Surprise, Surprise, you pay for what you get
You pay for what you get…
–Dave Matthews Band
Buying online video ads can be fraught with peril. Why? Because buyers need to worry about how their ad is streamed, where it plays and what it’s adjacent to — and because unscrupulous or clueless sellers can take your money and put your brand at risk.
Let’s start with the Conditions of Play. When you’re buying inventory for your pre-roll or sponsored segment, it’s very important to know not only how that video was initiated, but also the intent of the viewer. Video ad networks, paid distribution services and even emerging DSPs are more than happy to take your money and then autoplay your ad into a 300 x 240 unit "below the fold" (i.e., on page but off screen) with the sound off — what I call an ABFSO view.
There is value in an ABFSO view, but not much. Certainly your target had an opportunity to see that ad, but the likelihood of influencing her in any single session is quite small. On the flip side, it’s far more likely that a viewer will watch and engage with your pre-roll if it is served up immediately prior to a video they’ve specifically requested. Somewhere in the middle are the new "pay to watch" video ad units, where a user opts in to watching your ad in exchange for something of value — typically virtual goods or currency in an online game, or other digital items of value.
But today, those very different types of ad views are often bundled together and sold for a single CPM. That’s crazy, and luckily it’s starting to change. Google and Tubemogul, for example, are currently proposing a new view metric to the IAB — called cost per view — that relies on a user initiation or action. No autoplay need apply. Other initiatives from Vivaki and Kantar Video will increasingly help buyers understand the value of different types of views.
Even before these new models emerge, avoiding the play-type problem is relatively easy. Ask your ad network — or the sites you’re purchasing — whether they support autoplay or only user-initiated views. Price your buy accordingly.
The next pitfall: Page Adjacency, or which sites or channels are actually showing your ad: This problem has been around for a while, but has been exacerbated by the increased demand for video ads. What happens is that your ad runs on a variety of sites, some that probably aren’t the right sort of "neighborhood" for your message — including torrent directories, gambling sites and other unsavory destinations.
Avoiding these sites is also relatively easy. Either only buy inventory from sites you’re familiar with, or ask your supplier for a list of 100% of the sites they’re running on — both before the campaign starts and after it’s over. Verify the integrity of those sites and don’t pay for substandard placements.
The last problem, Stream Adjacency, is unfortunately more insidious, more damaging and harder to fix. Your video may be playing on an acceptable site, and it may be playing before a user-selectable video. Even so, the video that comes after your pre-roll, or under your overlay, might not be something your brand wants to be associated with. And it’s often impossible to figure out in advance.
For example, last week I saw a Sierra Mist pre-roll that led into a video about a naked hobo Santa wielding an oversized marital aid; Cindy Crawford’s Propel pre-roll followed by a raunchy clip glorifying male sex organs; a Subway spot before a particularly gruesome murder of a stripper; and an ASUS ad over-layed on top of a guy savagely beating his girlfriend.
I might be going out on a limb here, but I’ll bet that none of these brands were hoping for that kind of association.
The root of these uncomfortable associations is the same as the Site Adjacency problem: Unscrupulous or clueless networks are aggregating questionable properties so they can build up enough scale to serve the quantity of pre-rolls that big advertisers demand.
Unfortunately, unlike websites, which can easily be scanned for undesirable adjacencies, you actually have to watch the video to see if it’s safe for your brand. That’s because we still haven’t developed technology that can reliably scan a video to determine what’s inside. And that means that networks — including my own Revision3 — need to be diligent about knowing what’s running inside every video they monetize. If we don’t remove or warn our clients about potentially questionable content, we’re going to lose the trust of big brands and agencies.
It also means that buyers need to take a more active role in determining where your video plays. First, only work with trusted sites or networks that promise brand-safe programming. But that’s not enough. Next you need to get a list of all the shows, all the channels, and all the videos that your ads are streaming aside. And finally, you have to act like Ronald Regan during his negotiations with Russia:, "Trust but Verify." Invest the time to do more than just a cursory once over before signing that contract, or cutting that check.