Are You Making This Fatal Video Content Mistake?

So you click on a video, and there it is: the dreaded pre-roll. But you sit through it because in order to watch what you want, you’re forced to watch an ad.

And that’s the contrast that matters:

·      Video content created to attract a willing audience, vs.

·      Video ads that are forced onto an unwilling audience. 

So given that contrast, you would think that the producers of online content videos would shun, if not banish, the mindset and strategies for creating pre-roll ads. But you’d be wrong.

More than 90% of corporate online content videos are made with a pre-roll mindset, even when the client hires a professional agency to create its video content.

And most of them are set up for failure before they ever start filming. Why? Because of the “advertising vs. programming” mindset.

I spend a lot of time working with independent filmmakers, and the difference between how they approach creating content and how advertisers create content is striking.  When traditional mass-media advertisers create an ad, here’s what they focus on:

   What does the client want to communicate?

   Will the ad’s message be remembered and recalled by viewers?

   Is the client’s brand/name/logo featured prominently enough to create brand recognition?

   Did the slogan or tagline “sink in”?

Compare that to the questions filmmakers ask themselves at every stage of the process, from pitching concepts to attracting talent to interviewing test audiences and crafting trailers:

   Will this grab and keep an audience’s interest? (Engaging)

   Will this create an emotional reaction? (Moving)

   Will someone pay money to see this? (Valuable)

   Will they want to share it or recommend it? (Word of Mouth)

The first set of questions is “company focused” on what they want to communicate and how well they drove that message home to the audience.  Ask these questions, and audience engagement gets ignored (or at least back-burnered). It’s a pre-roll mindset because you don’t have to care about engagement when the audience is forced to watch.

The second set of questions is “viewer focused” on what the audience is interested in.  Such as, are we delivering content it in a way that’s inherently entertaining, and will people actually LIKE it? Ask these questions and audience engagement stays priority #1, which is what you need to create effective content videos.

So why does the “advertising mindset” prevail?

Unfortunately, if you look at what most clients focus on when creating online video content, it’ll be the first set of questions rather than the second.  That means that the producer gets handed a video “brief” or list of objectives created from that first list of questions. These are video objectives that are tailor-made to inspire a pre-roll mindset, and ultimately, pre-roll style content.

Now, you would hope that most agencies would then step in and correct the situation, but that rarely happens.

First, it’s always hard to tell the client that the very way they are thinking about their video marketing is… well, wrong.

And second, creating interruption-style commercials is what ad agencies do! A pre-roll ad is basically a TV spot cut in half, and a marketing video created by an agency is often a TV spot extended to a couple of minutes. So pre-roll style objectives and questions feel comfortable to marketers. Comfortable enough to roll along with, when directed to do so by the client.

So what can you do about it?

Begin by asking and prioritizing content-style questions: Will the audience find the video engaging/Moving/Valuable/Worth talking about and sharing? Get your video production team to ask — and honestly answer — these questions.

And if you outsource video creation/production, tell them that being liked by your audience has as high (or higher) priority as brand messaging.

12 comments about "Are You Making This Fatal Video Content Mistake? ".
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  1. Scott Saunders from Internet Marketing Media, March 29, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.

    Such a good topic and post! So many marketing groups fail to listen and actually hear what their clients are sharing about, their message, their purpose, their vision. The content should represent the clients purpose, especially for each particular campaign; who (demographic), what (message conveyed), and why (what results do they hope for). My job is to convey that message, be-it in the form of Sales Copy, article content or video content, to a target audience for the best results.
    What an awesome post. Thanks Barry. Happy Easter weekend!
    Scott Saunders
    Internet Marketing Media

  2. Eric Steckel from Turnpike Digital, March 29, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.

    Fantastic topic and conclusion. Too often we see engaging content sacrificed by marketers who need to hammer the viewer with the "brand message" and the product name. Sure those need to be part of the branded content, but if a good story suffers or is altogether missing as a result, then what are you left with? Probably no viewers, for a start.

  3. Paul Calento from TriVu Media, March 29, 2013 at 6:09 p.m.

    Missing link: Advertising-to-content alignment. Likeability is impacted not only by the ad itself, but the context it runs in.

    An excellent ad (i.e. following Poltermann's guidelines) shown to the right audience in the wrong context can lead to a disconnect. Broadcast buyers focus on more than just audience ... so should also be the case with online video.

    Today, saw two separate examples of ads running on a Tier I video portal running against (select) news content most advertisers attempt to avoid in their brand book (and likely in a broadcast context). Technically they're brand safe (and on likely white listed domains), but the content doesn't align with the advertising. Broadcast-style content targeting addresses this issue.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 29, 2013 at 7:59 p.m.

