Keep Video Ads Brief, Contextual

    by Mark Glaser
    June 30, 2008
    i-0dd64734a98de9e78a4010e8d7239095-Maker popup video ad.jpg

    Overlay ad on Make

    Online video usage is exploding online, as people watch everything from YouTube to TV shows to sporting events — but mainly, YouTube. But the question is how sites will be able to pay for all that usage. Most video viewers would prefer not to pay for them, nor watch any advertising either.

    So I put the question to you, dear MediaShift readers: What kind of video ads would you actually welcome? In other words, is there a type of advertisement that would work well with your video-watching experience — instead of annoying you? The overwhelming response was that people still don’t want intrusive ads, but they will accept brief “micro-ads” that are relevant to the content or are approved and voiced by the video producer or host. (Not surprisingly, that’s almost the exact same response I got a year ago when I asked about advertising on YouTube.)


    Advertisers, take note: Here’s a list of attributes that people generally agree they would welcome with video ads.

    Contextual ads

    Most video ads feel intrusive or jarring because they are not aligned closely with the subject of the video. If they could become more relevant and contextual, as Google AdSense ads can be, then they would be more welcome by viewers.


    For instance, Adam Mercado from Influxx Media says, “Ads are a necessary evil. The trick is to get them as targeted as possible, which often means giving up a certain amount of user info. Privacy issues come into play. Hopefully a sweet spot will emerge where a little user info can be traded for highly targeted, useful ad content. And the web can remain free.”

    Or, as cheese-blogger Jamie writes: “If those [Hulu] ads were actually tailored to my interests, they’d be even less intrusive.”

    Host-approved ads

    Another strong vote was given to ads that were more like underwriting or sponsorships on NPR or PBS — very brief messages explaining who the sponsors are. Those messages could be voiced by the host, giving the sponsors a kind of seal of approval. Video-maker Brook Hinton says he can accept “short ‘sponsored by’ or ‘supported by’ messages, NPR -style, at the beginning and/or end. Text or voice-only, and completely separate from the rest of the video.”

    Videoblogger MissBHavens is also more forgiving of ads that are producer-approved and voiced. “I click away the second a pre-rolled ad starts unless it’s some sort of verbalized ad by the host/hostess I’ve clicked through to see. I can live with that,” she wrote. “Something about that says ‘the people you’ve chosen to watch may have picked their sponsors by hand, so it may be of interest since they themselves are interesting.’”


    Another popular format are micro-ads that are even shorter than pre-rolls, clocking in at a few seconds and giving you the sponsor’s message in a quick, almost subliminal flash.

    Kate Martin says that a micro-ad could work in less than 5 seconds. How exactly? She points people to this McDonald’s ad on YouTube and says you could just take the first five notes of the song and put the Golden Arches over it to convey the commercial message.

    Of course, the question for advertisers is whether these ads would work well enough to get their message across in a valuable way.

    Product placements (with disclosures)

    Video producers could use product placements in their videos, basically taking payments from companies that want to promote their products within the video content. Mark Van Patten explains:

    I think advertisers are missing great opportunities for product placement…Makers of ‘edgy’ products would do well to search out the prolific edgy video-makers and provide them product to use in videos.

    The big issue would be whether the product placement was disclosed or not in some way that would be obvious to viewers. Brook Hinton says product placements need to be disclosed at the start of the video or else he considers them even more tasteless than ads.

    No ads

    Of course, everyone had their hackles up about video ads in general. They see enough ads everywhere else, they don’t like long pre-roll ads that run before content (especially before short content), and they don’t like the interruption of overlay ads that pop-up over the video.

    But The Digital Hobo gives a reality check to all the ad-haters:

    The broader context of the issue is one that the public hasn’t quite grasped or accepted. Everything on the web is NOT free. It is ad supported. The text-based web was much more affordable than the high-bandwidth video web 2.0 we have today. That means content owners need to generate more revenue….When people skip ads on the DVR, they are breaking the ‘old deal’ that TV had with the audience. ‘You pay attention to the ad, we give you free TV.’ Now we need a new deal.

