Navigating the Annoyance Factor

You’re stuck in an airport with some downtime between flights and you turn to online video. In search of a favorite show, you visit an on-demand streaming video service. You’ll happily sit through an ad in order to get the content you crave, because you recognize its value and agree that a few minutes of advertising is a small price to pay for access and convenience. The first ad comes and goes, then the second – which is the same as the first. By the time you’ve seen the same ad four times during a single program you start to wonder: is it really worth it?

What you’ve just experienced, along with countless other video users, is the “annoyance factor” of online video.

Last week we looked at trends in frequency capping and factors to consider when capping ad delivery. Rich media creative, dayparting, campaign length, and engagement rate were all named as potential considerations. But there’s another aspect to frequency capping that buyers and planners must keep top of mind, and that, quite simply, is the danger of annoying your target consumer. This is an issue particularly when you’re buying media in long-form content – those aforementioned television programs, along with other videos, movies, and sporting events.

Once scant on inventory, long-form video has become a thriving market. According to comScore’s recently released 2010 Year in Review report, more than 88.6 million U.S. Internet users watched online video on an average day in December of last year (up over 30 percent from 2009), and viewed more than 14 hours of online video during that same month. Hulu accounted for 323 million hours of that time in Q4 2010, while ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and the CW together represented 162 million hours.

Along with an increase in viewing time there has been growth in video advertising “as a percentage of total online viewing.” ComScore reports video ads now represent one in every six videos viewed, but they account for just 1.6 percent of all viewing time – compared with 25 percent for traditional TV.

Clearly there’s an opportunity here for digital marketers to reach consumers through long-form video advertising. Are we blowing it by failing to provide more variety in the ads that we serve?

Mike O’Sullivan, lead, ad platforms for Microsoft Advertising, thinks that when it comes to long-form video, frequency caps of some sort are a must. “I think everyone, as consumers, have been in that situation where you are watching longer form content (for me, it was watching the World Cup online) and seeing the same ad creative over 20 times. In general, brand campaigns will have higher caps than advertisers who are more ROI focused, but both should be cognizant of the ‘annoyance factor’ that can occur when there is no frequency cap in place, or a very high one.”

A spokesperson for YouTube, too, stresses that frequency cap best practices fluctuate by campaign. “The number of ad impressions for a particular piece of content varies broadly, depending on many factors including, campaign objective, type of content, advertiser vertical, etc. Because of that spectrum, (YouTube does not) recommend a particular impression cap overall.”

Sites like Hulu assert that with long-form video, its users prefer an advertising experience more closely related to broadcast television. It’s hard to imagine the consumer reaction to seeing the same commercial spot three or more times during a 30-minute sitcom.

It would behoove buyers to put themselves in the shoes of the consumers who will be viewing their ads, and to ask some tough questions. Will viewers really be enthralled enough by our creative to watch it happily several times? How would their reaction differ if they weren’t currently in-market for the product? And if the product doesn’t interest them, could multiple exposures create a negative brand impression that could hurt our chances of a sale later on? Is a high frequency cap worth that risk?

I think we’d all agree that frequency capping is essential to mitigating the annoyance factor, but when it comes down to determining how many impressions are best it’s every marketer for herself. Don’t let this paint your brand into a corner. Regardless of what you’re told – or what others have done before you – defend your right to cap low when appropriate.

There are many factors at work in influencing your campaigns. Annoying viewers shouldn’t be one of them.

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