Why are we so scared to question creative for poor ad performance online?

Online creative needs to work hard to avoid the 'tea break' moment
Online creative needs to work hard to avoid the 'tea break' moment

There is often a fierce debate around how creative and ad tech fits together, Ian Monaghan, director of EMEA operations at Tubemogul, asks why digital channels hold creative to account less than traditional channels.

When we complain about viewability, the finger of blame often points directly at ad tech

Last month, a friend of mine travelled to Cuba and when they returned, I asked them how their trip was. Forgetting where I worked, their immediate response was: "Amazing! Did you know they have no advertising there? Not even a single billboard. It’s so refreshing."


People love to hate advertising. They resent the intrusion into their lives and they believe that they are immune to its effects. But, the reality is that good ads create water-cooler conversation and are buzzed about. I believe that my mate didn’t so much like the fact that there was no advertising, as they were pleased there was no advertising noise they had to separate from the advertising conversation.

The same goes with online video. When we complain about viewability, the finger of blame often points directly at ad tech. "It’s your fault that our viewability is low," scream marketers. "What are you going to do about it?"

My response is always: "Lots – and we continue to do more." From educating people about player size issues and inventory quality, to wading our way through the numerous standards set by platforms and the IAB about what constitutes a viewable impression.

But one thing that should always be looked at is the creative’s performance compared to any other stock video.

Instead of assuming that the online video medium needs to suit the demands of the creative, it’s time to start a conversation about creative and the medium working together

When we watch television, we get up and make a cup of tea if we find the ad break tedious. We flip the page over without looking at it in a magazine if the image isn’t engaging. In those cases, creative is the first to get attacked if the campaign isn’t working. So why is it so different with online video?

Before I continue, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not using this opportunity to try and point that blame finger back at someone else. What I am saying is that instead of assuming that the online video medium needs to suit the demands of the creative, it’s time to start a conversation about creative and the medium working together.

It’s time to remove the noise.

It’s tempting to pay for 100% viewability and ignore this issue, but paying doesn’t make it go away, it just muddies the waters. Sure, you might get a report stating that you are achieving viewability targets, but I guarantee there were a lot of cups of tea made when your ad campaign popped up on screen.

So how can creative work with programmatic to secure results? By examining the attitudes people have towards online video advertising in real time and the way in which they engage with ads as they enjoy their favourite content. This is the kind of information creative agencies have craved, and now they can leverage with a more symbiotic relationship.

Stretch programmatic creative to the limit by generating an ad that can be tailored to a viewer’s profile

Most programmatic creative practice limits changes to alterations in background colours or money-off discounts in banner ads. Unilever’s Axe decided to take the benefits of programmatic and apply them to their ‘Romeo Reboot’ campaign. The Axe campaign targeted consumers into multiple segments and delivered differed versions of the ad based on factors such as musical tastes, brand preferences and other consumption patterns. Customisation in the videos ranged from subtle to extensive, with a range of differing content. In total there were 25,000 permutations available for each segment, meaning that groups of friends often saw completely different versions of the same brand campaign.

Romeo Reboot for Axe (Interpublic’s CUBOCC)

AXE. Romeo Reboot Manuel | Trailer (english) from THE KUMITE on Vimeo.

Create an ad as funny and targeted as the content the consumer is looking for

Burger King knows that its product is popular with young males. They also know that young males love online video content. A perfect marriage, right? Not if that audience hates online ads and considers them a block to their online user experience. Burger King got around this by filming 64 separate, humorous ads linked to popular video topics in order to make the ad experience as fun as the content being viewed. They also pinpointed what topics would engage with their audience by selecting topics that they knew would be searched for and shared extensively by their target audience. After all, even when you get your creative right, targeting is key. A killer tampon campaign is amazing – but not when placed on sites trafficked primarily by young males.

I Hate Pre-Roll Ads from Burger King (Colenso BBDO)

Make skipping the ad worse than the ad itself

When given the opportunity, we know that consumers will choose to skip an ad because they believe that what comes next will give them greater pleasure. But, what if what you get when you skip the ad is worse than the ad itself. ‘Skip mayhem’ by Allstate owns up to the fact that people will always skip an ad when given the opportunity, but then makes the skip humorous, encouraging viewers to want to return to and engage with the original ad. They might not achieve a viewable impression on the first attempt, but they certainly will when the consumer skips and chooses to return to the original ad.

Skipmayhem by AllState (Leo Burnet) Full disclosure: Allstate is a TubeMogul client.

When it comes to online video, we need to start understanding that great creative should be at the heart of every campaign. We should be giving consumers advertising that doesn’t make them crave a kind of online Cuba. Improving viewability takes two to tango – improvements in technology AND creation of content people actually want to watch. It’s time for the head and the heart to work together as one in order to create viewability rates and content we can all be proud of.

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