Case Study: Use of Special Visual Effects in Video Ads


ADOTAS – Special effects in a video are often eye-catching, but to what degree do they actually encourage a positive association with a brand when they’re used in an ad? A recent study by GenArts says it’s enough of a degree for advertisers to take note. Working with MarketTools, GenArts presented video ads for a national sneaker brand to viewers, both with and without visual effects. The videos with effects caught viewers’ imagination more, made the prospect of watching the ad a second time more desirable and led to greater interest in the brand.

What follows is the text from the case study, in its entirety.


The Power of Visual Effects to Drive Audience Engagement and Video Content Popularity

The world’s production and consumption of video is exploding as more and more businesses and consumers use video to build relationships, entertain, educate, or persuade audiences. By 2014, nearly 90% of online consumer traffic will be video. New online video creators will have the same need to drive audience engagement as Hollywood and broadcast television have had for years. As context, for decades, media companies, studios, and advertising agencies have invested in using visual effects to drive audience engagement as measured using a number of metrics including: audience involvement, interaction, influence and brand proclivity. Now, online video creators and distributors can use visual effects to engage viewers, increase popularity and drive purchase intent for the first time. This research report highlights how visual effects can be used to drive business benefits in content development, ad premiums, and audience growth.

Key Findings

Visual effects increase video appeal, preference, and likelihood to watch again
Visual effects increase viewer’s brand consideration, likelihood to purchase, and likelihood to download a coupon for the advertised product and lessen negative responses along similar measures
Visual effects are the reason cited for preference over the same content without visual effects

Business Implications

The use of visual effects can drive video popularity, increase the value of published content, and improve the return on advertising investment.

Situation Analysis

Online video aggregators and content distributors such as YouTube,, Pixelfish and Vimeo are driving unprecedented audience volumes but are not always capturing their fair share of time spent by consumers watching and engaging with video content. In February 2011, according to GenArts research, the average U.S. YouTube user watched two hours and 14 minutes of YouTube content, compared to the greater than five hours per month spent on sites that distribute network and broadcast-quality content, such as Hulu and Netflix. The primary driver of this difference is that sites like YouTube rely heavily upon user-generated content that lacks the story and production quality needed to engage today’s viewers. As a result, online content networks are not maximizing the value of their audience reach and are not able to command the full premium for their ad inventory or subscription services that their audience reach may warrant.

This challenge to engage users is not limited to YouTube. The use of video is exploding and becoming the primary means of communication. By 2014, as mentioned earlier, more than 90 percent of all online consumer traffic will be video, and the number of video creators is estimated to increase from 350,000 today to more than 220 million.

As more and more individuals and small-to-medium-businesses use video to inform, influence, and entertain, they face the same challenge to engage users as the legacy broadcast networks and their advertisers. Viewers today expect both a compelling story and the same production values as seen on television, in commercials, and at the movies. Movie studios, broadcast networks and advertisers have long understood the need to engage as they compete for users’ attention. They invested in not only great storytelling but also enhanced production values across lighting, sound, and motion graphics to entertain, influence, and grow audiences. One of the least-investigated methods of enhancing production value has been the use of visual effects (“VFX”); how VFX drive audience engagement is a similarly uninvestigated topic of research.

Research Hypothesis

Video treated with visual effects will outperform untreated video across a number of engagement metrics. In 2007, Forrester Research defined engagement as “the level of involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence that an individual has with a brand over time.” In a media-specific context, the brand elements or content that users engage with first is the show content and then, by extension, the publisher of the content, and finally, the ads seen on the network. For example, the popular television show House engages fans with its content, and FOX is the network and the platform publishing and monetizing the content. Advertisers running on the FOX network, like Coca-Cola or Nike, capitalize on the targeted audience to drive sales. In this case study, we hypothesize that the targeted use of VFX can help increase video appeal, brand preference, and purchase intent.

Case Study Context

Since 1996, GenArts’ customers have been using its visual effects software to create looks in video to set the mood, brand products, guide the audience, improve quality, and reduce costs. In this research effort, GenArts tested its working hypothesis that video treated with VFX will outperform untreated video. In May 2011, GenArts tested a national footwear company’s product video advertisement to determine how the use of visual effects impacted brand consideration, audience engagement, and purchase intent.

Research Purpose

Measure the impact visual effects have on audience engagement
Identify if visual effects influence audience engagement, recall, and overall likelihood to recommend, watch again, purchase, or forward
Measure how these trends change between demographic groups

Research Goals

Evaluate the control and enhanced video versions within a cell against each other
Determine if the enhanced video version elicits the highest overall appeal


In May 2011, GenArts worked with MarketTools, a leading online market research company to run a research study to quantify the impact of visual effects on audience engagement using a national footwear company’s video promotion for a new footwear model. GenArts submitted two video advertisements, one treated with visual effects (“treated”) and one without visual effects (“untreated”) to be tested with the MarketTools’ online panel of 518 18- to 54-year-olds split evenly between men and women. The advertisement promoted a new footwear product targeted specifically toward males between ages of 18 and 54.

Respondents were randomly shown one of two versions of a video advertisement created by a leading footwear company: one with the untreated video ad first and the treated video second or one with the treated one first and the untreated one second. After watching the first video, respondents were asked a series of twenty questions about the video they had seen. After answering questions, respondents were then shown the alternate version of the ad and asked additional questions. Respondents were asked questions based on several key attributes and behaviors: likeability, engagement, memorability, and purchase intent.

