NEW YORK MTV Networks believes it has found a better answer for short-form online video advertising than the derided 30-second pre-roll: very short video spots (five seconds long) accompanied by corresponding but slightly delayed display ads.
The company this week disclosed the results of an elaborate study on online video advertising called Project Inform. That effort sought to find a better ad standard for the burgeoning medium, preferably one that combined brand effectiveness with user tolerance. The extensive project, conceived more than a year ago, was conducted in partnership with research firm InsightExpress and employed the services of Web video technology firm Panache.
MTVN started with over 20 ad unit possibilities. By early 2009, it had boiled down its list of potential ad formats to three, including the classic pre-roll. Another unit was called the Lower 1/3 Product Suite, which combines five-second pre-rolls with transparent Flash ads that take over the bottom third of users’ video screens only after 10 seconds of content has streamed. The other unit was dubbed the Sideloader Product Suite, which also utilizes five-second spots and delayed animated display ads appearing at the side of the video player.
From January through April of this year, MTVN began testing the three placements on its collection of sites, including MTV.com, ComedyCentral.com and CMT.com. The test used 50 million streams of ad inventory for three different advertisers, including a movie studio, a packaged-goods provider and a grocery brand. The results indicated that while pre-rolls performed fairly well, the Lower 1/3 scored best when it came to classic metrics like unaided awareness, aided awareness and purchase intent.
That approach was crucial, according to Nada Stirratt, MTVN evp of digital advertising, who said that Project Inform was specifically designed to study the power of brand advertising — and not direct response — in Web video. Yet it also had to yield actionable data. “The premise was to find out what you need to activate a consumer response to a marketer’s message,” she said.
And MTVN deliberately zeroed in on short-form video and casual games — content types that continue to explode in user popularity, but often fall short when it comes to monetization. “Everybody talks about long form,” Stirratt said. “That was our bias: ‘How do we make these [shorter] experiences work for advertisers?’ The goal was to find the perfect balance between an ad unit that is effective in moving the needle and an ad unit that is likable.”
Why do people like the Lower 1/3 unit? It’s hard to say definitively, but Stirratt theorized that it has something to do with the lag between the short five-second pre-roll and the display unit, which appears 10 seconds later. Using that setup, “You already have a favorable impression of a brand, and people are really engrossed in content. And they are still able to interact if they want,” she said.
MTVN’s goal with Project Inform in some ways mirrors the research work being done by Publicis’ VivaKi and a host of prominent partners in The Pool — which is also aimed at establishing a better industry standard for Web video. But MTVN has declined to participate in The Pool, instead pushing forward in search of its own answer.
“Obviously, we need agencies and clients on board [creating original online video ads],” Stirratt said. “The win for the industry is when people start creating things for this medium instead of for other media.”