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The way we consume videos has changed over the years, from the early days when cinema-goers went to watch documentaries, agog at the moving pictures they were seeing for the first time, to today's world in which adverts are forced into our field of view from all directions. The way adverts are designed and structured has evolved too, and it's worth thinking about how and why.
TV adverts are built for 30-second slots in front of captive audiences who can only wait for the interruption to finish. Some viewers might get off their sofa to put the kettle on, but most won't and the adverts don't have to be too eye-catching for the seed of the message to be sown for those too comfortable or hydrated to move. TV adverts can therefore be pretty traditional, with long-duration shots and a warm, friendly voice-over.
The same adverts often won't work when the viewer is watching YouTube, in which ads can be skipped after 5 seconds. And yet I seem to see them so often. A surprising number of adverts on YouTube seem simply to be brought over directly from television and contain no information whatsoever within those critical first seconds. The same long, drawn out, scene-setting shots that tease an aspirational lifestyle say nowt about which product will propel me into this world of luxury and when the countdown to the 'Skip ad' button finally finishes I hit it instantly, smug in the belief that the lazy, unskilful advertiser's budget has been wasted.
In contrast, the YouTube adverts that manage to reach my conscious mind are either long ones that have been designed well to pique my interest within the first 5 seconds, or the very brief ones that make my eyes bleed with their wit, their catchy imagery or their clear product identity.
I've always assumed that the longer adverts aren't working, and wouldn't work for anybody. How could they possibly capture someone's attention and stop them hitting the skip as soon as possible? I was originally going to write in this article about how traditional video advertising is being lazy and needs a kick up the backside. But I read an article recently that made me think again.
Not all YouTube users are like me; many will be less worried about letting adverts into their life and won't be so alert or desperate to skip as soon as they can. And the long, slow adverts might be working really well for these viewers like they do on TV. And given the sophistication behind the way in which adverts are targeted to each viewer based on their viewing habits and demographics, I ought to perhaps accept that these advertisers do know what they're doing, at least some of the time.
As an example, my wife and I almost exclusively do our grocery shopping at Tesco. We have a Clubcard and I've got the app installed on my Android phone. Presumably Google (who owns Android and tracks every detail of my life, and who also happens to own YouTube) knows all this, and although Tesco must be advertising too, when I browse YouTube they don't bother showing me Tesco adverts. They also know that I always skip adverts as soon as I can. So which adverts do I see on YouTube? Short, exciting Sainsbury's adverts that are upbeat and funky and which capture my attention well despite my cynicism.
When my 12 and 10 year-old kids are watching their pop videos on YouTube the adverts they're seeing are longer and less snappy because they're much less concerned about skipping the ads. Google knows that they are a less critical audience and watch more of each advert before touching the skip button.
If I'm right, and this is all evidence of the sophistication of online video advertising these days then it's really impressive, and demonstrates how valuable data can be when judging where and how to spend marketing and advertising budgets. The same principle applies to small-batch direct mail and email advertising but only if the right strategy is in place when choosing who to approach.
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