The good news is that brands are evolving their approach to online video and experimenting more aggressively with longer-form videos that can stand on their own. In response, a new standard is taking shape that prescribes best practices to both the creation and distribution of these videos. You could call this standard the "Cadillac" of online video advertising.
How did we get here?
Most online video ads can trace their roots to television ads, which come in the same basic flavors described above. They are designed to interrupt the stuff you want to watch with stuff you might want to watch (but probably didn't). These ads don't warrant their own attention; they leech attention away from what you elected to watch because they cannot stand on their own.
The problem with this model is that a growing majority of online video consumers are more likely to click away or simply ignore these types of ads. According to YouTube, 70% of its users responded that they would rather not watch a video at all if it carried pre-roll. Online viewers' attention span is shorter -- and, even more important, their patience for unwanted interruptions is growing thin.
Interruptive messaging is anathema online, where every piece of content is effectively on-demand. The path away from these forms of interruptive advertising will be a long one, given the scale of television advertising and the endemic attitudes of advertisers toward these types of traditional advertising approaches. Still, this shift is slowly beginning to take place.
We are seeing this shift materialize in the form of integrated branding in content. Over the past 24 months, more and more advertisers have begun to work to integrate their brands and messages more directly into serialized Web shows, viral videos, educational videos, and other forms of entertainment. These campaigns have moved from untested experiments to real projects with production and distribution budgets that often top seven figures.
This is a great start, demonstrating an evolving relationship between brand and consumer that will continue to play out over the coming decade. What has not changed significantly, however, is the distribution mechanism associated with these new efforts. While brands are beginning to pour critical investments into production, they are still distributing the resulting content as if it were nothing more than a banner ad.
This has been understandable. In-banner placement of branded video does give the advertiser access to the reach, targeting, and measurability which they have grown accustomed to in display. And the length of these shows typically precludes pre-roll or other in-stream placements.
Unfortunately, in-banner placement defeats much of the purpose of branded entertainment as a consumer engagement tool. A video placed this way may momentarily grab the viewer's attention, but rarely will it result in a full viewing of the video or a positive impression of the brand's messaging. In-banner, the viewer expects to see a commercial, not a piece of content. Instead, the goal should be to draw the viewer into the narrative of a show to take full advantage of the content investment. A better solution to distribution is emerging.
This leads us to one of the first practices of a 'Cadillac' video advertising effort: editorial placement of the videos. Editorial placement involves working with publishers to position the videos as compelling content and setting the expectation of the consumer in the right place. Now, building a large engaged audience through in-page or editorial placement is difficult, but the resulting engagement with the consumer is far more meaningful. Rather than enduring your message to reach the content, the message is the content. Consumers who elect to watch these videos are far more likely to watch a significant portion of the video and come away with a positive attitude towards the brand sponsor.
The leads us to the second practice: guaranteed user engagement. User engagement can be viewed as an extension of placement, but great placement does not always guarantee engagement across every publisher. The only way to ensure engagement is to set financial incentives around authentic engagement rather than impressions. Viewers can be directed to watch these videos via thumbnails, RSS feeds and placement within relevant articles, but distribution partners should be compensated based upon the number of user-initiated (or Click2Play) views they deliver as defined by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
The third practice, without which the first two are rendered irrelevant: seamless brand integration. Falling under the qualifier "you know it when you see it," brand integrations into long-form video should add to the value of the content (or at least not detract from it). When brands, agencies or their production companies don't execute effectively on the integration, publishers will be less inclined to carry the content, and consumers less inclined to watch it. Overbearing messaging, poor product placement and poor creative execution can all result in negative brand impressions and an implosion of value for the message and the audience.
What many brands might find most surprising is that online video campaigns that have been organized around these "Cadillac" principles are not only more impactful, but also less expensive than the same campaigns delivered in-banner and optimized around CTRs and eCPMs. Much like the emergence of social media and branded app campaigns, branded entertainment represents another movement from "paid media" to what Fred Wilson has termed "earned media," and its implementation should reflect this migration.
Here's where the "Cadillac" analogy can move beyond the cliché of simply being the "best" to being the "most valuable." So, rather than making the traditional media buy through a network, it might be time to begin evaluating new syndication models that appropriately value the content, deliver interested audiences, and charge based upon performance rather than impressions.
It's time to test-drive the Cadillac.
Clarification: Yesterday's Online Video Insider,"The Age Of Brand-Specific Data And The New Media Mix Model, initially misidentifed author Damon Bethel's company and title. He is executive vice president of strategic planning and business development at DBG.