Best practice in video advertising

10/04/2008

The sudden arrival of in-stream video advertising formats presents new challenges for commercial directors, ad operations teams and media planners. Minor variations in the way video advertising messages are delivered can have a disproportionate impact on the effectiveness of the commercials and the quality of the campaign. These best practice tips for video advertising reflect techniques that have proven to be effective for both media planners and online publishers in getting more value from the media space and creative assets.

Keep the pre-rolls short
Video content that runs before editorial programming is typically called a pre-roll. This advertising format has a high impact because it typically commands all of the viewer’s attention as it loads immediately on their request to watch video content, and the nature of video as a time-based medium means viewers have become trained to watch the screen with high attention. This is backed up by eye tracking heat map studies, and confirms that from the viewer’s perspective pre-rolls prove to be highly intrusive and interruptive. Publishers and media planners should acknowledge this and keep the duration short. Three to seven seconds seems to form an optimal trade-off between delivering a brand impact message and maintaining viewer attention. Long pre-rolls disengage viewers and trigger steep drop-off rates.

Longer video advertising formats work well as mid-rolls
Video content that runs between editorial programme segments is typically called a mid-roll. Like a commercial break in a traditional television stream, audiences have a ‘learned behaviour’ in terms of how to focus their attention. As with pre-rolls there is a predictable decay in audiences, but in contrast the rate of drop-off is shallow: if a viewer has already committed to 10 minutes of viewing an online video stream then they are likely to be far more tolerant of longer advertising breaks – after all, in most countries that’s exactly what they’ve been trained to do through watching television. Mid-rolls are still a highly intrusive and interruptive format, and publishers and media planners should acknowledge this, but the scope for longer creative is clear.

Mid-roll advertising formats – 30-second spots work well
Standard television-style 30-second commercials transfer well into these slots, but there needs to be a logic in when the mid-roll starts. Many early web video strategies clumsily dumped mid-rolls into the video stream at seemingly random points, creating an awkward experience for the customer and failing to introduce the advertiser’s presence. Content teams need to draw on best practice from television to find ways of structuring programming to provide a natural breaking point between editorial scenes or segments. This gives the advertising a home and better customer experience.

Get the balance between editorial and advertising video volumes right
People typically have short attention spans on the web and high expectations. If the balance between advertising and content programming in web video ‘feels’ wrong then viewers vote with their mice. Many media groups may readily accept 30-second spots, but placing them between 30 second news clips is a sure fire way to get viewers tuning out.

Watch the frequency
With video content only accounting for a tiny fraction of all web viewing, the danger is that a small number of people can be over-exposed to the commercial message. The risks are amplified when only a small number of video advertisers are running on a site, creating an unhealthy mix of potentially very high rates of exposure within a short time frame. This can not only burn through campaign inventory without delivering audience reach, but the high levels of exposure in an intrusive format could start to work against the brand advertising. Just like the overuse of pop-ups after 2000, frequency is key in balancing interruption.

Media owners: commission and package web programming to fulfil audience needs
There are many ways to structure video on the web and the classic approach of traditional television programmes is only one. In a media channel characterised more by ‘snacking’ or ‘grazing’, short bites of content often fulfil one set of audience needs perfectly, so if content is created and structured with short viewing in mind, then it will enjoy better uptake and the site will enjoy better repeat traffic.

Media owners: link short content together
For sites where the video content is structured as a series of clips - such as commonly the case among the early generations of video news providers - media owners can boost average minutes per viewer, by connecting one content clip to the next. This makes continued viewing effortless and helps build exposure across the breadth of content areas, encouraging deeper ‘trial’ of the online video product.

Media owners: then link the short content together with end-rolls
The missed commercial opportunity for most media owners is in then linking content together with end-roll commercials. The commercials have a natural home between segments and the advertising technology and operations for this is easily in place.

Fish where the fish are
Many brands still see their own website as being the only place were brand engagement really takes place. The thinking is a legacy of the mid-nineties, when clicks were everything and the brand impact of graphical messaging was poorly understood. While some brands have succeeded in creating powerful sites that deliver on the promise of engagement, these strategic models are far from the norm and typically involve both high investment and long term commitment to the channel. That legacy thinking reappeared with online video, but smart brands and media planners will challenge this, preferring to fish where the fish are and reach the big audiences for web video on the media sites that have the content and the track record.

Creating video messages designed for hyperlinked environments broadens possibilities
In the converged media landscape every brand should be developing video-based commercial content. Ideally this should go far beyond the confines of the traditional 30-second television spot; with footage that allows a non-linear story to unfold based on the desires and clicks of the viewer. Why limit a car commercial to 30 seconds if the viewer wants to explore the design, see the road from behind the wheel and learn about fuel consumption? This type of non-linear video storytelling has been common in brand microsites since 2002, and with the scope to use companion banners and in-stream clicks as a way of taking the viewer into a parallel track of content, the approach should be combined with bespoke web video advertising.

No video ad content? Try Flash
For brands that have not yet invested in video advertising messages and assets, simply reusing web Flash movies within the video stream is a neat way to solve the problem.

Use the web to get more value from the investment in expensive television commercials
The ad production budgets for television commercials may be falling, but they still dwarf most web campaigns. With audiences having high expectations, the high definition medium being unforgiving in terms of quality, and big brands well-skilled in the use of television, the resulting formula means big budgets and big expectations. The problem is that the high cost of television buys also created a culture of short intense campaigns. Extending those campaigns onto the web unlocks other uses for those creative assets.

Use the web to extend the duration of TV campaigns
Web media properties might not deliver the same mass reach in video programming that television historically achieved, but smart media planners can use the web to extend the duration of campaigns within well defined target groups. The niche nature of web media gives scope for a brand to re-use their video content over a long period, long after the expensive television campaign has gone off air.

Use the web to build the frequency of TV campaigns
Similarly, re-deploying TV commercials within internet media properties can boost the number of impacts per person. Smart strategies that spread impacts over a long duration can maintain brand awareness even when competing brands are taking a high share of voice for shorter term campaigns.

Use companion banners to drive response
The way video assets are displayed within the web page or the player normally gives scope for companion banners, sponsorship credits or text links. Rather than simply repeating the brand marque or using existing banner creative, these spaces can often unlock more value by providing a strong call to action, broadening the scope of the campaign and creating additional measurable impacts and benefits. By varying the banner creative through several different propositions, marketers can again get more value from their media space.

Drive traffic to build inventory
To boost inventory and views, website publishers need to actively boost the promotion of their video content. Boosting the numbers of viewers has a disproportionate impact on revenue potential and if the scale of online video audiences inside any one media website are still low, then the use of internal signposting can have a transformative effect on inventory.

Always watch the analytics
As with all digital marketing, the analytics holds the secret of user behaviour. By staying close to the numbers, marketers and digital publishers can gain deep insights into exactly how audiences are interacting with services, and by harnessing those insights create improvements. This constant cycle of observing, changing, testing and observing can create a true
‘learning organisation’. These principles can be applied in many ways but start with tracking the page views and stream views for the video content. The next stage is to count the number of streams and the number of unique viewers and, through this, build up models for how audiences behave when it comes to accessing video content. Rather than simply looking for the average number of views per person, digging deeper will expose the spread of viewer behaviour and flag up whether a very large volume of views are clocked up by a very small volume of viewers. Embedding the counting tags within the video will also show at which point the audience trails off and can be the way of discovering both the optimal length and configuration for your particular audiences.

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