Brands are slowly getting to grips with online video advertising, but there’s still much to learn about what content and formats work best, finds Nicola Smith.
Earlier this year, over 70% of respondents to a survey by Burst Media of more than 2,500 people said they watched online video content, with 33% citing advertising as the most popular content to view.
Online video presents a vast opportunity for advertisers. As Helen Bradshaw, national media manager at Peugeot, says: “We can’t afford not to use it; it clearly works.” But working out what works best in a fast-changing environment dictated by fickle and demanding consumers is an ongoing battle for brands.
As Sky has found, incorporating an interactive element into online video advertising is increasingly important. “People want a degree of control over what they’re doing – YouTube has trained them to expect that,” says director of online and partner marketing Scott Gallacher.
Sky has just created some bespoke ad content for Gladiators based on this principle, in the form of an online video game. “The video was specifically shot for the ad and allows users to virtually fight one of the gladiators online in an MPU,” says Gallacher. “It allows us to marry the richness of video with interactivity.”
Renault has promoted its Mégane and Laguna models via online video advertising this year and also sees interactivity as an essential ingredient. It recently worked with Lycos and media agency Carat to create a video ad where users could click on hotspots to see more information about aspects of the cars.
“We saw a very high view-to-interaction rate,” says David Isherwood, Renault’s manager of digital and interactive campaigns. “Click-through was lower than we’d expect but, impressively, nearly half of those who did click went on to satisfy the call to action of the ad. The results suggest that click-through rates will suffer using this format but that it attracts a solid level of interaction.”
The fact that the automotive sector doesn’t rely on impulse purchasing, instead investing in a lengthy sales process with its customers, is one reason Bradshaw believes the industry is less adventurous than other sectors in its online video forays. But it is learning. Peugeot has recently partnered with film and TV clip site BlinkBox, which Bradshaw calls “engaging” and “innovative”, but she reco gnises that “being on there with something dull is worse than not being on there at all. You have to be creative, but it’s always a test, a leap of faith.”
You have to be prepared to learn the hard way, she adds. “We’ve created a couple of online video games in the past that people just haven’t reacted well to. We learned that we need to make them more engaging, more quirky and more interactive.”
Enticing users to interact with online video ads is a gradual process as they’re educated about what to expect, but Boots is already seeing encouraging results. It recently worked with video technology specialist Coull and web portal Lycos to convert a standard 30-second TV ad into an interactive unit that let users get involved. Every object in the video was interactive so users could find out m ore about the product by clicking.
The growing demand for interactivity in online video ads may cause certain problems for brands that rely heavily on repurposing TV footage. To date, companies have been able to make it work, as with Audi’s recent work with agency GT to repurpose infomercials originally created for its Audi Channel and run them as a series of direct-response ads on motoring sites.
“We cut the videos down from 60 seconds to 15 seconds and they sat in user-initiated expandable ad formats,” says Chris Hawken, head of brand communications at Audi. “The ads were designed to be direct response, so we experienced really strong click-through rates but low dwell times. Many people clicked within the first five seconds. In this instance repurposed content was very effective.”
The film and TV industry is also well-positioned to repurpose TV footage. As Heath Tyldesley, director of interactive marketing at Paramount Pictures International, says, it will use TV footage in most of its mainstream online video advertising because the short-form content of between 5 and 30 seconds suits the medium. “Given the fact that we have broadcast-quality viewing opportunities, a piece of TV media is relevant online as well,” Tyldesley says. “We have had good success with that and I imagine we’ll continue to work that way.”
But Lycos’s Smith is conscious that growing demands for interactivity may make repurposing more difficult. “Very few TV ads are built in a way that makes interaction possible,” she says. “We’re normally given a TV commercial, which isn’t always suitable for online. A lot of brands want to jump on the online video bandwagon regardless of whether the brand, or more importantly the TV ad, is suited to the online environment.”
Renault’s Isherwood also acknowledges the issue. “So far our TV ads have leant themselves well to adaptation for online, but we recognise that, depending on the nature of the ad and the need to edit a small section of it, this won’t always be possible,” he says.
Learning about online video ad formats is arguably easier and cheaper as these can easily be tested and changed mid-campaign. Brands are still playing with the options, but MPUs are widely deemed to be a winner due to their simplicity. “It’s an effective format that integrates well into entertainment and movie pages and tends to showcase our content with immediacy,” says Tyldesley. “It doesn’t ne cessarily have broadcast-quality impact but is certainly very high quality.”
