Commentary

Activating Through Video: Not By Overlay Alone

  • by September 10, 2007
When YouTube recently announced its overlay ad model, forgoing the pre-roll and choosing instead to embrace an opt-in video overlay, it occurred to me that they'd forgotten that advertising in broadband video doesn't have to be a necessary evil if it's done right.

Hearing their argument that research showed a dramatic roll-off in viewing when consumers were presented with :30 and :15 pre-rolls led me to wonder whether or not ANY of the pre-rolls were any good to begin with -- or just versions of TV :30's and :15's that weren't created for the online medium. Did they forget that their medium is not the message, but in this case, the message is the message?

What's disconcerting from a creative perspective is how much opportunity we have had and still have to create custom :10 pre-rolls that are contextual to music, movie, news, sports -- or just about any genre of uploaded video, consumer-generated or not. If our pre-rolls are good enough, funny enough, and entertaining enough, then I'm quite certain that the :10 pre-roll unit would be more than tolerated by YouTube viewers. In fact, they might even ADD value to the otherwise home-made video experience - now there's a novel idea.

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Instead, we have a major content distrubutor whose daily rubber-necking viewers actually account for enough views to compete with network television reach -- and it has thrown in the towel on the pre-roll and opted instead for overlay opt-in advertising, simply reinforcing mechanisms for commercial avoidance rather than finding the appropriate means to be adjacent to it. The fact that YouTube concluded that our :30 and :15 TV cutdowns failed just reinforces the fact that, as a creative community, we aren't creating for the medium -- we're just repurposing for it.

Here's a challenge: If YouTube were to invite six agencies of their choice to each create one humorous, contextually relevant :10 preroll to precede a contiguous genre of video content, and THEN run the test, I'd bet dollars to dashboards that the results would be remarkably different.

In fact, add dynamic insertion to the offering, enabling those six agencies to create their contextual pre-roll around a specific attribute -- say daypart, geography, even weather -- and the results don't just become memorable and contextual, but current as well.

Then, instead of offering an overlay as the main ad model, ALSO give viewers an overlay that, if they wish, can telescope them to a longer-form piece of brand-centric narrative that's hopefully just as compelling as the :10 pre-roll was.

This is not rocket science or brain surgery; it's just advertising. And if we're as good at entertaining consumers in :30 as we claim to be, then why can't we creatively show Google/YouTube what good creative looks like in a :10 unit -- and then see how that performs.

As someone who spends his days creating new ad units for new media platforms, I am not averse to the overlay.  In fact, I see amazing potential for dynamically served overlays within video that offer links to compelling brand narratives -- if they're done right.

The question for us as a creative community is, how long will it take us to get our heads out of the :30 sand, and start creating more compelling short-form and long-form narratives, so we don't see valuable platforms like YouTube creating ad models more for the medium -- than the message?

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