Matthew Carlton
Feb 11, 2014

Online video: Get past the pre-roll

Digital video can deliver millions of views but to breed lasting engagement, brands need to do more to stay in the frame.

Online video: Get past the pre-roll

Advertisers face an abundance of choice when it comes to digital vide —Vine, Instragram Video, Snapchat, Tencent’s upcoming short-form platform, Facebook’s video ad offerings and the ‘old stalwarts’, YouTube, PPTV and Youku, all offer unique appeal for brands. And the options are likely to multiply.

But do brands get enough out of these platforms? Consumers, particularly impressionable younger demographics, have embraced the new media, but many companies are still playing it safe, looking risk-averse and at times lazy. 

Proclamations to increase spend on digital video often amount to little more than running existing TV spots as pre-rolls on digital platforms.

Of course this accusation is not fair for all companies. There have been some outstanding examples of brands showing a commitment to digital video distinct from their TV output. “During 2013, ads such as Dove’s ‘Real beauty sketches’, Ram Trucks’ ‘Farmer’, Pepsi’s ‘Test drive’ and Volvo’s ‘Epic split’ showed how brands can make content that educates, inspires and entertains,” says Phil Townend, EMEA managing director at Unruly Media, a leading global platform for social video marketing. 

AGENCY COMMENT Platforms are ultimately irrelevant
MARKETER COMMENT Video in line with values yields results

Still in its infancy 

With online video advertising still a relatively young medium and the cost of creating bespoke content for the web traditionally high, many brands and agencies have taken the arguably easiest route of replicating TV ads and interruptive-style breaks before, during or after web content.

However, Sami Thessman, group creative director for TBWA Hong Kong and ECD of its Digital Arts Network, feels the tide is turning. “There’s definitely a change of behaviour happening. Agencies and clients are realising they can create amazing content outside of TV spots.” He points to how TBWA now approaches work with digital video elements, revealing that material is shot for Vine, Instagram, Facebook and the web. “We proactively think about ideas that live in the digital space. This demands that we have a channel and social media strategy ready when we propose something. When the entire ecosystem is precisely mapped, we can actually find economies of scale in production.” 

Volvo: ‘Epic split’ video has attracted nearly 68 million YouTube views

Defending brands that reuse TV spots as pre-rolls, Rahul Welde, Unilever’s vice-president of media for Asia, believes this approach “is an opportunity to extend the life and presence of the film, rather than to save production costs”. He says it is not always accurate to view the tactic as merely playing it safe; it enables advertisers to fully utilise an asset and ensure a level of consistency across media channels, which “is more desirable than simply spawning a number of films”. 

Old rules still apply

Given that consumers demand relevance before they grant brands the few minutes, or even seconds, needed to engage, it would seem logical for marketers to produce fresh, appealing online video content. 

“Brands need to be bold if they want to get noticed,” says Townend. Particularly, as he points out, there are 100 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every 60 seconds alone and 500,000 shares of branded videos every 24 hours. 

It is a view Thessman shares: “Disruptive ideas are key,” he says. “Each brand must have its own way to behave and talk.” 

While it is important for brands to cut through and, if possible, make an emotional connection with viewers, the emotions a brand uses need to be genuine and deliver on brand value. There is no point in creating content that gets everyone talking if it damages brand value. So a fine balance, between pushing the boundaries and driving brand metrics and ROI, is a must. 

According to Havas digital strategy director Craig Page, advertisers and agencies do not need to retrain and develop new skills when it comes to creating successful digital video content. “The qualities that make branded online content great are often the same things that make a TV ad great. Very few brilliant ideas require million-dollar budgets, and it is not necessarily a case of developing different ads for online and TV.” 

Understanding your audience and the platforms and media they use should also be considered, says Brian Fisher, Caltex brand manager at Chevron. The short attention span of today’s consumer due to the surge of material and content is also a factor. “In today’s world, you probably need your brand introduced up front, before people switch off. And if you want them to keep tuned in, then you have keep them either entertained or amazed,” says Fisher. 

Ram Trucks: ‘Farmer’ raised US$1 million for education on YouTube

Telling effective stories

Advertisers using their communications departments to tell the stories of brands has become an increasingly popular strategy in the past few years. Digital video arguably accelerates the dynamic. 

