Jim Louderback

October 25, 2011

How Rats in the Attic Made Me Realize What’s Wrong With Video Pre-Rolls

ratsYesterday I picked up my mail, and along with the usual assortment of bills, I also received the latest issue of Wine Enthusiast and a junk mailer from “Red Plum”, featuring a series of ads for a variety of suburban items. I opened up the magazine and was surprised to see a full-page ad for Donald Trump’s new winery. Who knew The Donald was now making fine wine in, of all places, Virginia? As a wine fan, that ad moved the needle on my awareness, and even my consideration – I’d try a bottle sometime if it wasn’t too expensive.

I tossed the mailer away without looking at it – only when I sat down to write this post did I pull it out of the recycling bin to see what was advertised inside. The first one that caught my eye was for a rats-in-the-attic clean-up service called “Take Air USA”. Even if I’d looked at the mailer, this ad was a waste: my California ranch home – like most in my neighborhood – lacks an attic.

Print advertising is a relatively mature business. I can guarantee you that Trump paid a much higher CPM to reach the highly targeted and engaged Wine Enthusiast audience than the rat guys did to expose me and thousands of others to their cleaning service.

Shortly after I picked up my mail, I checked in on my Fantasy Football team over at NFL.com. But when I opened the scoreboard, I was force-fed an online video preroll before I could check my scoring summary. I ignored the video (which seemed to be hawking both blowsy babes and copious comestibles), scrolled down to the highlights (I was winning), and then stopped over to YouTube to see what one of my favorite tech experts, Jon Rettinger, had reviewed that day on his TechnoBuffalo channel (alert, TechnoBuffalo is now affiliated with my online video company Revision3). Before watching his new video on the “Best Giveaway Ever”, I was served up a pre-roll for the new Jeep Compass – which I eagerly watched. I’ve owned Jeeps in the past and have an affinity for the brand, but I also really wanted to see what cool gear Jon was giving away, and didn’t want to miss a moment.

Unfortunately, even though those two video ad experiences are as different as rats and wine, they were probably priced at similar CPMs. That’s because the online video ad market – particularly the pre-roll market — hasn’t progressed nearly as far as print. Those were two markedly different experiences, with wildly different levels of engagement. However, for many buyers, agencies and brands an on-line video pre-roll is valued the same wherever it runs, regardless of viewer intent, ad placement and playback environment. It’s as if Trump and “Take Air USA” paid exactly the same for those two print placements – even though their impact is worlds apart.

There’s a huge difference between an “in-banner”, or “on- page” video pre-roll that gets served up around standard web fare, and that same video pre-roll running “in stream” or “in player”, before, during or after a viewer searches out and decides to watch a web video. In banner videos are similar to traditional banner and rich-media ads that run across the text web – viewers mostly ignore them, and they often run sight and sound unseen below the fold or behind an overlapping window. Heck, like most web surfers I keep the sound on my system potted to 0 – except when I’m specifically watching online video. Let’s face it – in-banner or on-page video ads are little better than the junk mail that I got along with my magazines. There’s some value, for sure, but in most cases users are actively trying to ignore these video intrusions, not welcoming them into their life.

Contrast that with a pre-roll that runs in a video player, on a video site, immediately before a piece of editorial content that’s been actively selected by the viewer. When the ad itself is targeted via demographic or content affinity, the delivered value is far greater than the scattershot in-banner approach. Jon’s viewers are far more likely to watch, and far more engaged when they do watch, because they are already in a video-viewing mode, they’ve actively selected a video to watch, and will happily tolerate a 15 second ad before watching their video. Just as Trump’s new winery made a lasting impression on me, that same Jeep ad increased my awareness of their new Compass, and even influenced me to try to drive one in the near future. That’s an engaged view, and a successful outcome for a video ad –far more valuable than the barely registered floozy-filled ad “impression” I received over at NFL.com

If you’re Jeep, you just got a great deal. Because we still don’t do a good job differentiating the value of an in-stream vs. an in-banner video pre-roll, that Compass ad delivered significant value to the advertiser. However, it was probably part of a broader buy that included both in-stream and in-banner, so its relative value will be offset by the broader array of far less useful impressions that it was bundled with.

If you’re a video ad buyer, understand the value differences between in-banner impressions and engaged in-stream video ads. Focus your energy on the latter, and you’ll get far better results than if you lump the two together. Even though engaged, in-stream video ads will be more expensive, they are still a great bargain – especially if when you target demographic or content affinity along with the in-stream purchase.

Because in the end, just as not all print ads are the same, not all video pre-rolls are the same either. There’s a world of difference between showing up in Wine Enthusiast or on TechnoBuffalo, and the internet equivalent of video junk mail. Where do you want your ads to run?

September 10, 2011

Naked Hobo Santas: Avoiding the 3 Deadliest Pitfalls for Video Ads

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , , — Jim @ 9:38 am

Surprise, Surprise, you pay for what you get
You pay for what you get…

–Dave Matthews Band

Naked_Santa-thumb-260x107-6908Buying 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.

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