Making Video Advertising Accountable to Consumers

We’ve talked for years about the importance of accountability in this medium, and the metrics we’ve used to define that accountability have gone through a rapid evolution. It started with clicks and CTRs (define); then we discovered we could track post-click behavior, conversions, and eventually lifetime value. Rich media brought a host of other possible measures: interaction rate, interaction time, individual action rates, and more. We layered in surveys to measure attitudinal response. At the end of the day, it all comes back to the marketers’ bottom line and accountability in terms of ROI (define).

Now, we’re waist-deep in yet another evolution of accountability. The term “Web 2.0” may be on its way to worn-out buzzword status, but the ideas and technologies behind it — the power of social networking, community, and user-generated content — are turning accountability on its head the same way they do everything else. Emerging advertising platforms will only live in a world of consumer control. And in that environment, accountability will include all those ROI-focused things and consumer control.

This change is most evident in how the industry is shifting its thinking (and, finally, the corresponding ad models) about online video ads. This is such a hot commodity because video, like so many emerging platforms for digital advertising, is full of both tremendous potential and paralyzing risk. There’s a ton of experimenting going on now, and that’s a good thing. It’s only going to get more intense over the next year.

Video, at least in terms of advertising, tends to disguise itself as a bridge between on- and offline. Though it can serve that role, don’t be fooled. Simply repurposing TV spots is ultimately not the best way to leverage the medium’s power. And though most online video advertising today does just that, there are obviously other ways to approach it. Those publishers and marketers who do approach it differently are really starting to understand this new idea of consumer control and accountability to the audience. Let’s take a look at a couple examples that may tell of things to come.

Keep in mind that one key theme these examples share is they put the user at the center. They respect that there’s somewhat of a backlash against intrusive, irrelevant advertising, and they seek to make the ads accountable, first to the consumer and second to the marketer’s bottom line. They seek a fair trade: value for the user in exchange for attention.

ABC’s Online Video Test

ABC built a unique online experience from its TV broadcast programming and thought carefully about how to integrate advertising. The test was successful enough that the network is going to relaunch the application in the fall with a tweaked interface.

Much has already been written about the test, including some impressive marketing results from the included ads (87 percent ad recall). I’m sure there are many reasons for its success, but I think two factors played a big role: interactivity and the lack of clutter. We all preach interactivity in the digital space, but it was refreshing to see a publisher open the gates — especially in an environment where the temptation is to stick with noninteractive and ad avails that simply mirror the TV model.

In terms of clutter, ABC practically eliminated it. The number of commercials per episode was scaled way back (one per pod, I think), and it was the same advertiser throughout the episode. You have the audience’s undivided attention and don’t have to worry about other things in the channel competing for it. Novelty was likely a factor as well, and we may see results trail off as consumers adjust (as we’ve seen with rich media formats). But I suspect we’ll still see really great performance even after the experience becomes more commonplace.

To me, the environment ABC built is the kind of innovation we need more of to really make video work online. Again, the experiment succeeded because the network was accountable to the consumer first and the bottom line second.

YouTube’s New Ad Models

YouTube went a step further with the recent introduction of new ad models. Custom channels allow marketers to develop a unique interactive experience without forcing users to leave the site. It’s the same principal that drives the success of many rich media formats: Don’t get intrusive, and don’t force an immediate click-through. Instead, make your content, in this case, your advertising, relevant to users and available in the context of whatever they were doing. It’s why expanding ads are becoming the new standard.

In the second model, YouTube is allowing video ads but requiring they be open to ratings and commentary by users, just like any other video on the site. This is so simple, but it’s a brilliant experiment. It forces the advertiser to be accountable to the consumer. If your ad stinks, people will give it bad ratings and trash it in the commentary. Either it won’t be watched or it’ll be watched by people driven by morbid curiosity.

That may well be what consumer control of advertising looks like for the near future. Yeah, it’s scary. But in reality, your brand has always been about what the people think of you, not what your advertising tells them to think. Smart marketers are already embracing this, taking those calculated risks with the knowledge that experimenting now will lead to expertise and leadership later.

I’m out of space here, and I didn’t get to talk about in-page (or in-banner) video, where there’s also some interesting experimenting. Look for that next time.

Jeremy is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ. Be sure to read the follow-up column to this one, “In-Banner Video Advertising.”

Join us for ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 19 in New York City.

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