Pre-roll and the Ramora: Why (and How) Advertisers Must Adapt to Sustain the Video Balance

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ADOTAS — Nature has many examples of seemingly unlikely symbiotic relationships between animals. But even the most bizarre of these partnerships brings something valuable – and often vital – to both participants.

Online Video Advertising needs to take a clue from Mother Nature. The current balance is this: consumers of online video get to watch free content online, and occasional ads are the price they pay. Advertisers and publishers provide the free content and gain a captive audience for their trouble. On the surface, the relationship has mutual-benefit written all over it. The problem is that advertisers are not keeping up their end of the bargain, and it’s downright un-symbiotic.

Right now more than 85% of all video ads are 15-30 second non-interactive pre-roll videos, primarily because the majority of video inventory is included with TV upfront buys by advertisers and agencies. These spots are repurposed after-thoughts used to extend the reach of 15-30 second TV spots. These spots are also the cheapest route to run in-stream, and because most agencies still site-serve their video, vanilla 15-30 second video is all they’re capable of.

But let’s face it: No one loves these basic 15-30 second pre-roll video ads. Users may put up with them – but are they getting the message? The goal of this advertising is to grab consumer mindshare and dollars – paying for the “free” content users get from the deal. Throwing up random 15 second pre-roll isn’t making the most of this opportunity for engagement.

But there are advertisers out there taking advantage of what the in-stream space can offer to create great user experiences. They’re putting a little more in to the relationship and sweetening the deal for consumers. And guess what? Turns out everybody wins.

Getting beyond the pre-roll isn’t rocket science, either. Numerous studies have shown that what motivates people to interact with an online ad is relevance; “Is the ad relevant to me?” is always near the top of the list.

So the first step toward rebalancing the consumer/advertiser video relationship is to make the experience more relevant for the user, using targeting, re-targeting and optimization and dynamic video to get relevant and effective messages to the right video viewers.

Targeting will get you the right person or location, and the right ad server will optimize and version creative to deliver different messages to different audiences in the same campaign. This helps advertisers minimize wasted impressions and improve the relevance (and effectiveness) of every ad served.

Some sophisticated agencies (TCAA is one example) take this strategy to the hilt by pooling data from all their channels (Email, search, display, video) to steer the right message to the right user across all their digital campaigns – not just video. This unified approach virtually eliminates the problem of a user seeing the same 15-second video ad eight times in a row. Using targeting and optimization creates a more relevant experience for the user, minimizes wasted impressions and prevents creative burnout. That’s good for users and for advertisers.

Another way advertisers can step up their symbiotic game is by looking at other formats beyond generic pre-roll. All IAB VAST and VPAID players allow you to run non-linear ads, creating an affordable but more user-friendly experience. Non-linear is an overlay to the video content the user is watching, allowing the user to opt-in if they like the content in the ad.

Non-Linear ads can be as engaging as you want…

… or very simple.

But the result is a non-invasive experience that grabs user attention by breaking the mold of the 15 sec pre-roll. The other benefit is that users who interact with these “opt-in” formats tend to interact more and spend three to five times longer with the ad content than other formats.

Even advertisers who are staying the pre-mid-post-roll route are using interactivity and creative moxie to improve advertiser ROI.

Remember this ad from a few years ago?

Regardless of if you know of or use these products, or if you saw this play during your video, you probably clicked to see what happened and were rewarded with a memorable experience.

In-stream advertising offers an advantage of mindset over in-page display. The viewer is already engaged with the video player, so if you provide a compelling call to action, you have a better chance of successful engagement than in any other format. In fact, DG MediaMind research shows that interactive video ads are by far the best performing ads in all ad categories we serve.

The advertisers taking this route are creating a better user experience and gaining performance and ROI. And often making a video interactive is simple using elements you already have, like images, other videos, Twitter etc.

In-stream advertising is growing by about 40% each year, and so is the user base. Advertisers must adapt to ensure they are keeping up their side of the bargain, or else risk losing the huge audience and opportunities the unique video relationship offers.

Site-served, untargeted, non-interactive pre-roll video formats simply won’t cut it anymore. Relevant content, non-intrusive formats and compelling creative that appeals to audiences will also drive ad performance, so everybody wins. In nature it’s called symbiosis. In advertising it’s called survival.

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