Less Is More: Long Video Ads Are Lazy And Disrespectful

In 1994 the FIFA World Cup was played in the U.S. That was the first time that I was able to watch quality soccer on TV without having to find one of the foreign-language channels. However, I was horrified that the broadcasters chose to insert regular ad breaks during the matches.

This was idiotic: Unlike typical American sports, soccer does not have regulated breaks, and the action can happen at any time. As a matter of fact, during the final match between my home country (Italy) and Brazil, a crucial goal was missed by viewers because of a commercial break.

In Italy and other European countries where futbol is king, advertisers have found clever ways of gaining eyeballs without interfering with audience enjoyment. One example is the use of banners placed on the field, painted in such a way that when seen from the angle of the TV camera they appear to be standing up.

Even more interesting is the use of five-second spots, which are inserted into the broadcast when there is an opportune break in the action. When I first saw that format, I was struck by how nice it was not to have the game interrupted at an interesting point — but even more so, by how great some of the ads were. It is amazing, with a bit of effort, how much information and entertainment can be packed into a five-second spot.



In an earlier blog, I suggested that video ads may be the next digital bubble, because the amazing performance seen by advertisers is largely based on misleading MRC-defined viewability metrics, while in reality these ad formats are extremely invasive and annoying. My contention about video ad annoyance is supported by Google’s increasing push for skippable ads – which have been shown to outperform unskippable video ads -- as well as data suggesting that pre-roll video ads are considered the most annoying ad format by consumers.

In spite of the evidence, advertisers and publishers alike continue to ruin the collective online experience with growing numbers of video ads, which get inserted in the most intrusive of places (a recent favorite: being forced to watch a pre-roll ad when I wanted to check out a Super Bowl ad). I find this perplexing, because it does not take a brain scientist (which, by the way, I am) to figure out that the longer consumers are forced to watch an ad, the more annoyed they will get.

And this leads me to the first key point of this post: There is absolutely no reason for a marketer to create an unskippable 30-second ad, let alone a 60-second ad.

Yes, I will agree that you can stuff more content into 30 seconds than you can in five. But first of all, you should be able to capture the essence of your message in five seconds. If you fail to do so, it’s because you or your creative team are lazy. Create a short teaser and give me the chance to go find the longer content if that’s what I want.

And now, the second key point of my post: Forcing me to watch your content is immensely disrespectful.

In this day and age, time and attention are the most valuable assets for the vast majority of online users. With your actions, you are telling me that my time and my attention are yours to do with as you please, and that you couldn’t care less about me.

Even in the rare occurrence that I actually give a damn about your product or service, I will probably not forgive you the lack of respect that you have shown me.

My closing advice: Whether you are a publisher or advertiser, refuse to distribute any video ads that cannot be skipped. And if you are an advertiser, learn how to get your message across in five seconds. Otherwise, expect to reap the harvest of your laziness and disrespect.

9 comments about "Less Is More: Long Video Ads Are Lazy And Disrespectful".
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  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, February 11, 2016 at 1:48 p.m.

    Could not agree more Paolo and I am sure many who are in the business of placing and running these ridiculously long ads prior to video content (that is often only one minute in length) understand the valid point you raise -- but here is the but -- our incentive structures are misaligned because payment for video ads are heavily based on being seen/partially viewed -- that's why "auto play" video ads are so prevalent as well.  Until the financial incentives are rearranged, this problem will continue to create self inflicted wounds on our industry.

  2. Michael Elling from IVP Capital, LLC, February 11, 2016 at 2:46 p.m.


    Let's hope this spreads!  Another factor is that increasingly people are surfing or streaming while mobile or multi-tasking on a second screen.

    Advertisers must think that people having the phone with them 7x24 gives plenty of time to work with.  Just the opposite.  People check their phones 150x a day on average.  Let's say they reserve 20% of their free time to do that.  Then that's about 72 seconds.  So both 30 and 60 second ads basically don't work in the mobile world.

    Also, I have observed something about UX and demand over the past 26 years analyzing subscription and recurring revenue communication and media models.  I call it the "half-step law of demand." Basically if you add another step/delay to a process you lose half your addressable audience.  For a start-up that means 100% of the audience to begin with.  For entrenched providers that means customers who are on the brink of churning/disconnecting and new customers to make up for natural churn.

