How Concession–Instead of Cooperation–is Hurting Video Advertising

By Josh Qualy, Vice President of Digital Turbine’s East Coast Brand Business in the US

Video advertising has changed from the crafted, guaranteed world of 30-second television spots. In our mobile-first world, it seems that video ads have been neutered, with mobile advertisers having to make concessions like being in-feed, out-stream, or skippable. But there is hope. New studies on consumer attention reveal that there are mobile options that follow the “Cooperative” model set by TV, giving advertisers and publishers exactly what they desire.

Everyone understands that consumers generally wouldn’t choose to watch an ad without incentive. Consumers would prefer to browse social feeds, swipe through reels, or watch videos without interruption. Downtime is precious, and watching ads isn’t as entertaining as those other activities!

To preserve this consumer desire, publishers give consumers the option to not watch by giving them a skip button or putting them in-feed so they can scroll right past it. These concessions mean that ads may appear on a page, but being on a page doesn’t mean that there is any attention given. With many platforms counting a view as an ad being played for mere seconds, you can see how advertisers might be spending a lot of money for pennies of success.

But change may be on the horizon. Advertisers have shifted campaign valuations from viewability to attention, which has allowed the industry to more accurately represent the engagement of audiences. The more attentive seconds spent with an ad, the better the brand recall, sales, and user growth. Using this understanding, media buyers can find the channels that provide them with the types of engagement that drive attentive outcomes.

Moving From Concessions to Cooperative

In June, Adalytics released a study claiming that Google may have misled advertisers by charging them for “small, muted, out-stream, auto-playing or interstitial video ad units running on independent websites and mobile apps.” This was justifiably alarming for advertisers. People pay high costs to develop compelling video ads that break through the clutter. When placements don’t meet expectations, that can crush creative budgets.

Google has refuted this study. But true or not, the study reveals an underlying truth about video advertising: even at its best, video campaigns are already compromised. The benchmarks that video advertising is being evaluated on already fail to meet what advertisers should want for their video campaigns and brand-building objectives.

Publishers straddle a line between pleasing users and making ad revenue. While advertisers would love to have their 30-second creatives be viewed unfettered, concessions like skip buttons and in-stream ads exist because platforms often opt for formats that don’t annoy users.

These concessions birth benchmarks that create an uneven playing field for advertisers. The publisher sets the rules of engagement – but then determines what counts as a success. But success for the publisher does not mean success for the advertiser. For true success, all parties must seek a cooperative approach.

Network TV: A Cooperative Model for Mobile Video Advertising

Network television provides a perfect model for how video advertising can be successful. Consider watching a football game. Viewers expect commercials when there are natural breaks in the action, like after a score or possession change. Network TV shows also set a similar expectation: a dramatic scene plays out, the music rises, the screen fades to black, and the consumer knows they have about 1-3 minutes of commercials coming their way.

Of course, none of this guarantees that the consumer will sit and watch the commercial. That’s not the point. But it does ensure that the consumer sees the ad while they are most receptive: during their downtime. And it does guarantee that the advertiser has the opportunity for their spot to be captive on screen for 30 seconds with audio on.

This cooperation creates a win-win-win for all parties. The consumer is not interrupted unexpectedly, the network gets ad revenue without annoying consumers, and the advertiser gets to tell their story fully.

For many reasons, mobile video disrupts this model. Content is now consumed in snackable forms, whenever we want, for various blocks of time, and throughout the day. As such, natural breaks are hard to find, meaning video ads often compete directly with content. Given that choice, most people will watch something entertaining over an ad.

Where Cooperation Already Exists on Mobile

Natural breaks, similar to TV commercials, are common in mobile games. Players take a pause after a move in Scrabble or between levels of Candy Crush. This pause allows a moment of cooperation where the consumer can take a breath, the advertiser can tell its story, and the publisher can make revenue without interrupting the player. Beyond that, many games also offer rewarded video ads, which aren’t interruptive AND provide tangible benefits for the user they can use in the game.

Studies conducted in collaboration with attention measurement experts Lumen and Amplified Intelligence reveal that interactive ads within mobile games significantly outshine social and web videos, capturing attention at a rate over ten times higher. On average, Lumen found that rewarded video ads command 22 seconds of focused attention per ad compared to 2-3 seconds for ads in common social formats.

Another place advertisers have successfully found cooperation is with social media influencers. They take the concept of the natural break for commercials a step further by literally having the commercial be part of the show. Take, for instance, the widespread popularity of #sheinhauls. People actively engage with their preferred influencer’s channel, and the influencer will start trying on clothes sent from the SHEIN app. Not only is the consumer not interrupted, but the advertiser’s story is told in full seamlessly within the channel itself.

A Cooperative Future

There will always be a great deal of variability in whether someone wants to watch an ad. But the fact remains, if someone is interested in your story, they will listen. For example, if you see someone you want to talk to in the audience at Hamilton, you likely will be fully ignored if you start shouting at them in the middle of Act 1. But your odds of getting them to engage would go way up if you approached them at intermission instead. That’s the advertiser benefit of natural breaks in the action and finding cooperation with the content publisher.

Video advertising on mobile is a cluttered but evolving landscape. The industry shift to attention metrics creates new opportunities for advertisers – one where quality views and attentive seconds can be at the forefront. Savvy advertisers will seek out and find those environments where publishers are willing to cooperate to find attentive outcomes.

About the Author

Josh Qualy is Digital Turbine’s Vice President of Digital Turbine’s East Coast Brand Business in the US. With 17 years of digital media experience, Josh has vast expertise in AdTech, programmatic and data-driven solutions in the media space. He has previously held leadership positions at Yahoo!, Dow Jones, and Dotdash Meredith. Josh lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters.