Pre-rolls are basically the video equivalent of banner ads. Consumers complain about them, marketers agree that they're a necessary evil, yet they still comprise the vast majority of video campaigns. So what gives?
Well, for one thing, pre-roll is generally an inexpensive option for video advertisers. It's also easily measurable, and perhaps most importantly, it's a known entity. In many ways, pre-rolls have become synonymous with video advertising itself, and have become the de facto choice for brands looking to run this kind of ad campaign. Anything outside of this can feel like uncharted territory.
That said, pre-roll campaigns have some pretty significant drawbacks that make it worthwhile to explore other options. Most notably, they rely on an antiquated model of one-way communication, and their interruptive nature impedes the online experience. Then there's the question of brand safety. With a shortage of quality pre-roll inventory and a general lack of consumer engagement on many publisher sites, ad networks and other vendors are routinely forced to run campaigns on pirated sites or other questionable content in order to reach their viewership goals.
As I mentioned before, attempts to categorize anything outside of pre-roll can be problematic, but in this piece, I'm aiming to do just that. My hope is that it will start to shed some light on the vast array of possibilities for video advertisers.
Rewards-based video ads flip the traditional advertising paradigm on its head. Instead of foisting unwanted ads on consumers and interrupting their experiences, these ads allow viewers to opt-in to watching a video ad in exchange for a reward, like virtual currency in a casual game or ad-free music on a destination like Spotify or Pandora.
In addition to virtual currency and user control, reward-based ads address issues of relevancy aligned with old-school pre-rolls. Because they are targeted based on social profile data, these opt-in ads generate some of the highest completion and engagement rates in the industry. In fact, because these ads boast such high rates of completion, they're often used to deliver views for traditional pre-roll campaigns that haven't met their goals.
The bottom line is that the days when advertisers could bombard consumers with irrelevant or untimely interruptions are numbered. With reward-based ads, marketers can offer incentivized, well-targeted, non-interruptive videos that are respectful of the online experience.
Like rewards-based ads, choice-based ads like YouTube's TrueView and Hulu Ad Swap fall into the broader opt-in category. They work in one of two ways: by allowing users to opt in to one of multiple ads at the beginning of the video, or by allowing them to skip straight to the content after five to 10 seconds.
Consumer reaction to these formats has been largely positive. YouTube reports that eight out of 10 viewers prefer YouTube's TrueView to in-stream ads, and nine out of 10 believe it creates a better viewing environment. According to Hulu, Ad Swap is equally promising. Since its implementation, the ads have driven a 27 percent increase in brand favorability and a 35 percent increase in purchase intent for Hulu's advertisers.
One of the main issues with choice-based ads is that when given the option to skip to the content itself, it's unclear how often consumers will stick around. Can advertisers rely on consumers to donate their time and attention? The jury's still out on this one.
More and more brands are starting to experiment with branded content and branded entertainment as marketing vehicles. Because these videos are usually at least two to three minutes in length, traditional pre-roll campaigns simply aren't good distribution mechanisms. Instead, partnerships or media buys with content sites are typically a better fit, and when done well, can drive shares, build buzz, and facilitate user engagement. Buyers beware, however: Video production can be an expensive and risky proposition. There's no formula for viral success, so be wary of an agency that promises you the moon.
Outcomes for this kind of video are highly dependent on both the quality of the content and the channels through which it is distributed. Possible distribution mechanisms include:
Content networks like BuzzFeed create quality video and aggregate audiences for it. Its high page views and cultural expertise make it an appealing option for advertisers. The problem, however, is that most advertisers struggle with turning over complete control to these companies, with the result that videos can easily run awry through heavy-handed branding. In some cases, these networks outsource their campaigns to less appealing sites that generate views through trickery or questionable placements.
These kinds of placements are typically done in one of two ways: through outreach done by PR firms and specialty seeding companies, or through paid placements via a blog network. While some bloggers will post a video just because they're excited about it, by and large, these have evolved into a form of paid placement. The upside of this approach is that individuals with large, cult followings can be incredibly influential in driving views and fostering positive brand perception. Among its weaknesses, though, are audience size, issues of scale, and a loss of authenticity if this placement is in fact paid rather than voluntary.
Native ads have recently caught the attention of the online ad industry in a major way. They're alluring because they take on the look and feel of the rest of the site's content, don't disrupt the user experience, and are capable of driving better engagement than pre-rolls. Despite the credible facade, however, native placements can be misleading to consumers, eroding trust and damaging brand perception. In a 2012 MediaBrix study, 45 percent of respondents perceived Twitter's promoted tweets to be misleading, 57 percent found Facebook Sponsored Stories misleading, and 86 percent found branded content misleading.
As the video advertising landscape continues to evolve, it will be increasingly important for marketers to understand that there is no shortage of alternatives to pre-roll. Some are better than others, but for advertisers to find the right mix, it ultimately comes down to experimentation to find a solution that delivers.
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