Stop the Spot: A Call to Arms

Advertisers purchase millions of dollars’ worth of online video inventory every month. Pre-roll, mid-roll, post-roll, you name it, publishers and networks are finding a roll to sell as inventory. And advertising agencies are spending it like kids who just got their allowance in a candy store.

And that might be the biggest problem. Apparently, it’s too easy to buy online video.

Is it possible that although the creative community complains about too much online video advertising being merely repurposed :15 and :30 spots, we’ve lost sight of what the real problem may be? Have publishers made it so easy to insert these standard pods that we’ve been conditioned to take shortcuts and just run TV spots — because it’s so darn simple?

If that’s the case, we’ve got a serious issue here. And it’s at our own expense.

This week, I was a panelist at the Future Marketing Summit, where I got to hear some of the brightest minds in marketing talk about where advertising, products, and consumers will be headed. One case study presentation focused on Saturn’s recent Google Video ad campaign. Take a look at an ad from this campaign.

When the campaign results were analyzed, guess where most people stopped watching the video?

Correct. When they realized that they’d just started watching a TV spot.

In an age when technology delivers ad exposures at every turn and enables many ways to skip advertising, the TV spot’s hard sell is less and less effective. So while companies like Microsoft are allocating highly significant dollars into online advertising, will we just see the same amount of :15 and :30 spots, except online?

I sure hope not. If we do, it will commoditize what could potentially be the most unique thing about the interactive medium: its potential for unbridled media creativity.

While standard TV spots may work for content that’s already entertaining, like movies, television and shows, non-entertainment-related spots come across as advertiser-created noise — the same, unavoidable noise repeated over and over.

Publishers dictate what inventory can be sold and can publishing best practices that would educate advertisers and agencies as to how best to work with their audiences, content, players, and technology.

I implore every publisher to identify an upcoming video campaign that can serve as a case study. Encourage the agency or advertiser to run a traditional TV spot in a mix with either an animated Flash ad or a made-for-the-medium custom video message you believe will work. For kicks, throw in a non-video-based format, such as a text overlay or watermark. Line up the results, and compare effectiveness in the following categories: click-throughs, viewing-time length, conversions (where applicable), and costs per interaction. My hunch is this will be the last time you run a TV spot online.

As a matter of fact, if any publisher takes the challenge and puts this case study together, I’ll feature it in an upcoming column.

One of the great responsibilities we have is to be more effective than previous media generations. Publishers must resist the temptation to sacrifice advertiser effectiveness in favor of easy-money, strict :15, :30, pre-/post-/mid-roll standards. Agencies must push their clients to make strategic changes that will result in improved effectiveness. Advertisers must reassess their online strategy if that strategy merely consists of moving ads from one medium to another.

The responsibility is shared by us all, and so is the guilt. Publishers have the power to make the industry react.

Who will step up and take the challenge?

Meet Ian at the ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising seminar on March 19 at the San Francisco Marriott in California.

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