There’s no shortage of phenomenal video content online today. Movies, sitcoms, music videos, sports highlights, cat videos… they’re all just a click away. And yet in Q1 2011 alone, we chose to watch ads nearly 800 million times. Why?
Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about pre-roll or auto-play ads – these ads interrupt us while we’re trying to watch our movies and sports highlights. When we choose to watch ads, we click the “play” button. It’s an active, lean-forward experience with the brand. In fact, choice-based ads don’t have to interrupt sitcoms, music videos, and other content because these ads are the content. As a result, choice-based ads generate user-initiated views, not impressions like pre-roll ads.
Some of the most common examples of choice-based ads are Old Spice’s Old Spice Guy, VW’s The Force, and T-Mobile’s recent Royal Wedding Dance. We click “play” to watch these ads because they look interesting, we like the brand, a friend recommended them to us, [add your reason here]. But beyond these generalities, the most popular choice-based ads have specific characteristics that influence our decision to watch them.
#1. They look and feel like content. It might sound strange, but it doesn’t feel like you’re watching an ad when you choose to watch an ad. This is because when you choose to watch an ad you’re focused on what interests you, not what interests the brand. This means that the ads we choose to watch aren’t standard brand pitches. They’re lightly branded, with few facts, features, and figures. Instead of talking about the product and how great the brand is, these ads focus on storytelling.
#2. They’re engaging. The ads we choose to watch are funny, sexy, informative, and, most of all, entertaining. Frequently, these ads are surprising, unpredictable, and unbelievable, leading us not only to watch them again and again, but to pass them along to our family and friends. Choice-based ads enable – even encourage – us to get involved and engage directly with the brand – to respond with comments, upload a reaction video, play with the ad in unexpected ways, blast the ad across Facebook and Twitter, and more.
#3. They’re (relatively) brief. Choice-based video enables advertisers to tell their story anyway they want. There are no restrictions on time or content like in TV or pre-roll advertising. And while this gives advertisers some room to run, the ads that ultimately flourish in online video are relatively brief, usually no longer than 2:00 minutes. This means that for us, the viewers, the ads are long enough to develop an interesting story, but not long enough to lose our attention. Case in point, Visible Measures published research last year that says 20% of people abandon a video clip in its first 10 seconds. Nearly 45% abandon by 60 seconds.
#4. They’re viewable. In the time it took you to read this article, around two days’ worth of video has been uploaded to YouTube, including ads we’ll choose to watch. But because of the sheer wealth of video content that’s available, there are plenty of great ads that don’t get the recognition they deserve – they simply get lost in the noise. So, in addition to choosing to watch ads because of great content, the ads we choose to watch also have great media strategies behind them. These media strategies focus on generating choice-based views – not impressions – and are frequently charged on a performance basis, like cost-per-view (CPV) instead of the traditional CPM.
Many of the most-watched choice-based campaigns of all time have adopted these exact strategies. They create great content and promote it with choice-based paid media. As for the results, think about them the next time you choose to watch an ad.