Commentary

Still Awaiting The Pod People

In the 1956 classic film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Dr. Miles Bennell, portrayed by the late Kevin McCarthy, spends most of the film warning of “pod people” -- aliens taking over the identities of their human hosts.

The movie scared the crap out of me as a child. Checking under the bed for “pods” became a nighttime ritual for a long while. Thankfully, they never showed up.

Circa 2011, I wouldn’t mind a little “pod people” invasion, at least when it comes to digital video. When advertising budgets are spent on television, marketers and publishers negotiate at length over program options including GRP weights, frequency and other campaign particulars. Attention is now also given to identifying preferred pod placement and related performance -- rightfully so. As a recent report from Ebiquity suggests, pod position within pods can have a noticeable impact on television campaign performance.

However, shifting to an online view, it becomes apparent that advertisers presently use few tools or related metrics to assess video ad performance of individual pods, particularly within long-form content such as TV episodes or movies. Yes, we look at click-through and completion rates, and a few other performance indicators, but not to the sophistication and precision that sight, sound, and motion efforts should inspire.

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We Need “Pod People” Now!

eMarketer projects $5.5 billion online video spend by 2014. That’s a nice figure, but we can get there much faster.  To open up the floodgates of video ad budgets, marketers and publishers should consider becoming “pod people,” seeking greater emphasis and performance detail on pod placements such as mid-roll within online video ad campaigns.

According to a recent study, mid-roll ad placements in full episode players (online environments for watching full-length television programs, movies, and other long-form content) handily outperformed both pre-roll and post-roll video ads.

To be fair, mid-roll placements have a pre-set advantage over pre-roll. They typically appear in environments in which viewers have made a commitment to watch long-form content, similar to viewing broadcast and cable programs with typical commercial breaks. However, unlike TV and cable programs, which can be fast-forwarded or skipped via DVR, online commercials cannot be easily avoided without fully exiting the viewing experience. Translation: online video viewers are a more captive audience, ready to interact with your marketing messages. 

Let the Invasion Begin!

Turning marketers and publishers into pod people, however, will require significant campaign “mindset” changes, creating many new benefits and challenges. Here are some suggestions for a successful future “pod” infestation:

1.     Move beyond pre-roll –Forget the 30-second ad in front of the 30-second clip. As consumers shift to viewing full-length movies and TV shows in online environments, marketers and publishers have a tremendous opportunity to learn how to better balance content and adjacent advertising. Inserting mid-roll into video ad campaigns would be an excellent first step.

2.     Mix formats and creative options – With more than 99% of video ads just repurposed TV creative, “what works on TV will work online,” seems to be the current mantra. I will let others throw the GRP grenades, both for and against. Shifting to a wider mix of display and video ad formats will help illustrate how online video will carve out its own unique planning path that is neither TV nor digital, but an amalgam of both.

3.     Get the research folks busy – A wider mix of campaign creative and video ad formats will offer plenty of data to analyze. In addition, more dollars shifting to online video will prompt more questions, which, in turn, will require a greater emphasis on research and analytics. It’s about time we saw online studies looking at the combination of display, search and video.

4.     Stress better labeling – Outside of pre-roll, few publishers offer consistent detail of placement labeling, specifically for pod ad activity in long-form content. As a consequence, ad performance in pods between pre- and post-roll may be more difficult to determine. Arguably, few marketers ask for such detail, as it typically requires an added layer of campaign instrumentation between parties. Short term, marketers should request such detail in their RFPs.

5.     Promote new industry standards - Long term, marketers must work with their technology, agency, and media partners, as well as industry organizations to create labeling standards for digital video pod placements, similar to what we have for display creative. The industry has already widely embraced VAST and VPAID standards; it’s time such standards were extended to include enhanced placement labeling.

We have a long way to go before achieving investment parity between TV and online video. Like it or not, however, consumers are already making the transition en masse to online for video in all its forms. Marketers and investment will no doubt follow. The easier we collectively make planning, buying, implementing and reporting video ad campaigns, the easier the transition will be for all involved parties. It’s time to embrace “pod people”! 

At the end of the movie, a hysterical Dr. Bennell, runs through the streets of the small California town, screaming “They’re here already! You’re next!”

If  only that were true…

2 comments about "Still Awaiting The Pod People".
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  1. Evan Petty from Snowman Productions, LLC, November 2, 2011 at 11:49 a.m.

    Although I have no issue with the main focus of this article (the evaluation and use of advertising pods in long-form online content), I couldn't help noticing the author referring to the online audience as "captive".

    This is nonsense. Anyone who wishes to avoid your ad content can and will. I watch my teenage daughter viewing TV shows online, and when the ad pod comes on she just clicks on another browser tab and checks her Facebook feed until it's over, then she clicks back to watch the program. That's how easy it is to avoid the advertising online. It is incumbent an advertisers to engage the audience with content they actually enjoy watching. Otherwise they should just save their money.

    Check out my initial post about the future of advertising on my blog: evanpetty.posterous.com

  2. T.S. Kelly from The Media Strategist, Inc., November 2, 2011 at 3:17 p.m.

    Hey there Evan, thanks for your comment. “Captive” here neither means captured nor imprisoned. To your point, consumers will ALWAYS possess options to avoid messaging no matter the media form – the ability to look away, hit mute, turn the page, go get a sandwich, etc. The term “captive” in this context, specifically video, is about identifying expressed intent and delivering potential relevance. This is somewhat easier to realize in real time interactive environments when supportive data is available.

    Unfortunately, per the article, the industry lacks consistency -- limited detail by way of supportive data or metrics to consider what fully works and doesn’t work. For example, high CTR for a specific video ad may suggest interest. However, depending on multiple factors, high CTR may also represent a “false positive” perhaps from someone just like your teenage daughter who is “clicking away” to avoid interaction with unwanted content. Presently, lack of campaign data consistency on the back end makes for a challenging environment to decipher both intent and relevance.

    Thankfully, there are positive things happening on this front from VINDICO, as well as other research vendors and data partners. Per VINDICO’s related research we see more “false positives” in some pre-roll campaigns specifically when completion rates (and other metrics) are lower. Conversely, we see relatively lower CTR and higher completion rates for ads located in mid-roll pods. In addition, we have done supportive landing page and attribution analysis for both sets of results revealing deeper involvement with brands post exposure to higher completion rate ad content.

    No doubt a good start, but there’s plenty more to do -- hence the need for a “mindset” change and some offered suggestions. Warm regards, TS.

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