Key Findings

Overall, the video ad with visual effects outperformed the untreated video ad. Specifically:

Adults found the treated video ad to be more appealing (+4%), more unique (+3%), and were more likely to watch the video again (+6%)
Visual effects decreased the likelihood of adults to fast-forward or abandon the video by 5%
Visual effects increased purchase intent and likelihood to download a coupon by 4%
The majority of those who saw the untreated video first preferred the enhanced video
Over 90% who saw both videos cited visual effects as they reason they preferred the treated video to the untreated video

The target audience — men — responded significantly more positively toward the videos with visual effects. In some cases, the lack of visual effects had greater negative impact on engagement measures. Specifically:

Men found the treated video to be significantly more appealing than the untreated video (+14%) while the ad lacking visual effects was significantly less appealing: 22% rated it as “not very appealing” vs. 14% in the VFX-enhanced video test
Men were 9% less likely to stop watching the treated video before its end vs. the men in the untreated group
Men were 13% more likely to consider purchasing the advertised footwear brand vs. the men watching the untreated video
The lack of visual effects increased negative brand consideration; male targets watching untreated video were 11% more likely to definitely not consider the brand vs. men watching the VFX-treated video
Purchase intent among male viewers of the treated video increased 9% compared to men who watched the untreated and 12% compared to all adults who watched the untreated ad
Without visual effects, the video ad was less effective; men in the untreated group were 13% more inclined to not download a coupon vs. the men in the treated video group

Question: How appealing is the advertisement you just watched?

Analysis: Ad Appeal

Adults in the enhanced video group found the footwear ad with visual effects more appealing than the untreated ad and rated the enhanced video 4% higher in the top two boxes (extremely appealing or very appealing). The target audience, men, found the enhanced video to be significantly more appealing—14% more appealing in top-box ratings at a 95% confidence level—than the men in the untreated group.

Furthermore, men in the untreated group found the untreated video ad to be significantly less appealing—8% more rated the ad in bottom two boxes (“not at all likely” or “not very likely to watch again”) at 90% confidence level—than those men in the enhanced group.





Question: How unique do you feel this video is compared to other advertisements for similar products?

Analysis: Uniqueness

Overall, adults found the video with visual effects to be slightly more unique; however, the target audience of men rated the video with VFX to be more unique than the untreated group.

Visual effects counteracted the negative ratings of the video—29% of the men watching the untreated video judged it as not very unique compared to just 19% of men watching the enhanced video.

Question: Based on the ad you saw, how likely are you to watch this video again?

Analysis:  Repeat Views

Visual effects improved repeat viewing by 3% overall and drove a greater impact among the intended target. Men watching the treated video indicated they were significantly more likely to watch the video again: 8% higher than men watching the untreated video and 15% higher than women in the untreated group (at an 80% confidence level). This is most likely due to the targeting of the ad toward men.

Question:  If viewing this ad online, how likely would you be to fast-forward or close out this video before it is finished?

Analysis:  Abandonment

Visual effects decreased the likelihood to fastforward or abandon the video; adults who viewed the enhanced video were 5% less likely to abandon while the male targets, specifically, were 9% less likely to close out of the video than men watching the untreated video.




Question:  How likely would you be to consider buying this brand of footwear?

Analysis: Brand Consideration

Visual effects increased the male viewer’s willingness to consider buying the brand of footwear by 13%. Among the male targets, 47% would consider the brand compared to only 34% who watched the untreated video (at a 95% confidence level).

The lack of visual effects further polarized negative brand consideration. The male targets were 11% more likely to definitely not consider the brand (at a 95% confidence level) than those in treated group.





Question:  How likely would you be to consider purchasing this particular brand of footwear?

Analysis: Purchase Intent

Visual effects increased purchase intent among the adults watching the enhanced video. Among the male targets, purchase intent increased 9% versus the men who watched the untreated ad. Men who viewed the untreated video were much more likely to have a negative purchase intent than men who watched the VFX-enhanced video. Men viewing the untreated video were 13% more likely to probably or definitely not purchase the product (at a 95% confidence level).









Question:  How likely would you be to download a coupon for this product?

Analysis: Purchase Intent

Without visual effects, the video ad was less effective in influencing men to act. Men in the untreated group were 13% more inclined to not download a coupon (chose “Not at All Likely” at 95% confidence level), which is significantly lower than the men who saw the enhanced ad.

Question:  Now that you have reviewed both advertisements, which one do you prefer?

Analysis: Preference

There was a clear preference for the treated video among those who saw the untreated video first. Over 90% who saw the untreated video first cited visual effects as they reason they preferred the treated video to the untreated video.Both groups cited VFX as the primary reason for preferring the video ad.








Business Implications

Visual effects can help increase the ability of your video content to convert users to purchase.

In this example, the national footwear company is directly marketing to a group of 1,000 prospects that might be interested in the footwear category. Without visual effects to enhance their video, the national footwear brand could experience negative brand consideration and start off with a smaller base of consumers who would consider purchasing their brand.
In addition, the lack of visual effects lowers the likelihood of ad viewers to purchase the advertised brand of footwear. With the use of visual effects, the footwear company is able to increase its brand appeal overall with adults and with its target audience, men. The use of visual effects helps drive up purchase intent, which equates to a potential 26% gain in revenue for adults and a potential 81% gain in revenue from their target audience for the new footwear products.

Further Research Opportunities

This case study highlights the opportunity to conduct additional research around the targeted use of visual effects and fully understand the impact across demographics such as gender, age and geography. This example highlighted a commercial that was designed to appeal to U.S. males and further case studies can explore the impact in similar scenarios with ads targeting women as well
as investigating the impact of geography to fully understand the different ways visual effects can influence engagement across a variety of audience segments.



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