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?

February 24, 2009

How Microsoft Really Murdered Vista

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , , , — Jim @ 11:54 pm

A few days ago I posted an analysis of how internet video is exposing a third dimension to the standard reach and frequency of traditional advertising. Not every product can be sold on reach and frequency alone – these days, in many cases, it’s more important to build a deep and lasting relationship with a relatively smaller number of core consumers. These fans are called a number of things – brand ambassadors, net promoters, brand evangelists. Whatever they are called, it’s important that any product or service have as many of these as possible – they end up recommending the product or service to their friends and family.

Back before the social Internet, those brand ambassadors were good. On a strong day, they probably touched 4 or 5 people with their love of your product. But now, with the amplification effect of social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Friend Feed and MySpace, a single ambassador can touch – and thus influence – hundreds. The average Facebook user has nearly that many friends, and true connectors have many times that.

Shortly after my post, I was chatting about reach and frequency with my old friend and former boss Jason Young, CEO of Ziff Davis Media. He took it further than I did, saying that reach and frequency were dead. We started thinking about egregious examples of brands that killed themselves by neglecting their core. It didn’t take long to hit on one train wreck we both witnessed firsthand – the nearly irreparable damage to Windows caused by Vista.

Jason and I had a front row seat to the launch of both Windows 95, XP and Vista. When Microsoft launched Windows 95, they had a team of evangelists and their job was to convince the opinion leaders and tech enthusiasts that Windows 95 was the way to go. Well known venture capitalist Rick Segal was on that team, back then (I still remember him trolling Comdex in a bright green/yellow Windows shirt, handing out goodies). The company spent millions promoting the benefits of Windows 95 in computer magazines, including the ones that Jason and I worked for.

Fast forward to Vista. When Microsoft prepared to launch Vista, they ignored the tech press entirely. Almost all of the company’s marketing budget went to a broad, consumer campaign designed to convince the rank and file computer users that Vista was exactly right for them. The messaging focused on feel-good platitudes rather than the significant technology advances inside the product. Microsoft opted for reach, and frequency, instead of going deep on the core set of technology influences and users. They didn’t just ignore them – they actually insulted them with messaging that was so generic and vanilla it could have been used to sell cat food.

Microsoft forgot that computers are still pretty alien to most people. Even today, most computer users have that “go to guy (or gal)” who gives them advice and tells them what to buy and how to fix it. All during the long campaign selling Vista, Microsoft ignored the go to folks, and they, in turn, were unconvinced about Vista’s benefits.

So when early problems arrived, as they always do, the tech core didn’t make excuses, they pounced. Hell hath no fury like a techie scorned. Vista, suddenly, was being denigrated by the same group that helped make Windows 95 and XP such a success.

Microsoft’s response was late, and equally as tone deaf. Instead of focusing on the core technology inside Vista, and instead of turning key technology influencers into brand ambassadors, they teamed Bill Gates up with Jerry Seinfeld in a vignette about shoes. When that failed, they turned to a broad campaign designed to blunt Apple’s brilliant “I’m a Mac” ads. That, too, failed. Microsoft continued to go for mass reach and frequency with a message that meant nothing – instead of trying to turn the influencers into advocates.

So here we are today. Windows 7 is coming out at the end of the year. Microsoft can redeem itself – but will it? Early indications are that the deep messaging, designed to turn the core into Windows advocates, has already been slashed. Right now, Windows 7 has good buzz. Even notorious Mac fan and ultra-connected geek influencer Kevin Rose has waxed enthusiastically about the beta.

But it’ll take more than just a few geeks to turn the tide. Microsoft needs a prolonged, in depth communication plan to reach the core – and to leverage their influence. I hope they wise up. Because without a deep campaign to turn a large fraction of the tech influencers into brand ambassadors, all the reach and frequency in the world will just lead to more failure.

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