These video formats unquestionably create narrative opportunities that other media lack. For example, Dove’s ‘Real beauty sketches’ — the most shared ad of 2013 and the most viewed ad of all time — achieved this status through formidable storytelling and by giving people a reason to share – consumers often share it with women in their lives because they want them to feel better about themselves.  

“It’s my favourite campaign because it stands true to its brand,” says PHD Asia-Pacific chief executive Susana Tsui. “The video continues to really set the bar high for natural beauty, how women perceive themselves and a true expression of women’s issues and insecurities.”

Tsui believes Unilever is a great example of a company using digital video successfully across a number of its brands, not just in Western markets, but also in China, where it “creates content that feeds into everyone’s daily lives”.

It is not just multinational brands weaving rich branded stories through global video content. In China, campaigns from CCTV and Wrigley have attracted praise for their ability to emotionally engage Chinese consumers. Across the region, Lifebuoy’s ‘Help a child reach 5’ social awareness campaign made the shortlist at Cannes and SingTel has demonstrated a commitment to this approach. 

Yet the consensus from the Asia-Pacific marketing community appears to be that local brands — or simply all brands at a local level — could be more experimental with digital video. “Many brands could be doing more, but their agency partners need to provide compelling arguments for them to do so. Many agencies are lacking in this area,” says Ben Poole, MEC’s head of interaction for Asia-Pacific. 

Writing in Campaign recently, Wunderman China MD Bryce Whitwam asked why marketers were not using local filmmakers to develop locally produced and micro-relevant content. While opportunities abound with such marriages, brand control is the issue that arises here, says Fisher. 

Pepsi: ‘Test drive’ has earned more than 40 million views on YouTube to date

“Anyone can make a film for a brand, but maintaining the role of the brand at the heart is the hard part. This is the domain of the marketing director, but agency production departments should have in their KPIs [the need] to find and use more unknown and fresh young directors.”

The quest for viral gold

Naturally, all brands hope to land the digital video jackpot and see their content spread across the internet, generate buzz and ‘go viral’. But advertisers should not fixate on this holy grail and should understand that success with digital video can come in more understated forms. 

“I always cringe when I hear the word ‘viral’. Mainly because I’m of the opinion viral does not equal effective. Given a choice, I’d take quality over quantity,” says XM consumer experience director Hema Thiagarajah. 

Townend agrees, adding that brands seeing the most success with digital video are those prepared to make a durable commitment to creating content that shows a personality and to developing an ongoing dialogue with consumers. “Brands should stop chasing the next viral hit and instead focus on creating a long-term strategy of creating shareable content,” he says. 

In 2014 there will be more ways to create such sharable content. Short-form video is growing in popularity, with the likes of Vine, Snapchat and Instagram Video fuelling consumer interest. For example, five tweets per second contain a Vine link.

These platforms allow users to view a video of about seven seconds, considerably shorter than most branded content on sites such as YouKu and YouTube, as well as standard TVCs. Research from Unruly found that the average viewer spends 18 seconds watching branded Vine videos, letting it loop around three times to ensure they digest all the video’s subtleties and messages. This indicates consumers are far more willing to give a brand six seconds of their time than when a pre-roll forces them to watch before their desired content. 

Some of the more adventurous brands are naturally already testing out shorter-form video, with early adopters on Vine including Samsung, Puma and Dove, while the likes of Urban Outfitters, Nike and Burberry experiment with Instagram Video. 

“The benefit of shorter-form video is that it requires significantly less effort or commitment from the viewer to watch, and this fact is amplified by the short-form platforms with features like auto-play and looping,” says Page. 

Welde expects short-form videos from brands to see “significant growth”, mainly on mounting viewing from consumers on mobile devices, while in China, a new platform could propel short-form video further into the mainstream. Tencent has developed a Chinese version of Vine called Weishi, which is an extension of the hugely popular WeChat service. 

It is a development that AKQA Shanghai executive creative director John Vakidis thinks could have a big impact on brands’ use of short-form video in China. He says the clients he works with are already ‘excited’ about its possibilities. “There are so many WeChat users that once this feature is available it is just going to take all these moments with photo-sharing and shift them to video.”  

It is understandable that clients are enthusiastic about the development. Videos garner sharing more than pictures. Recent statistics from Instagram reveal its videos create twice the amount of engagement of its photos. Lululemon, a pioneer of Instagram video, receives about seven times as many comments on videos as it does on photos. 

