Rules of Thumb for Video Ads on Mobile

Despite their popularity as a marketing tactic, videos – in particular pre-roll ad formats – meant to engage audiences, if not masterfully executed, may leave marketers frustrated by the results, and worse, consumers frustrated by the experience. And of course, this further impacts results down the line. Pre-roll’s interruptive nature requires close attention to visuals, mechanics, and messaging to avoid coming across as something akin to telemarketing, when it comes to the consumer experience. This is a potentially powerful ad format, and as the saying goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” And, as with any ad format, mastery requires meaningful and contextually relevant key performance indicators (KPIs).

The Potential Power of Video Formats
It’s important to first understand the nature of video in mobile advertising, given the way formats tend to lead into, interject, or frame content. The two most common formats are video interstitial and pre-roll. The interstitial is typically displayed for a defined period before continuing onto further content, sometimes also used to seed viral content. Pre-roll on smartphones or tablets may be a five- or even 30-second video advertisement that appears before the user’s desired video content or application, used to assert a brand message or deliver a simple call to action to consumers. Publishers tout this format as a concise, effective vehicle for sponsoring an application or video clip on mobile devices.

In fact – and there is evidence that brands tend to agree with this value assessment – much, if not most, of the available video interstitial inventory is bought/sold as premium/direct, driving up the cost of this inventory on public exchanges, as there is limited availability. Mobile video can be full-screen, which is presumably a positive for entertainment-oriented consumers. But, given its intro or takeover placement and the way it functions, marketers must be careful not to break some essential consumer rules of thumb from the outset when using mobile video. These are the following:

  1. When designing mobile ad campaigns, and when using video interstitials or pre-roll in particular, establish campaign KPIs that are as close as possible to overall business KPIs (if not the same), as opposed to KPIs narrowly related to the medium or channel.
  2. Hit skip when it comes to “tricks;” don’t trick consumers, and don’t trick yourself with vanity metrics.
  3. At every point, stand in the shoes of the customer and review the engagement experience from that perspective.

On the first rule, if the ultimate goal of the business is to drive revenue, establish KPIs around spend transactions, or the nearest possible proxy, versus KPIs that simply measure message delivery or access. If you can’t track your campaign to the cart or cash register, at least measure the impact your message had in driving customers into the physical or online store – it can be done.

To stay true to the second rule and be mindful of “tricks,” remember that if you try to dominate the attention and reaction of consumers at the first “hello,” much as telemarketers have long done just as dinnertime starts, they will balk. And having them balk at your brand is worse than never communicating with them in the first place. A message or ad that tries to push or trick consumers to engage at the front-end will, at best, make them roll their eyes. More likely, you’ll have seeded a negative opinion about your brand or offering.

And, finally, as far as the third rule and the imperative to stand in the shoes of the consumer, you must bluntly ask yourself as a marketer: Have we considered the customer’s needs in this environment? We know they like video and are more and more inclined to it, but did we consider the customer experience on this very personal device? Did we tell the customer something he or she wants to hear or simply use the format to drive the brand’s prevailing message? Will consumers find our message helpful and informative, providing clear value in context? Or will they find it disruptive, annoying, or irrelevant? If these considerations are not kept – well, telemarketing, anyone?

So Why Do These Rules of Thumb Get Broken?
Too often we as marketers take aggressive tactical shortcuts that fail to consider the consumer, the environment, the mind-set, and what any consumer follow-through could possibly mean in a given scenario. So, we waste money and effort, leaving ourselves without real learning to leverage. And whatever we are doing is reduced to mere trickery. This is the issue with poorly executed mobile ads, regardless of format, when not rooted in meaningful KPIs and when attention isn’t paid to consumer experience.

As a marketer keen to engage your audience effectively, wouldn’t you rather spend your valuable time exploring the consumer’s mindset as indicated through various signals to gather insight, so that you might tune the experience accordingly over time? By testing creative, messaging, or other touch points and engagement mechanics within any environment, your ads stand to become more and more aligned to your audience, as long as you make changes based on what you learn. That is – you iterate. No execution whatsoever should ever violate the rules of thumb I mentioned earlier.

How do you think telemarketing, to which we might compare badly executed pre-roll (as just one example), got such a bad rap? It’s not because it didn’t work – it actually did – and very well. Not the least of its reasons for success being the primary, simplistic KPI: transaction, yes or no. It’s because the telemarketing approach was a poor customer experience, time and time again. Not tending to customer experience, with the right indicator of success in-hand, is sort of like the telemarketer who calls you when you are not ready and keeps talking when you say, “I’m not interested.” As long as one is committed to using a consumer-minded approach, solid targeting, strong KPIs, and informed, iterative creative to optimize, mobile video can deliver.

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