I went through a period where I became fascinated by quantum physics. Relativity, space, time, that kind of thing. And while I may not be joining the cast of The Big Bang Theory anytime soon, I have to admit that I did find it all to be pretty cool. One point that I found particularly fascinating is that time is a relative concept—15 seconds spent standing still is different than 15 seconds spent traveling quickly. It's amazing that something as simple as a second, which we all take for granted, can be measured in such radically different ways.
As I've spent less time studying physics and more time studying the behavior of online video watchers, it's occurred to me that time is not only relative in space, but in how we conduct our lives and consume entertainment. For example, 30 seconds spent watching a commercial on TV (which we consume while sitting on a couch, across the room) is infinitely faster than watching that very same commercial on a desktop computer (which we watch just inches away from a monitor). In hypothesis form: The perceived length and annoyance of a video-based advertisement is inversely proportional to the average distance one sits to the medium upon which it is viewed.
In other words, the closer we sit to a screen, the longer and more annoying the ads seem.
Increasingly, we're seeing brands anxious to capitalize on the growth of online video. That in and of itself is not much of a shock—marketers will always go where the eyeballs are. What's more shocking is the number of brands that, apparently looking to maximize the return on advertising investment, simply repackage their standard 30-second TV spot and use it as a pre-roll in front of a Web-based video. On the surface, that decision makes sense—after all, a commercial is a commercial is a commercial, right?
Wrong. Simply because both TV and online video networks are based on moving pictures doesn't mean they're the same. Ads that are highly effective on TV may simply fall flat or become irritating online. Case in point: Each morning, I come into our office and look at the viewer behavior and advertiser activity on our network from the day before. One of the key factors I look at is the click through rate (CTR) of the pre-roll ads we're displaying. When we see a particularly high CTR—like 4 or 5 percent—our first question is, "What was the creative?" It's the most natural question, because better creative developed specifically for online audiences is bound to outperform standard, repackaged TV commercials. Instinctively, we all know that.
Much of it comes down to how viewers remain active during their downtime, or commercial breaks. For years, the remote control was seen as a doomsday machine for advertisers, allowing impatient viewers to channel-hop during station breaks. As humans, we need to be doing something at all times, so we immediately reach for the remote when the commercial comes on. We want to push buttons. But though that was the case before, a recent study by the Council for Research Excellence shows it isn't any longer. In fact, only 14 percent of audiences studied changed channels during commercials. Now let's combine that with another recent study by Yahoo Mobile and Razorfish that showed that around 80 percent of people multitask on their mobile device while watching TV. More buttons, more ways to engage our fingers. Could it be that mobile devices end up being the best thing that's ever happened to TV ads by helping to keep people on the couch and away from the remote? Very possibly.
Let's take that same premise and apply it to online pre-roll ads being watched from a desktop or laptop computer. Viewers are now on top of their screens, literally inches away, so any disruption in what they want to do will make them feel trapped and annoyed. And their fingers are already on a track pad or mouse, just waiting to be engaged. So, engage them! Viewers want to push a button—they want to click on something. They want to stay active. In this situation, a 30-second ad can seem like forever, and they're more likely to go elsewhere. So instead of losing them, give them what they want. At the very least, what they want is an ad that maxes out at 15 seconds. But, ideally, it's simply something to click on.
Interactivity is at the very heart of the modern Internet. Use it to engage your audience through a simple game, a selection of products, a quiz, poll, or something vastly more interactive than any of that. Marketers need to stop looking at online video viewers as cheaper, second cousins of TV watchers, and instead regard them as a viable entity in their own right, with distinct and different needs and behavioral patterns. The investment in this audience can pay off, but that investment can't be halfhearted.
Jay Miletsky is the CEO and founder of MyPod Studios, an online video network that serves as a gated community of prescreened, pre-approved content across numerous categories of interest. An online marketing veteran with over 18 years of experience, he was the CEO and founder of Mango Marketing, developing branding strategies for a diverse set of clients including the NBA, Hershey's, JVC, Kraft, and others. He is an adjunct professor at Pratt Institute.