Making Video Ads Work

In the last few weeks, an increasing number of video ads — often movie trailers — seem to be appearing on sites such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. They are almost impossible to ignore, usually appearing in big square boxes to the right of news articles.

On my T1 line at work, the ads come in nicely, with near-full motion video and good sound. The trailers themselves look like they are repurposed television ads, and the quality is impressive. But though the technology works fine, the ads need to evolve considerably before they work optimally on the Web.

This type of ad usually starts with a black screen, presumably while the ad loads. Then, a frame announces the name of the studio releasing the film. On television and in theatres, this tactic is meant to cue audiences that they are about to be treated to a movie trailer, which people usually like. Then the trailer runs, and the name of the movie is announced at the end.

Although I like movie trailers as much as anyone, I rarely feel like sitting through a whole one when I am in the middle of reading an article. And since the name of the movie doesn’t appear until the end, I never know which film all the exciting action was meant to promote.

The boost in awareness for this consumer: zilch.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If these ads were developed according to some basic online advertising best practices, they could be a lot more effective.

How about letting people know what the product is before the ad fully runs? Because people tend to only glance at most online advertisements (a claim that is substantiated by eye-tracking studies), research suggests that brand names and logos should be constantly present to optimize effectiveness.

Dynamic Logic has found that when a logo is constantly displayed in an ad, branding effectiveness doubles. When that study came out, most ads on the Web were animated GIFs, usually in a 6-10 second loop. My guess is that persistently displaying a logo on a longer ad would boost branding effectiveness even more.

I’m not suggesting that the trailers need to be overhauled. But advertisers using video ads can make some simple adjustments. Embedding the product name (or movie title) in simple HTML below the streaming ad would allow viewers to make the connection between the message and the product, even if they don’t see the ad through to the end.

As Web advertising technology improves and broadband access slowly spreads, the temptation to put TV ads on the Web will grow. Though such a tactic might provide the richness that advertisers crave, the ads won’t be maximally effective until advertisers take some simple steps to adapt their ads to the unique environment of the Internet.

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