Study Calls for More User Choice in Pre-Roll Ads

A research project to identify a video ad model that can dethrone the ubiquitous pre-roll spot has finally awarded that designation, after a 16-month winnowing process.

The winner? Pre-roll, with benefits.

The Ad Selector, a video ad type pioneered by Hulu, was crowned the victor in a tournament of sorts that pitted 30 or so video ad models against each other. The Ad Selector is a variation on pre-roll that lets users choose between several brand messages before watching online video content. In the research, it was proven to be more effective than standard in-stream advertising at driving click-throughs and ad recall.

Behind the study is an industry coalition brought together by Vivaki, Publicis’s digital agency network, and collectively known as “The Pool.” The group consists of major brands such as Applebee’s, CapitalOne, and Allstate; publishers including AOL, CBS Interactive, and Discovery Communications; and one agency, Vivaki.

As the research progressed, the list of available formats was narrowed from 29 to five, and from five to two. According to Tracey Scheppach, SVP/innovation director at Vivaki, the Ad Selector won by a “clear margin” during the final quantitative testing and voting phase.

In the study, Ad Selector drove click-through rates that were 106 percent higher than other pre-roll placements, Vivaki said. Additionally, Ad Selector ads resulted in an ad recall rate that was 290 percent higher than untargeted pre-roll. Vivaki did not reveal the full results of The Pool’s research initiative, which it plans to summarize at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Leadership Conference later this month.

Yet advertisers and publishers hoping to see a genuinely new ad type emerge from the research will likely be disappointed by the results.

Several industry watchers noted yesterday the study’s finding didn’t appear to change the fundamental ad currency of the online video economy – as was originally proposed when The Pool was announced last year.

“[With Ad Selector], we’ve given the user control over which ad they see, but…they still see a pre-roll,” said Corey Kronengold, author of the blog and and VP, communications, at video platform Twistage. “Pre-roll still dominates, and is going to continue to be the king of the online video ad hill until something dramatically and fundamentally changes.”

Kronengold also noted the study’s findings seemed rather intuitive. “Of course users like choice and control, or at least the appearance of control,” he said.

Scheppach’s response to that critique: “Whatever works.”

“What we have done is made pre-roll stronger,” she said. “We have taken those television assets and applied it to a model that allows it to be more relevant and engaging for the viewer.”

There’s another potential criticism that one might level at Hulu’s Ad Selector as an industry-wide standard – that is, its inaccessibility to boring brands. Given a choice, won’t your average consumer always choose an Avatar trailer over a Clorox :30 spot?

On the contrary, according to Scheppach.

“We used what has traditionally been thought of as low interest categories, and those were chosen,” she said, without offering supporting data. “We believe that this model scales.”

The project to establish an alternative to pre-roll was called “Lane One.” A future research project, focused on short form online video, has already been completed and is called “Lane Two.” The Pool plans to release the winning ad model for Lane Two in October.

The Pool’s research partners include ComScore, Knowledge Networks, Alternate Routes, and Vindico. These parties provided qualitative, quantitative, and field trial data gathering and analysis.

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