Sky’s Gallacher is also a fan. “MPUs are one of the most amenable formats for video content,” he says. “We’ve experimented with other formats, such as skyscrapers, but MPUs tend to be the easiest and deliver the best performance.”
Boots’ experience suggests that consumers increasingly don’t like to be passive viewers. It’s one of the key reasons behind the explosion of video-sharing sites, where users can control the content. Sky has used more than 20 such sites to promote the US Open Golf and the Twenty20 cricket test, seeding humorous footage of golfer Ernie Els being bowled out and cricketer Kevin Pietersen chipping out of a bunker.
Gallacher says Sky will continue to use the platform for content that already has a level of brand awareness. “We’ve tended to use the sites for short snippets of information that people already know about. So far we’ve only measured it on views, but in future we’ll link back to the site and monitor the traffic.”
Its trials have also taught Sky another lesson. “There’s a lot of work that goes into tagging and making content searchable. The difference between success and failure is making sure people can find content easily,” says Gallacher.
Last year YouTube introduced Flash overlay advertising, based on testing that found overlays to be more successful than pre-rolls. It supports some brands’ scepticism about the long-term future of pre-rolls. Tyldesley says, “I hear reports that pre-rolls are tolerated at the moment but I wonder how that will be managed in the battle between user-initiated and forced content.” Paramount is certain ly exploring opportunities on user-initiated content sites, recently working with Mediaedge:cia to create a branded channel on YouTube to support the cinema release of comedy Strange Wilderness.
Richard Stanton, digital account manager at media agency Universal McCann, is also unsure about the future of pre-rolls. “People are reasonably receptive to pre- and post-roll ads, but on most sites you can’t skip through pre-rolls so I think we’ll start to see consumers’ opinions changing.”
He also believes that the increase in advertisers wanting to run pre-roll ads has grown disproportionately to the increase in quality video content. “Video search engines like Blinkx, which we work with, are helping by aggregating video content, but this is likely to be a significant challenge for us in the near future as the novelty of pre-roll wears off.”
Surely the willingness of consumers to have their online viewing experience interrupted depends on how targeted and creative the content is and the nature of the brand? For example, Gallacher isn’t a fan of pre-roll, mainly because it can be seen to devalue Sky’s core product. “We have a lot of content that people are passionate about and want to watch, so we try to use it as a centrepiece rather than tagging it onto other content. We tried pre- and post-roll before and it didn’t work as well as our other stuff,” he says.
Conversely, Peugeot enjoyed success with its online pre-rolls to support its sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup last year. “We ran 10-second pre-rolls on a range of sites including ITV.com, automotive sites and a range of portals,” says Bradshaw. “We had strong content that was also humorous [a bunch of rugby fans driving around France singing Kenny Rogers' 'The Gambler'], which helps. I always t hink pre-roll is effective because it’s less intrusive than an overlay and better than an MPU because users are requesting a piece of content and you have their attention immediately before.” The ads reaped over three times the expected results.
Terms of engagement
Yet results and measurement are another key challenge facing brands in this embryonic industry. As companies strive to achieve customer engagement, perhaps the biggest obstacle lies in the lack of any definitive measurement of what this actually means.
Bradshaw says that engagement and its measurement are heavily dependent on the type of campaign. “If you do a branding campaign, measuring leads isn’t a relevant metric, so you’d use impressions, but they don’t really tell you anything. If you have a view rate on a piece of video advertising and a click-through rate that shows people are engaging with the creative enough to play a game or watch a clip, then they’re interested in your brand, which means they’re engaged.”
Gallacher takes this one step further. “Engagement is someone offering to have an ongoing relationship with the brand off the back of an ad. We’ve seen that with our Facebook Gladiators group, which has 200-odd members. People saying ‘I’m a fan of this’ is a true measurement of engagement.”
For onlookers this is an exciting and intriguing time; for brands fighting the online video ad wars at the frontline, though, while battles are certainly being won, the war, it seems, is ongoing.
- Online ad spend in the UK in 2007 came in over the £2.8bn mark and was up 38% up on 2006
- Total internet display advertising spend saw a 31% year-on-year increase in 2007, while the core formats – banners, skyscrapers and embedded rich media including video – grew by 45% to £592m.
- Spend on embedded formats has doubled during the past two years to account for 79% of total display (all figures from IAB/PricewaterhouseCoopers, April 2008).
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