Measurement evolves 

Digital measurement has always been a challenge for the industry, but it seems the marketing fraternity is realising that views are not the only metric that counts with such media. Success should not therefore be ascertained by whether a piece of content has amassed more than 10 million views in its first week. Reaching the right audience with the best possible content remains and building brand awareness is still the main purpose of a large proportion of video campaigns. However, marketers are now looking at metrics further down the sales funnel, accepting the share as a measure of advocacy and establishing the impact of videos in other brand metrics such as purchase intent. 

“Getting a better understanding of how relevant, engaging and memorable a piece of marketing is is every bit as important as how eager people are to share it,” says Fisher. “Needless to say, if it does well on those counts, sharing is more likely.” 

So where does that leave digital video in 2014? With new developments, growth of short form and the evolution of Facebook’s video ad platform, it seems the format will only continue to grow at an unwavering pace, particularly as the lines between television and digital-video advertising continue to converge and blur. 

Another likely trend will be around ad viewability, ensuring that online digital videos are actually observed and not avoided. “These results will force brands to create content that is more entertaining and less salesy as they realise consumers will vote with their feet if they are being bombarded with the same ads they are forced to watch on TV,” says Townend. 

“Annoying” is how Fisher describes pre-rolls, because “any film that appears before the video you want to watch online annoys everyone”. 

The key to preventing ‘skipping’ is to entertain or inform quickly, offering value to the viewer. If marketers adhere to that, then digital video creativity should flourish in Asia.

AGENCY COMMENT Platforms are ultimately irrelevant

Karl Cluck, chief strategy officer, North Asia, and CEO, Japan and Korea,  Mindshare

There is no ‘best way’ to behave with digital video, especially as the distinctions between TV and online video, short-form and long-form content, viral videos and ads are rapidly breaking down.

The smartest brands use digital video to effectively and creatively deliver marketing and campaign objectives such as awareness, engagement and conversion; reinforce a positive response to the brand and the message; and stretch strategy, technology and storytelling to deliver consumer experiences that are both compelling and differentiated. 

Sometimes a 15-second TVC as pre-roll is the best solution, and sometimes the brief requires a totally innovative, unique and unexpected response.

The best campaigns, whether they’re funny, inspiring, informative or outrageous, always grab consumers’ attentions and find an audience. Good advertising is always good, regardless of the platform. Media can work with creative not only to ensure we create the ‘opportunity to see’ with the right consumers, but also so we’re effectively using the context and the media in the most effective way.

For online video this can mean using interactive elements, rich media overlays or social functionality to enhance engagement.

MARKETER COMMENT Video in line with values yields results

Peter Dingle, consumer brand and marketing strategy lead, Intel Asia-Pacific

Amazing storytelling is what creates emotional connections. The fastest way to engage with a consumer in Asia today is using video. Showing what is possible when you look inside is our approach. Telling genuine, stories of things Intel makes possible is one way we use video.

Intel is evolving, from company that makes chips in PCs to a company that supports the internet of things. This requires inspiring hardware and software developers of all ages to go out and create something.

We tell the story of a 15-year old boy who after losing his uncle to pancreatic cancer invented an early detection method for cancer. We also tell the story of how FC Barcelona is a different type of team with a different type of fan. FC Barcelona will become one of the most technologically advanced football teams in the world, bringing Barca players closer to their fans than ever before.

These stories, and many more, build up to a sales objective as well as a brand goal, encouraging consumers to pay attention to what is inside their new tablets when shopping. We believe people are using technology every day to expand their knowledge, to be creative, and to find new ways to overcome challenges.


Related Articles

Just Published

9 hours ago

Unwrapping Spotify Wrapped: What is the industry ...

The marcomms industry understood the assignment, followed the brief, and let music stay rent free in their head, just like an NFT. Here’s what the industry folks have been listening to this year.

9 hours ago

Accenture Song acquires Fiftyfive5 to boost data ...

The insights and advisory business will help Accenture Song and Fiftyfive5 tap a rising global customer analytics market and further grow its business in Australia and New Zealand.

10 hours ago

GM reveals the sci-fi super team that powers your EV

But is performance and reliability really best left to a gang of stressed out tech-crazy militaristic nerds?

16 hours ago

Korean car brand Genesis revs up the tunes in DJ ...

The DJ set took place in Shoreditch, London.