Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Don't Demonize The Brands

Maybe it’s the 15 years I spent running a marketing agency.  Maybe it’s my love of brand building and advertising.  Or maybe it’s my annoyingly persistent sense of fairness.  Whatever the reason, I find myself increasingly disheartened by the prevalent and seemingly universal acceptance by video networks that it’s okay to demonize the brands that pay our bills in the name of keeping viewers happy.

Clearly, it’s important for any video network to maintain its integrity, and create a positive, happy user experience.  People come to a network wanting to browse around a bit, find what they’re looking for, and watch their selected video.  Fine.  And they want to do it for free.  Also fine.  It’s the networks’ responsibility to provide that if they want to keep users entertained, informed and coming back frequently.  But in an apparent fear of consumer backlash, it seems more networks are adding options that allow users to bypass pre-roll ads altogether in order to get to their desired video a bit faster.

In the grand scheme of things, people will have worse things happen to them than having to wait an additional 20 seconds for their video to begin to play.
The need to create a positive experience for viewers has to be balanced with the responsibility to create value for the brands that support the network and spend money to reach those viewers.  Brands can’t be positioned as the enemy, and their ads can’t be presented as roadblocks if value is to be maximized or even realized at all.

Much of the issue here is simple wording, but as we all know, words matter.  For example, when a viewer is watching an ad, and there is a countdown clock that says “You Can Skip This Ad In: XX Seconds” what does that really say?  At the best, it says that the video you're waiting for isn't really worth the wait. At worst, and far more likely, it sends a clear message that the network acknowledges the ad that's playing isn't worth watching: Sorry you have to sit through a few seconds of this über annoying ad. It's a necessary evil and we hate to inconvenience you by making you suffer through it. But don't worry, we'll let you ignore the rest of it in just a few seconds - that'll show 'em! Oh, and by the way, Mr. Advertiser, here's your invoice for the thirty million impressions you ran through us last month. Sorry for the low completion rate, but if you could pay us within 45 days, we'd appreciate it.    
The agencies and brands that partner with video networks rely on those networks to present them in the best possible light.  Networks need to rise to the challenge and find ways to promote those brands as worth a few extra seconds, and stare down the growing sense of audience impatience.
If ad-skipping capabilities are an absolute necessity, networks should seek to create a better mechanism that doesn’t cast marketers as the villain. Replacing the standard skip button with a picture of the advertiser's logo would at least create a bit of interaction between viewer and brand. Even a simple phrase change from “skip this ad” to something like “This commercial's great, but I can't wait to watch my video!” might seem a little cheesy, but it doesn’t downplay the importance of the marketer.

BlurbIQ has an interesting solution, in which viewers who want to skip an ad are asked to type a specific word (like the brand’s name).  In fact, that little bit of interaction -- typing the brand name -- might be more powerful than watching a full ad, and lets everyone benefit.
On the flip side, marketers need to meet audiences halfway, and create ads that are more accepted.  As a recent survey by Poll Position showed, the majority of viewers believe that 15-second spots are the appropriate length to showcase before a video.  Creating more of these spots will keep viewers watching, and take the pressure off networks to find ways of allowing viewers to bypass the ads altogether.

Whatever the solution, networks need to respect the brands that generate the revenue as much as they respect (fear, cater to, bend over backward for) the audiences.  Brands allocate their marketing dollars to those media vehicles that can produce the best results. But the recent increase in ad dollars spent on online video networks will be short-lived if those networks demonize the brands and ultimately fail to provide value.

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