VivaKi Extends Video Ad “Pool” Party, Tests Mystery Format

Publicis digital unit VivaKi is knee-deep in testing what it believes could be today’s most effective video ad format. Expanding on that initial project, the agency division plans to embark on another complementary video-related mission, in conjunction with several content partners and advertiser clients. However, the company is somewhat cryptic about what it’s testing. One thing’s for sure: it’s not pre-roll.

“I feel confident that we are going to find an ad model that beats pre-roll,” said Tracey Scheppach, SVP, video innovations director at Publicis-owned Starcom MediaVest Group. The digital group intends to release the results of its video ad unit trial in February, about a year after launch of the initiative, deemed “The Pool.” CBS Interactive is among the media outlets testing the mystery format.

Speaking at the OMMA Video Conference in New York yesterday, Scheppach implied that the format undergoing consumer testing is neither pre-roll nor overlay video advertising.

She described “The Pool” as a metaphor for “pooling resources.” Indeed, both the original project and its newly-announced extension (“Lane 1” and “Lane 2,” respectively) include a number of media partners and advertiser clients. While the first project’s partners include Starcom clients such as Allstate, Applebee’s, and Capital One, the new project — aimed at studying short-form online video — will be open to all VivaKi clients, or essentially all Publicis clients.

Early advertiser partners for the latest initiative are Bank of America, General Mills, and U.S. Cellular, according to Scheppach. Media partners will be AOL, BBE (Broadband Enterprises), CBS Interactive, Fancast, Microsoft Advertising, and Tremor Media. YouTube is expected to participate in the project as well, according to sources close to the situation. The new group is slated to meet first on July 16, and plans to release its initial findings October 2010.

Advertisers dipping their toes in The Pool are required by VivaKi to allocate a certain percentage of their ad budgets to the project, according to Scheppach. People familiar with the project say the budget requirement falls somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000. In addition, media partners hoping to get in on the action are required to provide investment, sometimes in the form of a revenue share with the agency. The payment requirements are in place to ensure “active participation” and to “[cover] the cost of research,” said Scheppach.

At this point, the media agency has no creative partners involved in the Pool projects. “We could do better at that,” Scheppach said.

Some wonder why VivaKi has not shared preliminary findings of its video ad format research and trials. Scheppach stressed the need to subject its chosen format to consumer testing before revealing it next year. “We think this research process will extend to any media platform where we’re trying to evaluate media units,” she continued.

Panelist Alan Schulman, founder and chief creative officer at The Digital Innovations Group suggested VivaKi’s efforts to find video advertising’s “workhorse,” or its answer to the 30-second TV spot, could lag behind actual industry innovation. Schulman helped develop new ad units for video network Tremor Media, a VivaKi partner.

“I’m not sure that in the long term we’ll be able to stand still long enough to stop the innovative side of the business to see what the workhorse is going to be,” he said.

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