Video CPE Ads in the SERP?

At this week’s Luma Partners event, Neal Mohan, Google’s vice president of display advertising, got me thinking about engagement as a metric – not within display, not within traditional video ads (such as Google’s TrueView ads), and not even site-side at the client’s website. Mohan was talking about media sold on a cost-per-engagement (CPE) basis. To some, Google’s TrueView ads are the beginnings of such a metric.

As I watched Neal’s presentation, I started thinking about engagement and video in the search engine results page (SERP), and thereafter decided that it is my contention that we can expect the SERP to include a video ad unit, perhaps as a swap-in for the PLA images. After all, consumers love video and they like to engage with video ad units in place of the images currently in a PLA. This is particularly true for certain high-involvement product categories such as retail and travel. If, however, we do see video ads becoming ubiquitous within the SERP, it follows that the click will result in a video play (perhaps in a new window).

Video opens up the SERP to the Holy Grail of advertising dollars: branding dollars that have been notably absent from search advertising, even when an advertiser has a big branding budget and acknowledges that a click from a SERP to the advertiser site often results in material lift across all branding metrics. Even the impression of a marketer’s listing in the SERP (paid or organic) has been shown to provide some brand lift. Yet, to brand media planning teams and brand managers, search isn’t sexy: it’s just a demand-harvesting media asset. This mindset has prevailed, despite the best efforts of Google, Microsoft, many SEM agencies, and some interactive shops. Yes, there are some holistic forward-thinkers who measure and manage SEM budgets against both direct response and branding objectives, but it’s my contention that these are in the minority.

Video ads in the SERP, deployed aggressively within industries and keyword sets, may be the perfect catalyst to bring the brand dollars into the SERP, but what metrics would get marketers most excited?

For the last 10 years brand marketers have been toying with “engagement” as a metric. I actually was on a joint committee of several major trade associations in 2006 (I think) that was attempting to define engagement (specifically brand engagement) the same way we as an industry (specifically the IAB) have defined clicks and impressions for the purposes of allowing publishers to bill based on a universally agreed upon standard. The IAB has recently taken up the challenge and is beginning the process of defining engagement as a metric and perhaps as a billable result of media exposure. The press release on the formation of the working group is available here.

Perhaps I’m totally off-base and the SERP real estate will remain sacrosanct and video-free. However, few of us would have predicted that PLAs would become as prevalent as they have become; and video not only increases the CTR on ads, it appeals to a new set of advertisers. In addition to the obvious categories where video would assist consumers in making choices between brands and across retailers or merchants, there are industry categories that spend almost no money on PPC search that might love CPE video ads in the SERP, and there are situations where the video ads (thumbnails) would get a high enough CTR and Quality Score to keep running against high-volume keywords beyond those directly associated with a product or service. For example:

TV and movies: Search on any star in a show or movie and the show itself may have an ad or any advertiser with an endorsement deal that could have success with a well-crafted video.

Sports: Similarly, the brands with endorsement deals could be advertising against the sports star.

Health and pharma: These advertisers often struggle with regulatory issues, but these issues can be addressed easily in video spots. Keywords can include the obvious as well as the not-so-obvious.

Restaurants: Food is emotional and nothing works as well as video to get the message across about the uniqueness of one restaurant over others.

An interesting thing about CPE advertising within the SERP is that the industry may allow for first-party ad serving. Google would never allow video ads to be third-party-ad served in the traditional way into the SERP, but if the system works the way shopping feeds work, it’s possible that Google will feel there is sufficient control to store and cache the video, serving it in the SERP. Then again, this could be my imagination running wild.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

Related reading