The Democratization of Video Advertising

February is a glorious month for television in the US, hosting the legendary Super Bowl, a climactic fusion of modern mass media advertising and entertainment. While I remain a sportsball agnostic Seattle nonfan, as an advertising specialist I’m always excited to see how companies will use the pigskin platform to engage with consumers. For the marketing world, the commercials and the surrounding conversations on Twitter are almost an event in and of themselves.

But despite all the attention regularly focused on these ads and their rising price tag (an average $4 Million for 30 seconds this year), the big-screen buys of the old guard represent a progressively smaller part of the overall video advertising picture. Even ads destined for this most “TV” of ad spots are now being bred for multi-screen palatability and distributed in less elite formats, serving more as broadly targeted jumping off points for social media campaigns than as traditional brand or product advertisements. The Super Bowl showing is just one more piece of video ad inventory on one more screen. In fact, some are arguing that this year's best Super Bowl ads weren't even the television spots, instead giving accolades to Newcastle Brown Ale's teaser ads and "#IfWeMadeIt" reaction pieces (hosted entirely on YouTube and

It's becoming clear that the success of these carefully composed Super Bowl commercials is increasingly dependent on their online exposure. Unruly Media recently released data showing that 60% of the most successful Super Bowl ads of all time were launched prior to the game. Advertisers took an online first mentality to capturing the pre-game boost this year by putting teasers and even full ads up for viewing on sites like YouTube’s Ad Blitz and running paid search ads in advance of the big game. They are wise to do so for many reasons - online ads come with a host of detailed statistics as yet unrivaled in the TV world, can feed remarketing lists, and drive social engagement that can inform live social media later on. Failing to couple any major television campaign to a corresponding digital/multichannel strategy would be a major oversight in modern advertising.

... And Video For All

What’s really exciting about all this is that these changes in the video landscape don’t just benefit lurching giants like Publicis Omnicom or WPP - they have heralded a true democratization of video advertising. While you may be unable to afford a multimillion dollar shot at joining the hallowed ranks of the Budweiser Frogs or The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, programmatic video advertising on channels like YouTube let you buy the same $0.10 ad views as anyone else in the world with just a few clicks, hitting your choice of 1 billion unique users every month.

Though it may have considerably fewer nickel-plated compadres, your dime is just as good as P&G’s. In fact, assuming you don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on market research, all the juicy engagement and usage data that comes in the bargain is all that much more valuable, offering a range of insights into your target market’s response to the ad that might be difficult or prohibitively expensive to obtain otherwise.

This can, however, be a double-edged sword. Dramatically lower barriers to entry are generally a very positive thing for small businesses and give consumers exposure to many new messages and choices. On the other hand, it also makes it incredibly easy for advertisers to get lazy, waste money, and annoy the crap out of audiences doing it. With great power comes great responsibility - Slapping up a video and letting it run for the next three months unattended without careful attention to your targeting and distribution strategy is just asking for a date with the “Skip” button.

If you invest the time and thought to put together a campaign that puts the right message to the right people at the right time and place, you can expect to reap great rewards. But who are the right people, and what are the right channels for your ad? It’s all about asking the right questions.

Ask The Right Questions First

You have a lot of options in how you distribute your video spot, and none of them are right for every type of video and goal. Before you start, ask yourself these three questions to understand what you need from a potential distribution channel:

Who do I want to see this video?

Consumer segmentation and what’s now often referred to as persona research is an elementary marketing concept, but you might be surprised at how often this step is glossed over or left incomplete. Most platforms offer a wealth of targeting options, and you need to know how you will apply them. Take the time to lay out who the person is that you envision loving this video. Give them a name, and write out their interests and possible subscriptions. What motivates them and keeps them engaged? Do they frequent Facebook or Twitter? On mobile or desktop?

How is the video content structured in terms of pacing, length, and tone/subject?

Having the right cut for the right placement can make or break a campaign. For example, YouTube in-stream ads typically offer users the option to skip ads after a mere five seconds, and no matter how great your piece is, the bulk of users are going to impatiently hit the skip button on their way to their next cat video. If you don’t say or show them anything to indicate who you are or why you’re worth paying attention to in that time, you’re wasting your only guaranteed audience for the placement.

Ideally, you should edit your video to optimize for different channels that offer a strong alignment with your goals, but sometimes this isn’t possible, and sometimes the nature of the piece simply won’t fit a 15 or 30 second cut. It’s incredibly important that you understand where your ad will fit and be seen, or you will end up wasting most of the opportunity that you’ve paid for.

Doing it right: The product name and a simple value proposition hit you in seconds, and beg the question - what sort of "Awesome Guitar Software" is this? Even if you skip the ad, you walk away knowing there is a product called Riffstation out there. Note also that this ad is showing in preroll position for content focused on the technical details of the Black Keys' guitar gear - odds are 90% of the people watching this video (and thus seeing this ad) are guitarists!

What do I want viewers to do once they’ve watched it?

Think carefully about your objectives in promoting this video, and what steps your viewers will need to take for you to reach them. Every platform presents video content to users differently, and these differences influence the subsequent behavior of your viewers.

For example, a YouTube ad can include a text overlay directing users to a conversion page on your website. StumbleUpon builds in options for users to share your video on a variety of social platforms, which may draw off engagement from the hosting page’s social CTAs. Putting your video up in a Reddit ad flings open the doors to no-holds-barred commentary on the platform itself, and lets users engage however the hosting page encourages them to. Align the behavioral intent behind the platforms with your goals for the video, and you will see far better results.

Sharing options on StumbleUpon - Multiple opportunities to share to Facebook, with options for Twitter, LinkedIn, email, and internal StumbleUpon sharing.

Once you’ve determined the answers to the above questions, you can choose the channels or platforms best suited to reaching the right people and creating the right behavior, open an account, and get started!

Don’t Stop With One Channel

It’s tempting just to put together a quick YouTube campaign in AdWords and call it good, but I encourage you to thoroughly explore the many other options available. No one channel is perfect for every type of video and goal, and an ad that works spectacularly well on promoted Facebook video posts might fall flat on YouTube.

Remember, the video content and advertising landscape is changing rapidly, and new channels and platforms open to advertisers on a regular basis. It’s no simple undertaking to keep pace with all this, but well worth it in the end when you find the perfect outlet to reach the best audience for your video.

Over the next month, Distilled is publishing a series of articles on this topic along with a detailed report on the impact we believe it will have on digital. Be the first to receive our forthcoming report by signing up here (and get a chance to win one of 10 Google Chromecasts).

How have you planned video advertising into your 2014 strategy? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 

Get blog posts via email