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Dominic Tillson 

Web-based pre-roll needs to evolve beyond the 30 second spot

Dominic.TillsonToo many advertisers are getting it wrong, so InSkin Media's Dominic Tillson is getting no nonsense with online pre-roll - and offers advice to ensure ads are remembered positively and record a genuine interest.

Internet users don't like pre-roll.

There, I've said it, and mentioned the pachyderm in the boudoir. In the sophisticated age of task-focused, lean-forward web engagement, pre-roll is the modern equivalent of the popup.

Given the growth of web-based video consumption (predicted by Cisco Visual Networking Index to reach 69% of all consumer internet traffic by 2017), they are only expected to become more prevalent as advertisers seek to engage with this growing, attentive consumer base, and publishers attempt to grow their digital audience and develop their video content offerings.

It's only natural that advertisers are trying to take advantage of this growing audience segment. TV channels are fragmenting from four in 1982 to well over 1,000 today, and catch-up TV and PVRs are threatening the once dominant broadcast TV market, as users watch TV on their own terms.

So, like it or not, pre-roll is here to stay, but it definitely needs advertisers to invest in it and treat it differently from a broadcast TV solution.

All too often, advertisers re-purpose a broadcast TV advert, and serve it in front of some short format video content - hardly a compelling value exchange for the viewer. TV-style ads online are more palatable if you're having a long format TV experience (web based catch-up platforms are proving very popular), where you lean back and allow the broadcast to gently wash over you, but what about a 30 second pre-roll interrupting a two minute video clip?

The lean-forward nature of the majority of online short-form video content means that being interrupted by an advert delivering 25 seconds of creative intrigue, with five seconds of punch line, is intrusive and often frustrates consumers - leaving them unsure whether they've clicked on the right video clip in the first place.

This negative viewing experience leaves a bad taste, and can reflect poorly on the publisher serving the ad, as well as the advertiser themselves. Add to that the easily avoidable creative own goals (invariably the ad's not re-sized correctly, or is streamed at such low resolution as to look like a 1980s computer game) and you end up with an expensive advertising campaign that's alienating your target audience, rather than building affinity with your brand.

But let's not kick a man when he's down. Pre-roll often delivers great performance metrics and brand recall, and no doubt has a valuable part to play in the online advertising ecosystem.

The challenge is to ensure that pre-roll ads are remembered positively, and record a genuine interest, not people clicking on them in a fly swatter's hope of trying to find the content they were looking for.

Advertisers need to understand the true potential of investing in dedicated digital creative, and focus on a few simple recommendations for their pre-roll campaigns:

  • Create high quality content tailored to web users - the way that users consume content, and tolerate advertising, differs on different platforms
  • Deliver a call to action from the first frame - task focused users don't appreciate intrigue
  • Allow interaction - advertising online is not a broadcast experience. Advertisers are missing a trick by not facilitating deeper engagement at every touch point
  • Let the user know they are watching a pre-roll which will only last a limited period of time

Likewise, the onus is on publishers to safeguard the user experience on their web properties. If you value your users then offer them a fair value exchange for your content - you may not have the scale of YouTube to offer a skippable option, but don't park multiple adverts in front of short format content which will drive digital users to consume their video content elsewhere.

Serve fewer ads and make them work harder for you - the problem with the race to the most attractive (lowest) cpms is that you might win it.

In short, there is a lot of potential for intelligently leveraging the explosive growth in video content from an advertising perspective, but we have to collaborate with advertisers and publishers to ensure we don't kill the next golden goose.

Dominic Tillson is head of business development at InSkin Media.

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