    So 3 steps means 1/8th (YES 12%) of what was thought to be the addressable market; let alone frustrating existing users.  I think we can extend this principle to video ad length across all contexts.

  3. Keith Ritter from Keith Ritter Media, February 12, 2016 at 11:24 a.m.

    Excellent piece, but one small correction.  While the 1994 World Cup was indeed played in the US, there were no in-game commercial breaks.  Instead, ABC sold advertising on the clock and only showed commercials during halftime as well as pre- and post-game.  Perhaps you're thinking of the 1990 World Cup, shown, I believe, on Turner, which did contain commercials in-game?

    That doesn't negate any other of the excellent points you make!

  4. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, February 12, 2016 at 4:52 p.m.

    This is really crazy-think. There are many situations where shorter ads perform quite well. And there are other situations where longer ads perform quite well.

    We should recall Lincoln's response (supposedly) to how long a man's legs should be:  Long enough to reach the ground. How long should a video/TV ad be? Long enough to achieve its goal - not a second longer OR SHORTER.

    Perhaps what's going on is that there are many companies who, in order to push out vast volumes of video, make it long. But MARKET experience is that when the message is needed, long ads outperform short ads.

    I DO agre that lengthy video ads are painful. A :30 TV ad played on a laptop feels like a :120. But, video ads online also aren't driving much in the way of valuable results yet, either. And that problem isn't length related but is an essential problem with online advertising.

    IF it turns out that the only ad length that's going to have any chance of working online is a :05 to :10, then that means online video ads are rarely effective. And maybe that's the real truth.

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 12, 2016 at 5:17 p.m.

    I agree with Doug. If it is really true that the only digital video ads that can be "tolerated" by the "audience" are 5-second messages, then you can forget about getting significant TV-type branding ad revenues as this length is simply too short to tell a cohesive message no matter how "creative" the creatives are. What's needed is some mechanism whereby the digital user comes to expect reasonably short and paced ad breaks that do not truncate the use of contiguous editorial content. This would allow those advertisers who need a minimum of 15 or 30 seconds to make their case to have access to whatever portion of the audience they can snare with a clever, attention-getting ad and get their full message----not a hint of a message--- across.

  6. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., February 12, 2016 at 5:32 p.m.

    @Ari - you are right, there is definitely a misalignment of incentives at play here!

    @Michael - I thought of you as I wrote this, given your passion for the beautiful game :-). Your point about the "relative time" is very interesting!

    @Keith: you are right, though at the end of the half during the finals match, ABC was about 1 min late coming back, during which time Ronaldo scored a key goal against Italy. But come to think of it, you are generally right that it was the first time US broadcasters understood the value of no commercial breaks. I had been following the world cup in this country since 1982, and it used to be impossible to watch it on anything other than Univision or other foreign-language channels.

    @Doug & @Ed: On the one hand, advertisers are obsessing about viewability as defined by MRC - which I hav argued before is useless in terms of actual impact. On the other hand, the definition of what is "good" is completely lacking. In a lab setting, it seems that a :5 has way more impact on top-of-funnel metrics than a :1, and while the impact seems to grow somewhat, it tapers off. Now, that's assuming that the main message and logo etc are front-loaded. If you drag on for the first 25 sec of a :30 trying to be cute or sentimental, and your brand is nowhere to be found, well, then clearly a :5 is useless. But all of this ignores the emotional reaction of consumers, who find this immensely frustrating. The point I am making is not necessarily that :5s are BETTER than :30s, but that you could easily make :5s that capture plenty of punch... without pissing people off.

  7. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC replied, February 15, 2016 at 8:28 p.m.

    Couldn't be 1994, because Brazil-Italy ended 0-0 and went to penalties.  Worst WC of all time.

  8. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC replied, February 15, 2016 at 8:36 p.m.

    Video ads that are requested are always effective.  The paradigm has got to change to permission based video or we are bound to annoy and be blocked.    

    I'd love to see research about brand awareness and brand perception before and after a digital campaign.  Is it good business to piss people off?

  9. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 16, 2016 at 5:30 a.m.

    To Randall's point, of course video ads that are requested by the user are more effective---probably 10 times more effective, maybe more---but if digital ad sellers switch to the permission model, they can say goodby to most or all branding ad dollars. As for direct response, they would have to increase their CPMs at least in proportion to the response rate just to break even and it's questionable how many direct marketers would pay those much higher CPMs.

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