Bryce Whitwam
Jan 2, 2014

Death of the digital creative agency: The pre-roll

'Lazy' digital makes up the vast majority of digital spend in China.

Death of the digital creative agency: The pre-roll

I was fortunate to attend the 2013 China Network Audiovisual Forum (CNAIF) Awards in early December in Shanghai, celebrating the best in online programmes, short and long format films. Operated under the government’s Ministry of Culture, the CNAIF and its annual awards foster creative excellence in online content, promoting a new generation of online film directors.

The finalist’s submissions were excellent and I was surprised to learn that the winners had also garnered tens of millions of viewers. I was also surprised that many of the winning works were self-funded and had no sponsors. The winning directors later told me they would be extremely interested in working with my clients.

It’s clear that these guys were producing stuff that people wanted to see, so why wasn’t the connection being made to marketers? Why weren’t agencies taking these content opportunities and building online campaigns around them?

The answer is simple: It’s hard. It’s harder to go through all the effort to engage your product in a story, and then to get people on social channels to talk about it, and then get people to go to your ecommerce site.

But it is much easier to simply take a 30-second television ad and put it on a pre-roll on Youku. Pre-rolls are not fully taking advantage of online opportunities, so it’s probably not as effective, but it’s certainly a lot easier for creative, media and marketers to do things this way.

“Lazy digital”, as I like to call it, in the form of a pre-roll, makes up for a vast majority of the digital spend in China. When marketers tell me they are spending more on digital, they are really saying they are spending more on digital media in the form of the pre-roll.

Pre-rolls are also the digital agency’s greatest threat because they destroy the whole point of hiring an agency to create an online experiential platform in the first place. And once the media money is spent, there’s hardly any left for anything else.

There’s never been a better time to reduce your dependence on pre-rolls. The big social platforms are not as numerous as before and those survivors have provided more user-friendly functionality. And yes, there are still loads of great content opportunities out there.

Bryce Whitwam is managing director of Wunderman Shanghai


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