An Open Letter To The Open Letter Writers

The recent NewFronts sparked a lot of interest and subsequent debate about the value of digital video advertising.  It was exciting to read about all of the publisher presentations and hear about the parties.  Apparently Snoop Dogg was in the house.

Post hysteria and hangovers, two “open letters” appeared in the digital advertising trades.  The first was from a group of high profile digital buying directors.  They shared succinct points for “publishers” to consider in order for digital video advertising to improve and prosper.  Immediately responding to this letter with an “open letter” of his own was IAB President-CEO Randall Rothenberg.  He outlined his comfort with what these buyers were looking to achieve while adding to the dialogue with forward thinking initiates of his own.

Both letters were incredibly well written, both made so much sense, and both reminded me of how much we talk to each other and how little we listen to the consumers we are meant to serve.  As it were, I stumbled across this “open letter” to buyers and sellers of digital video advertising from the consumer who is supposed to be watching all this stuff.



Dear Internet Advertising People;

We don’t pretend to understand your business but we do understand you want us to watch digital video content and that, in order for this content to be “free,” there will be some form of advertising to deal with.  

Now we would like you to understand a few things about us.

1.  First, the Internet ain’t free.  

We pay a lot of money to access the Internet and although the individual publishers we visit don’t get our money directly, it doesn’t mean we are not spending any.  So to make business decisions on the assumption that ads are an accepted part of this exchange for content, because the “Internet is free to us” is misconceived at worst, and disingenuous at best.

2.  Pre-roll ads are the same to us as pop-ups.

We see ads two ways; either they are the ones we see and then ignore or they are the ads that act like a spoiled five-year-old who inappropriately hijacks our attention.  Sure we give the latter our time but only enough to scold them.  

Any parent who knows this feeling understands how we consumers feel about ads that appear before the digital video content we made a choice to watch begins. You’re hijacking our attention, not earning it.  

Television has it right.  We love our TV shows because over time we learned to love the characters in them.  So we sit on our couches drinking in the content until we are drunk with anticipation on what will happen next.  Then a commercial break occurs.  We might change the channel, but there is no way we are staying anywhere else for any significant amount of time and risk missing when our show returns.  So many of us end up staying put and watching the ads.  

Digital video content has not earned our passionate attention yet because we don’t know your characters well enough.  Asking us to watch an advertisement first, and then stick around to meet them starts this relationship you want us to build on the wrong foot.  It also invites and incites us to abandon ever meeting them in the first place.

Think of it more simply; who benefits most from a pre-roll ad?  You guys.  Who benefits most from a commercial break after we get to view a portion of the content we chose to watch?  We do.  When you show ads before content starts instead of during it (or after for short-form videos), you’re placing our needs so obviously behind yours that we will resent you.  It’s not more complicated than that.  Any research that says otherwise doesn’t source enough common sense.

3.  Video auto-play with sound.

When this happens, we must work very hard at restraining ourselves from yelling at you from the top of our lungs, but for sure, you are going to your room for a time out.

Finally, we want you to understand one more thing about us; we are not dummies.  We don’t buy things just because we saw your ads.  Do media buyers buy advertising from sites because they saw the publisher’s ads while reading MediaPost?  When was the last time you bought something in your personal life because you saw an ad?  Our buying decisions are like yours; they are based on conscious and subconscious instincts based on a lifetime of experiences – not ads.

Would love to write more but I am getting ready to host a party for the final episode of “The Office.” I hope the ads are good too.

Yours truly,

The Consumer

3 comments about "An Open Letter To The Open Letter Writers".
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  1. Wayne Ens from ens media inc, May 17, 2013 at 7:42 a.m.

    This reads like a letter from a bitter TV sales rep who just had her budget cut in favor of digital, rather than a typical 'consumer'. No one disputes the power of TV, so why the rant?
    P.S. TV isn't free much did that flat screen cost and cable service cost?

  2. Dana Farbo from Self, May 17, 2013 at 8:02 a.m.


    Interesting letter but "Consumer" lost a bit of credibility when they claim they don't buy because of ads. "Consumer" would be much better off recognizing that they and just about everyone else do get influenced to buy but that they just don't want the ads. Then they can feel better when they start paying for all that free content.

  3. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, June 5, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.

    I do think some ad folks forget this stuff. Points 1 and 3 hit home for me. Re: 2, good pre-roll ads don't peeve me as much as bad Pandora ads do.

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