    Indeed. Perhaps there will be no “silver bullet” that solves the video ad problem. Perhaps there will be a combination of ad formats and business models that will spring up to make online video viable. The truth is that viewers will need to find an ad format they can live with, while marketers need to find a way to make their ads less intrusive, more relevant — and more welcome.

    For more on video advertising, check out my last in-depth post on MediaShift, Online Video Ads Finally Find Their Niche.

    MediaShift will be taking the rest of the July 4 week off for a family holiday. We hope you get to enjoy some downtime and a “technology sabbath,” too! We’ll be back posting next week.

    Tagged: advertising comments videos

    6 responses to “Keep Video Ads Brief, Contextual”

    1. The Digital Hobo is wrong – the public definitely grasps that the internet is not free. In the USA, we pay more for decent broadband access than citizens in many other countries. When we go to a movie theater, we pay 12.00 or more to see the film and are held hostage to a half hour of ads at the start of the movie. We’re lucky if hour-long television shows have even 40 minutes of non-ad content. And we have to install extra software to protect our own computers from invasive, even malicious, pop-up ads when we fire up our web browsers. We see ads when we search, we see them in most blogs. It would be awfully hard to miss the ad-supported nature of the web. Grasping that is not a problem.

      Accepting it? That’s a different story. I don’t see a problem with hoping and advocating for a different model. It’s a bit like purchasing a phone line, fax machine, ink and paper, and then having someone dial in and waste your materials and equipment by sending you pages and pages of unwanted ads. I pay (through the nose) for Internet access and my tax dollars have been given to local companies who are supposed to be improving the infrastructure underlying the internet. Being able to find ad-free places online is one of the only things keeping me willing to continue bearing that expense. I’m willing to see relevant ads when I’m searching for something to buy, or brief ads related to the online content that interests me. That should be enough for the advertisers.

    2. I agree 100% with the Digital Hobo – there’s a sense of entitlement with web consumers that extends from the popular “media saturation is evil” critique of pop culture.

      It seems that people have only ever paid for creative content (media) because they had to deal with the laws of physics (you needed to buy a physical record, tape, or CD for music). Now that bits can roam freely, and I firmly believe this is a good thing, we’re finding out what people actually think is valuable, and it’s not music, movies, TV, or news.

      But everybody has to eat, and that includes musicians, artists, and journalists. I don’t begrudge anyone the advertising if it keeps the content coming and I don’t have to pay to read it.

      It baffles me that people don’t understand how that deal works. The indignant attitude is annoying. You don’t *deserve* ad-free, unpaid-for content. The time and resources put into producing media are valuable commodities just like the ingredients in the pizza you ate the other night. There’s no reason companies shouldn’t be compensated for providing it.

    3. Contextual Ads were built for ad providers to snatch up consumers. To the average consumer an ad is an ad. Do you think 60 year old men feel different about a viagra ad they saw while watching monday night football? Doubt it, we all know someone is trying to push a product on us period. We need to tackle the average consumer, think tv, not “sophisticated internet user”.

      Re: Host-approved ads
      Sure, if Oprah tells me to buy Tide laundry detergent, and I love Oprah I probably will. What’s wrong with that, but when Oprah stops being Oprah I want to turn the channel.

      Re: micro-ads
      Please no blinking, flickering and subliminal ads. Don’t try to be fancy.

      Re; Product placement
      Keep in good taste. Especially don’t try fooling me or do something underhanded. That is where all these “high-tech” solutions seem to be going.

      Pre-rolls suck. They already suck in DVDs, and we actually pay for those pieces of plastic and nickle and at the theatres it’s ridiculous. Luckily I live in Chicago where they passed a law so movies *start* at the time they are advertised. For God’s sake! I got a disney DVD the other day and could not skip the ad *after* clicking play in the menu for the feature! That is just greed, in all it’s ugliness.

      The whole world is used to ads, what is the big deal? Stop trying to trick and force people to look at stuff and just tastefully place ads!

