As tempting as this analogy might be, signs are emerging that autoplay may not fit as nicely into the digital video ecosystem as commercials do on TV. The backlash among marketers is well-documented, though at the end of the day, it is consumer reactions that matter most. All signs indicate that users are developing ways around autoplay—and the risk of permanent backlash, in the form of a learned “video ad blindness,” is very real.
A majority of consumers—estimates range from 70%-90% depending on whom you ask—skip Google’s TrueView ads when given the option. Moments after the introduction of autoplay on Twitter, manuals for disabling the feature began to pop up. This summer, The Onion ran an article whose authors “found” that “human reaction time is now most accurately measured by the speed at which a person is able to pause an [autoplay] video on ESPN.com,” concluding that “allowing the video to play in its entirety is a clear sign of severe and irreparable brain damage.” Hilarious, but ominous: avoiding autoplay is already part of a national conversation among consumers because of how seemingly intrusive they can be.
More effective autoplay strategies tied to user experience
The good news is that the industry is working on ways to make autoplay more effective, not just for advertisers and publishers, but also for consumers, who deserve an experience that is seamless across devices. They don’t want a video just playing out of nowhere, interrupting their time on social networks or whatever article they are reading or app they are playing. The solution is to make autoplay videos less disruptive, contextually relevant and engaging. Consent and control are key components to the user experience on the Web.
Contextual relevance is the first essential step, and this is where digital advertisers have a leg up on the TV world. Through programmatic buying, RTB technology and cross-device targeting, the amount of data available for digital advertising is awe-inspiring. Tapping into these user segments and truly understanding the demographic being reached makes for a better ad experience for all parties.
Demographics are available for TV advertisers to work with but they can be generic, or even off-base. Consider the family watching a Sunday night football games when an ad for an adult beverage advertiser appears—not appropriate for everyone watching the game.
On digital channels, advertisers can avoid these pitfalls because of the precision of this data. When the right message is crafted for the right person and delivered at the right time, an ad becomes relevant and seamless, making the user more receptive. With interest and engagement from a target audience, the chances of video ad blindness sharply decrease. Consider if that beverage ad was delivered to an adult who was watching game highlights on a mobile device on the way home from work. Suddenly what was once an annoying autoplay ad becomes an engaging video that supplements the content-consumption experience.
As creatives and strategists work on the message and targeting, the technology front has been developing refinements to make autoplay formats less disturbing and more in-tune with consumer behavior. The IAB standard for autoplay is user-initiated video, which means that a user must take an action in order for the video to start playing. Without a sign of engagement from the user—this could be a mouse hovering over the area or a click on the “more information” section—the video ad will not play. This format allows the ad to perform its function but in a way that permits the user to start the process.
Another option beginning to gain traction in the industry is in-view autoplay. Publishers place this unit in the middle of a piece of contextually relevant editorial content. As a user scrolls down the page, the video comes in view and then begins to play with sound once it is 50% viewable; the video pauses if the user scrolls up or down the page, and the video viewability drops to under half. Once the video finishes, the unit disappears from the experience.
A more efficient autoplay strategy will consider the above principles in an attempt to balance consumer wants and advertiser/publisher needs. Learning to use these variations and strategies early and often will mitigate emerging consumer fatigue and the risk of developing video ad blindness.
Take the long view
If we examine our long-term value proposition to consumers, digital video is an evolving format at a critical inflection point. The lessons learned from banner advertising loom large here—over all new digital ad formats. Technological advancements in behavioral tracking will force KPIs to evolve along with the format itself, improving transparency, mitigating consumer annoyance, and raising the bar for what constitutes success. But there’s no need to wait for our KPIs to align with consumers’ interest in enjoying a non-interruptive experience.
Digital video can and should take steps to avoid an arms race with consumers’ patience, and that means mobilizing the full creativity and diversity in our digital video arsenal. Consumers are already telling us what they don’t like. The question is whether the advertising industry can listen, and adapt.