to deliver overlays, expansions, page rolls, and other "enhancements," the advertising still has to move you. And that comes down to the kind of creative that makes you feel -- not just think.

The poetry.

This means that the narrative craft of drawing you in and making you react emotionally is just as important online as it is in the craft of the :30 TV commercial. Creatively, this has been the challenge for the banner, the pre-roll, even the next whizzbang expandable rich-media application. These units may drive our ad-supported model, but they have not adequately proven their ability to make the consumer feel.

Conversely, many traditional creative directors cling to this emotional requisite, otherwise known as the "Big Idea," as the holy grail of real advertising currency that doesn't live online -- just in television. My experience listening to my creative peers is that secretly, it's an excuse to hide behind their lack of knowledge and practice in the interactive space. And this is precisely where creative agencies and their ego-driven cultures go left -- while the VC money and interactive media brethren go right. Hence the prolonged stasis we have been enduring since the first online video ads appeared in MSN Video and Yahoo.

But while sophisticated algorithms and software-based player plumbing might be great for delivering scale, targeting, near-real-time metrics and social data, they can't deliver the "feeling" -- only the messaging can do that.

Many DR-centric digital agencies are great at dynamic optimization of creative messages -- churning out dozens of copy versions and banner executions for one campaign; changing layouts on the fly and cramming the call to action into the ad from beginning to end -- in many cases before we've even gotten the consumer's attention. They have the craft of lead-gen down to a science -- but it's not an art.

Is this the interactive advertising we are destined to produce? Turning our creative departments into cookie-cutter banner factories that cram everything from a microsite into an expandable banner?

As a creative community, it's challenging to see how the increase in processor speed, storage and connections can enhance the way we can address and scale messages online.

The bigger task we all face is how to join hands and get great emotive creative -- the poetry -- to complement the plumbing.

We have the technology. We have the talent.

Now we just need the collaboration to do it hand in hand, or should I say, "mouse in hand?"

11 comments about "New Video Ad Units: It's Not About The Plumbing, But The Poetry".
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  1. Sheila Shayon from Third Eye Media, June 18, 2009 at 5:53 p.m.

    The poetry of 'mouse in hand' - what a wonderful turn of thought. How about ad sponsored video widgets with entertaining and substantive content. The age-old Herb Schmertz 'Masterpiece Theater' sponsored model.

    If you are interested - I have the perfect verse...
    Thanks for your insights.
    S. Shayon

  2. Bruce May from Bizperity, June 18, 2009 at 6:04 p.m.

    So have you thought through what it means to work with long form content? That has only existed in traditional TV. The ability to serve up interstitial video commercials is upon us. Will viewers want to learn forward when watching their favorite TV shows online? What about long form video content from any other source? Where is the future online video headed? Now that I can watch broadband video on my TV set, either in the office, bedroom or living room, how does that affect my attitude toward interactivity? As a consumer will I just find it all irritating? Just some things to think about.

  3. Michael Mcmahon from ROI Factory / Quick Ops, June 18, 2009 at 10:02 p.m.

    I was nodding my head in complete agreement right up until I got to the "Many DR-centric digital agencies..." bit. What I learned, being a leader in the creation of DR-centric digital agencies, was that once the clients' money got tight, art became far less important to them than science. (I suppose there is a bad plumbing metaphor in here, too, but I'll take the high road).

    I left the industry about five years ago, frustrated that DR-centric agencies had become "banner factories". As you so correctly stated, the work lacked the emotional connection of video. Like you, I've watched the rapid pace of development in online video advertising capabilities this past year, and I'm once again excited about the prospect innovating with these new tools. I sincerely hope that more emotional, poetic, artful online/interactive video ads will lead to the results that our clients need in order to fund their marketing. Where we digress is that I believe the purpose of advertising in any form is to create additional value for the advertiser; to the extent that artful advertising can deliver additional value, I'm all for it. But the art must be in service to the bottom line, not the artist's dream of art for art's sake. Agreed?