      I understand I am *paying* for the content I consume by responding to ads. And this was way before the internet. Remember when Michael Jordon signed to Nike? I have no problem with that, people have been doing this since the dawn of civilization. Think about any sporting event. The entire playing area is surrounded with ads. Even on player’s jerseys, right smack in the middle (think european cup). Does anyone complain? No, because it doesn’t affect the content they are consuming. But yet you know that Ronaldo was endorsing Pepsi or whatever. What happens during half-time? You don’t have to watch it, you can go get a hot dog. Same thing with commercials. But when it takes me 1hr to watch 30 minutes of content, I get pissed! All the models exist in the world, you don’t have to go digging that deep for it. Sporting events are a good place to look. People on the internet are not a different species.

      If the ads get in the way of my content then it upsets the consumer. People didn’t mind ads that much on TV until the TV stations started getting overzealous. Why were people so entertained by ads in the 50s?

      I see no problem with looking at an internet video as a football field. You can surround the entire frame with ads. No flickering, not too distracting, not too big, not ugly or neon. All it needs is one ounce of quality assurance, media companies should care about their product’s experience online, the entire package ads included. Sell 10% of the actual video frame or player, put the video in the center of the page, make it a decent resolution/quality and take all the other crap away except for the content and what is paying for production.

      Sell tiles of your content viewing area on the bottom or the top or all the way around the frame. Pepsi could buy the entire banner at the top, but it *cannot* be one of those hideous talking robots. It needs to fit with the product.

      Content producers should have a say in what type of advertisement gets placed. They should have some control in how their content is represented, how it is rendered to the consumer. There should be multiple templates available for producers to choose which type of ads make sense for their content. No-neon for example.

      Also think google ads but for videos. With google ads you don’t know what content will appear, but you know the ads give the same affect and the format/colors will remain the same, only as intrusive as you have allowed. Care about your consumers make ads part of the experience.

    4. If you are bored with google ads and have pushed them to the limits, how bout you take a video, surround it with products like a small icons (75×75 pixels) of an ipod with a code under it like 5UkcMt*. Somewhere on the page it says “To get a good deal on one of our products, sms the code to us and we’ll send you a coupon.” There is probably a service that does this and actually maintains sms ad service for advertisers. If you can build that or license it as a service like classifieds (sorry didn’t mean to bring that up) then more power to you. Except you don’t have to sit there on the phone, and it’s open all hours. Or do you already have a phone system built for that? SMS is even more lightweight and scalable.

      Remember, the news business is in the ad business. You are good at this, might be time to believe in some some web developers.

    5. Dain Olsen says:

      The passivity of people to the “necessity” of advertising is interesting. I don’t see ads embedded in this page and the content is, so far, “free” and actually quite engaging. Mr. Preston is not getting paid to say things, and I’d rather not see ads mixed into his words that were micro-designed to align with his content. Frankly, if we can’t afford our content as a public and collective investment, worthy of civic support, then it’s probably not worth much. 99% of tv certainly fits that description. Youtube may be kind of intriguing, but will never attain the status of “worth paying for” in my book. I just don’t see the need for ads, I’m sorry. They promote a sick culture, incapable of appreciating non-candy coated information. People think the world would halt without this corporate, commercial system of bombarding you with messages constantly. Why are there billboards? They are an abomination! Eventually we’ll have moving ads embedded into our clothing and streaming across our eyeballs. It will be so ubiquitous it will consume every nano-space of our worlds. That’s a dead world people. Go away soulless corporations. And go away advertising, you trivialize all things.

    6. The only thing I can agree about with Jason Preston is that the people who create enjoyable content deserve to be compensated for it.

      Why assume that the only way they can be is through ads?

      When I see a “Donate” button on a media site that I really appreciate, I send money. When I find other opportunities to pay for content I enjoy, I do so. I welcome opportunities to pay a reasonable amount for content I enjoy, especially if it is free of ads. There are many web-based “shows” that have sponsorships or ads on the site that are not intrusive to the audio or video media.

      Thank you, Dan Olsen, for pointing out that if content is not, of itself, worthy of civic support, then it isn’t worth much. I agree that the majority of ads are part of an overall consumer-culture/corporate-greed societal sickness. Let us get well.

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