Fast, Fast, Faster: Online Video Ads Have to Act Quickly, Harvard Business School Study Says

I remember chatting a while ago with a producer who shot a sitcom pilot of a successful Broadway comedy.  The experience left him unsettled.

A network executive showed him the graph from an audience test. In some places, the line went sky high, indicating a point that the audience was expressing satisfaction and enjoyment. Good enough.

 At other places it was low. “We need it to be all up here,” the executive told him, his finger tapping the high point on the graph.”  The producer threw up his hands. The high points, he explained to me, were the laugh lines. The lower points were the set up lines. The show never happened.

ASI Market Research in North Hollywood has tested television and everything else for more than 50 years; it claims the entertainment testing is a $254 million business, but is also tests for advertisers and political candidates and other. There are legendary stories about horrible test results for shows that turned out to be big hits, and of course, hardly any stories about shows with horrible test results that never get on the air because of it.   



It’s a big business.

The idea of measuring online advertising—figuring out a way to get you to stick around for the pre-roll before the video—has likewise been analyzed. Eye-tracking technology is kind of common, and other theories abound. Earlier this week, I wrote about a company that advises Super Bowl advertisers to produce ads that are, to paraphrase, enjoyable. That would seem to work.

There’s an estimate that we saw 11.3 billion online ads last year, and that it’s still growing.  Billions are spent on online video advertising, and so no doubt, there is endless research on how it “works.”

 A recent article on details a study by the Harvard Business School, in which it paid 58 adults to watch a four-minute clip from a sitcom, followed by 28 commercials, 14 of which were expected to get a rise out of the viewers because their content was provocative, and 14 others that were just supposed to be emotional neutral.  

The results:  “As expected, the researchers found that the more attentive viewers were, the less likely they were to skip to the next ad. More importantly, they found definite patterns in the emotional elements that commanded the most attention. In short, evoking surprise proved the most effective way of capturing attention, while evoking joy was best for retaining attention.”

The results, in other words, seemed to be pretty much what would be the result if somebody at a bar began a conversation with you, or if were watching a TV show.

One wrinkle: The Harvard study says its test subjects seemed to prefer a “surprise element” at the beginning of the online ad, not at the end, which is a typical progression for a commercial with a memorable ending. That current verbal meme, “Wait for it, wait for it” doesn’t work with online ads.  Because people won’t wait for it.

So you’d better get them while you can, and get them quickly. says, “Video-ad designers also have to extend the opening surprise long enough to provide maximum impact. That’s no easy feat. The data indicated that it’s hard to evoke a feeling of surprise for more than just a second, even for companies known for their marketing genius.”

Basically, you should always strive to have that graph line at the top. Even though  it’s impossible.  

1 comment about "Fast, Fast, Faster: Online Video Ads Have to Act Quickly, Harvard Business School Study Says ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, January 21, 2013 at 10:18 a.m.

    Douglas Adams said: "If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a nonworking cat." He wasn't talking about video ads, but he might as well have been.

Next story loading loading..