  4. Patrick Reiter from Haworth Media, June 19, 2009 at 2:32 p.m.

    Necessity is the mother of invention as well as it's obstacle...

    Just something to consider.

  5. Patrick Fitzgerald, June 19, 2009 at 5:11 p.m.

    I just posted on this subject today. We firmly believe that new media requires new methods. As video consumption habits continue to evolve, so must the messaging. Pre-roll, post roll and other units are "tolerated" and provide impression delivery, but the differentiator for digital is engagement. Brands invest significant money and time to develop brand personaes, we create characters that are "best friends" to those and develop them into brand representatives. Good stories, told well, offer longer, deeper engagements and a platform for launching ancillary programs. More

  6. Morgan Brown, June 19, 2009 at 5:34 p.m.


    Great article. We agree that the opportunity exists with Web video to combine the bests of both the TV and DR worlds in to one unique (and powerful) marketing vehicle. All it requires is for online advertisers to get out of the pre/post-roll and banner box and look more towards the examples set forth by brands pioneering the sponsored content video marketing that we're beginning to see more and more of.

    Sponsored content can be creative, compelling, actionable, lean-forward media that is highly-relevant and (most importantly) enjoyed by and useful to the viewer.

    When we stop thinking of video marketing online as another way to interrupt the viewer and rather as a way to provide useful, relevant information to potential customers in a compelling and authentic way the path to Web video with value becomes clearer.

    We're biased of course, because we specialize in that type of content for big brands; but we can't think of a better way to leverage the emotional power of video advertising and the direct response capability of the Web than to deliver meaningful content that meets a specific need of an inquiring viewer.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 19, 2009 at 6:36 p.m.

    What will happen to the ad creative and placement when "at the push of a button" people can watch their small screen lean forward video on their lean back large TV screens? The Hillcrest Loop is coming to your neighborhood.

  8. Michael Senno from New York University, June 20, 2009 at 10:09 a.m.


    That statement sums it up. Put the users in control, let them self-select the ads they want to see. It's the ultimate targeting - viewers will see the brands they want to see, so marketers hit their target market, which is the ultimate goal. It also drives better creative. The most interesting ads will get views, so marketers are incentivized to make compelling content. And that's a key - ads need to become another form of content, informative and entertaining.

  9. Malcolm Rasala from Real Creatives Worldwide, June 20, 2009 at 4:39 p.m.

    Golly you guys just don't get it. Most people do want to see ads. Period. You can talk all the nonsense you want about the poetry of ads but no one is fooled. Ads are an intrusion. Simple. Ask a hundred humans on the street if they world prefer to watch say a movie on tv, a documentary, CSI whatever free of ads. The vast majority will say yes please. You would have thought given the billions of $'s spent, the hundreds of thousands of people involved in the ad industry that someone would have got the message that chucking ads in peoples faces turns them off, annoys, frustrates, alienates. But no. Like a bunch of religious zealots they keep trotting out the same largely boring intrusive in your face ad messages. Pretty dumb.

  10. Toffe Nathhorst from MASH, June 22, 2009 at 3:51 a.m.

    @Malcolm Rasala
    Sorry to prove you wrong, but actually I can. We run the product PlayAd, which is pretty much described by this article (thanx), and our stats prove you wrong. 1 of 10 unique users, over our entire affiliate network, actively chose to watch (press play) commercials online. We, naturally, place commercials vertical to match the target profile of each site. When targeting younger users we have a "play rate" close to 1 out of 4 unique users.

  11. Craig Adams from Zebra Logic Entertainment, June 22, 2009 at noon

    Great read, Alan. I appreciate your perspective as the creative lead on this project. As a fellow creative, I wonder how we will reconcile the age-old struggle to give the creative the proper weight and dare I say respect it deserves. It is this constant churn and burn mentality that drains creative departments of their inspiration and enthusiasm and leads to underwhelming and often times under performing ad solutions. And, it's precisely the collaboration, and mutual respect, that you refer to that is the only true way towards a more fulfilling process and product for everyone involved.

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