    Today: 2.5 minute ad for a non content connection for a :53 video on Yahoo. No, it was clicked off immediately as no doubt people did. Anybody out there ?

  5. Todd Koerner from e-merge Media, March 29, 2013 at 8:13 p.m.

    I've been advocating for years a system where the viewer would immediately get a menu of 3-5 ad options before seeing a video. It might consist of a banner, video or something else. It would also list the advertiser so the viewer can select the one that most fits his/her interests. It also has the added benefit of viewers beginning to essentially vote with their choice the advertisers that most consistently deliver engaging content.

    For example, I might be given Gillette Razors, Heineken Beer and Chevrolet Volt to choose from. And even though I am very interested in purchasing a Volt, I actually enjoy the Heineken commercials more, so I select that one. Of course, I might have already see the Volt one, but either way, I am much more likely to watch if I can have some say-so over what is delivered.

  6. Davida Tretout from Go2Chic, March 29, 2013 at 9:58 p.m.

    As a consumer & bbi( brand, business, image) coach, I climb up walls when pre-roll is forced down my throat. That said, many smaller businesses choose the "ad" option due to budgetary constraints. Once they make it to the "bigger" times, they no longer need to accept Pre-roll. When in doubt, reference the famous Scarface quote..."first you get the $, then you get the power, then you get the women. " Still a Marketing/ Advertising golden rule...

  7. Jeff Bach from Quietwater Media, March 30, 2013 at 1:55 p.m.

    Love this simple explanation. But as much as I like this article, I have to question this line of thinking a bit. First of all, should we really be looking at indie filmmakers as reliable credible role models? For the most part these people are wannabe Spielbergs, looking for an excuse to wear a tuque and a mock turtleneck. Art has long had a reputation that involves the word "starving". Very little in the indie entertainment world speaks to sound business practices and a media business model that allows for generating revenue. It's a tough world.

    As the other writers suggest though, the preroll is an instrument of the devil. Which I fully agree with as well.

    To me, this leaves an "advertorial" style of content, not quite an ad and not quite pure entertainment. Hard to do, especially if a business owner or decision maker is part of the content (usually in an SMB context).

    No easy answer in balancing between the art and the ad. In many ways, new media indie entertainers are no better than the old media broadcast-oriented evil ad makers. The "devil" is at both ends of the spectrum. Like so many other things, the answer would appear to be in the middle.

    Getting rid of the broadcast-originated aggregation model and accepting the narrowcast search-driven fragmentation model that defines internet users might lead to some interesting changes for the better.

  8. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, April 1, 2013 at 12:15 p.m.

    @Todd, presented with 3-5 options of which commercial to endure simply makes it easier to say no to all five, which is the real point here. A 70% pre-roll skip rate when given the option and a 40% outright abandonment when not given a skip option speak volumes about the respective 30% and 60% that hang in there for the actual content, but it has nothing to do with ad preference. If you want to see a 100% response to something, try asking the right question first: Do you want any ads?

  9. Lou Covey from Footwasher Media, April 1, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.

    It's not just video, it's all content. Before the web, consumer were forced to endure advertising content so advertisers only had to try to create something memorable. The old adage was, if you see a commercial you like but can't remember the product it was pushing you did a bad commercial. But today the audience not only has an attention span of a few seconds, it also has the ability to mute, skip through or shut out messaging altogether. You have to engage the audience in a mutually shared experience now and that takes skill in storytelling.

  10. Kevin Horne from Verizon, April 3, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.

    so, after 2500 words, what was the "fatal" mistake? (and, who was killed?)

  11. Emily Duffy from VideoElephant, April 5, 2013 at 10:44 a.m.

    It seems that Hulu not only has a higher CPM, but it also has less people complaining about there being adverts on the platform. This has probably got something to do the quality of video being offered and the superior branding of the platform as a whole. We’ve noticed that our clients at VideoElephant tend to be picky about how they embed and brand their content, but that they generally don’t have a problem with advertising. Something that maybe goes hand in hand?

  12. Mike Bawden from Brand Central Station, April 9, 2013 at 9:28 a.m.

    This is a nice article, but wrong-headed. According to this piece, the third question independent filmmakers ask is "Will someone pay money to see this?" - the answer, apparently, is "no" because they require advertising to generate the revenue required to create and distribute the content.

    If you take a look at advertising that is well done, engaging and memorable, you'll find that it addresses both sets of questions - and pays the bills.

    I'm all for an option to the requisite pre-roll spot - which is quickly becoming as loved as the pop-up ad - but let's be realistic about why people don't like it ... we have no say in the matter. Yes, some of the ads are bad, but then again, so is some of the content.

    Give consumers a way to select good content and well-produced, relevant ads and the frustration factor will fall significantly.

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