Prerolls are undoubtedly a strange beast in advertising: loathed by consumers, loved by media agencies, often misunderstood by creatives, worth a fortune to publishers, and arguably the driving financial force behind the fastest growing channel in the online world—video.
As media consumers ourselves, most of us are all too familiar with the momentary interruption as soon as we click on a video that we want to watch, and then we seize on the opportunity to ‘Skip this ad’ once five or so seconds have lapsed. Interestingly, studies consistently suggest that prerolls outperform TV placement on a range of brand-health metrics. Whether or not this is true, brands and marketers continue to invest in them, and they aren’t going anywhere.
The question is whether or not the industry is using this space in the best possible way to leverage the qualities of the medium. For instance, making viewers wait for too long while they are on the go and on mobile connections may only turn them away.
In fact, it may well be that five-second bursts of inspired content are the way to go. After all, the idea that elaborate TVCs can be simply shunted into the digital-video space as a way to gain incremental reach presupposes that all screens operate the same way for consumers, and that reach trumps impact. This is possibly valid to some extent, but the boundaries and peculiarities of the medium should also be taken into account.
Indeed, limitations are more often than not what fuels creativity; they foster a process that forces us to think our way through and propose novel solutions. For example, a canvas is static and limited, so when artists need to convey movement, they are forced to deploy technique, colours and brushstrokes to achieve this.
For decades, this idea has been driving outdoor advertising along highways and on public-transport vehicles. Restricted to the short amount of time in which the driver or commuter whizzes past and looks up, the medium has to deliver a brand message in a very short window of time. The message has to come across almost as soon as you see it. Boundaries like these are not always a barrier to creativity; they present a challenge that one must rise to. If five seconds is too short a format through which to tell a story, then change the story.
Why does this matter? Because right now, the industry is faced with an ever-expanding array of formats through which to speak with audiences, and few adhere to traditional creative structures. Some are text-based, some carry only image and some video, some are aural, and others interactive. Each demands a different creative solution. As such, in order for a brand to connect with its audience, it will need to take each channel on its merits and adjust the storytelling method accordingly.
Undeniably, traditional advertising has sculpted the way we think about videos within the confines of 30-second TVCs supported by outdoor, magazine and radio. And over the years, it has also defined how we measure success and the attribution models we bring to these: reach, awareness, brand health, and so on. All of these are, however, up for re-evaluation in today’s ecosystem, where consumer touchpoints are so varied. Adopting a more holistic view and mindset is thus arguably the most critical challenge in media and advertising today.
There are more channels than ever and more ways to tell brand stories, more platforms and technologies that enable creative exploration of interaction and engagement. But one key principle that will continue to guide us as we adapt and evolve is that storytelling campaigns that have the best chance of achieving their goals are the ones whose creative approach is in harmony with the channels and formats into which they are placed.
For preroll video, five seconds of brilliance may be all it takes.
Gerard Lechau is commercial director for Southeast and North Asia at Exponential