Remember the time when there used to be only two TV channels with simultaneous ad breaks? When you could not avoid watching the ads that came between you and your entertainment? A time when the only way to avoid the ads was to look away or run out of the room to grab a glass of water? Awesome time for advertisers yes; frustrating for audiences!
Then came the illusion of choice; as the number of channels increased, you could play ‘catch me if you can’ every time there was an ad break on a channel. A little less frustrating, but still. Then after the digital video recorders (DVRs), YouTube and Smart TVs, everyone thought there was no way ads could ever come between them and their programme. It was in this new and liberated media environment that advertising reached critical mass both online and offline, while audiences kept finding ways to avoid it. With the increase in channels, content choices and ad blocking software, marketers no longer had the luxury of captive audiences and advertisers – agencies and media platforms joined forces in a quest to make advertising more persuasive and engaging. Instead, we created a more pervasive ecosystem of ad delivery. In our quest to break through and grab consumers’ attention, we developed more intrusive ads instead of more engaging ones.
This reminds me of a scene from Mission Impossible II when Dr Nekhorvich says: “Well, Dimitri, every search for a hero must begin with something every hero needs, a villain. So in the search for our hero, Bellerophon, we have created a more effective monster: Chimera.” I wish things were that cool in our case; sadly, there is no Mission Impossible force to save the day for advertisers. We have to do it ourselves.
Some may argue that intrusion never left the advertising world, and that it is inherent in it because brands fear that if they make the first move and abandon intrusive advertising for what looks like a #TooGoodToBeTrue lower-key approach, their business will nosedive, leaving the field open to their competitors’ intrusive advertising.
So let’s take a closer look at our Chimera. If this sounds too dramatic, it is because there is nothing as evil in advertising as unskippable in-video advertising.
In-video ads started on YouTube as skippable (although you still had to watch the first five seconds). Then early this year, Facebook started placing ads in the middle of their videos. Although this benefits video content producers on social media, it has ruined the online video experience for audiences; according to a global survey by HubSpot, over 61% of respondents said in-video ads are irritating.
So marketers, please enlighten us. Would it be wrong to say that a vast majority of the video ads appearing on Facebook and YouTube are seen for a few seconds only? Having seen tons of post-analysis for digital video-led campaigns, I can say with authority that when the ‘skip ad’ option is available, only 15% of audiences actually watch the ad; and it was because of this that we began to force them to watch unskippable ads, in the same way we used to in the golden era of TV advertising.
For me, the future of online advertising is looking more and more tenuous. Is there a way brands can achieve what they intend while at the same time content producers and ad agencies can make money without creating annoying ad experiences? There has to be a way; surely we can do better than make people hate ads even more? Was this... inevitable?
I don’t think so. And no, I am not going the #contentisking route either. Of course it is, but you still need to advertise to feel ‘safe’ believing you did everything you could. Here is my sinfully naïve-sounding solution.
Step #1: Drop the annoying in-video ads or (the consumer) will shoot (you)!
This is worse than cold calling. Do you know who watches those ads you put in the middle of a video? No one. They mute the ad, look away while it plays, or simply scroll away from the video altogether. You have seen the post-campaign analysis, you know the truth. And I know why you chose to do it in the first place – I feel your pain. All that money promoting video ads and all you get is a ‘skip’! There is another way, my misguided marketer – stop being suicidal and listen up.
Step #2: Make seven-second long, high- impact video ads for Facebook and YouTube
This is the Bellerophon to our Chimera... and before media planners start praising me while creative folk insult me, hear me out. Agencies have long been advising brands to make shorter, crisper advertising for major sport events like the ICC T20 World Cup or PSL. Media planners hold that 15- to 20- seconds is the ideal copy duration and clients are often demonised for asking for five- or 10-second adaptations, while still trying to fit in the entire TVC message. Much to the annoyance of every creative director, the five- or seven-second adaptation always outruns their 90-second version ad in frequency. So why not make fantastic five- to seven-second video ads, rather than hope that the first two seconds of a TVC will make sense? Not that there aren’t platforms where standalone long ads still work, but we really need to stop wasting money on digital eyeballs that just don’t add up.
Step #3: Don’t let poor metrics misguide you!
The digital advertising ecosystem has developed faster than the tools that are required to measure its impact. This lag is a bane on what promised to be the most targetable and measurable medium in the history of marketing.
In October 2008, the McKinsey Quarterly wrote, “the inability to make accurate measurements of digital advertising’s effectiveness across channels and consumer touchpoints will continue to promote the misallocation of media budgets and impede the industry’s growth.”
Don’t be overawed by nascent technologies and inconsistent metrics. Everything is not ‘awesome’ just because your agency says so. Instead of looking at ad duration as a limitation, let’s make five- to seven-second ads that deliver the core message and encourage audiences to opt to watch the full-length version. This will give audiences a choice – and choice has been scientifically proven to be more effective than intrusive advertising. Dr Robert Cialdini (aka the ‘Godfather of Influence’) points out in his book The Psychology of Persuasion that “people want to act consistently with their prior choices. When consumers feel they made a choice to opt in, they will take the content of your ad more seriously.”
I know creative teams are capable of taking on this challenge; what I am more sceptical about is whether clients are capable of seeing online video advertising for what it has become; a self-defeating cycle.
So who will be the first to blink and break from the norm? Who is ready to take the plunge and become a helpful brand instead of standing their ground as just another annoying one?
Umair Saeed is COO, Blitz Advertising. email@example.com