Being a consumer is all about making choices. We choose products and brands. We choose TV programming, when to watch it, and what device to use when we do. We choose which sites we want to visit, and whether or not to refer our friends to them. Sometimes we even choose our advertising.
Online, this last point is becoming increasingly relevant. Site users don't yet have control over the entire online ad experience, and many sites continue to force ads on them with little consideration for their interests or needs. Still, consumers have more options with regard to brand messaging than ever before. YouTube's TrueView unit endeavors to engage site users by affording them the ability to actively select the ad they like best, or skip it altogether. Advertisers only pay when the ad is viewed; YouTube says only about 10 percent skip on a regular basis, and that nine out of 10 users believe TrueView creates "a better video viewing environment."
Technology like SkipIt, launched last year by video ad company SpotXchange, lets users skip over video ads for the cost of a dime at a time when they sign up for the service. In February, Selectable Media introduced the first ad selector unit for mobile.
Also in February, Publicis Groupe's VivaKi and AOL launched three new ad formats to accompany the existing Ad Selector Done Smart (ASq) unit, popularized by Hulu. The overlay, social overlay, and poll units are said to "outperform pre-roll in behavioral and attitudinal metrics and present advertisers with ad units that allow for deeper engagement."
Introducing ads that put the user in control is sensible, in theory. Consumers who find the ad relevant will opt to watch or click, thus distinguishing them as qualified potential customers, and those who don't probably weren't your targets anyway. There is, however, the issue of how this new experience changes the way consumers perceive online advertising as a whole. If you went to the cinema and were told that you could skip straight to the movie, you might be excited. How would you feel if the next time, at a different theater, that option didn't exist?
Skippable and ad selector units set an expectation, and brands have to consider this when they're planning their campaigns. Using units that empower the consumer might leave them with a favorable impression of your brand: clearly you care about their wants and needs if you're willing to give them a choice. Would this positive outlook change if, on a different site, you forced the user to sit through a pre-roll? It isn't feasible for a brand to use viewer's choice units across every campaign - not yet. So what do you do to ensure a positive user experience overall?
One strategy is to make all ads highly interactive. Last week video technology company blurbIQ released a suite of interactive ad units designed to help brands engage with consumers "within the video frame." While the collection includes an ad that allows consumers to choose their video asset, and another that enables a skip if the user answers a brief survey, there are other options also built around the idea of choice. Brands can offer consumers a choice between watching an interactive video or a more standard stream, or they can use a call-to-action overlay to enable a product purchase.
"We have found that when consumers have choice in viewing ads, they're showing interest in the content that is relevant to them and are more likely to watch the video to completion," says Scott Reese, co-founder and CEO of blurbIQ. "Our data has shown a video completion rate well over 80 percent for these types of ads. As for skippable, action-based ads, Reese believes they have value for both the consumer and the brand. "Studies show that when consumers engage in video messaging they are more likely to remember the brand message at the point of purchase."
Prepping for a Possible Skip
Knowing that consumers have the option to skip an ad requires a customized and more assertive approach to developing creative. To enhance the odds of establishing some brand and message recall, advertisers should be sure to include brand cues within the first five seconds of their video ads in order to take advantage of the "free impression" that exists before the user makes her choice. YouTube's users say humor, music, and telling them something new about your brand tend to make an impact. Using companion ads that will stay visible even if a user skips is another failsafe technique.
Navigating this abundance of viewer's choice ad units requires a smart approach to digital advertising overall. Fortunately, these ads were designed to benefit consumers and brands both.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
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