The newest wave of consumer-engagement strategy proffers online video ads with sales growing at a double-digit pace. The promise of reaching specific audiences via web video ads brought in $2.8 billion from marketers last year and, according to eMarketer, will climb to $8 billion by 2016.
But such promises may be falling flat. A two-month survey of over two billion ads by ad management company Vindico found that more than half of video ads go unwatched.
“The advertiser sees a report on an Excel spreadsheet that says, ‘Yeah, these ads ran,'” Vindico’s president Matt Timothy told The New York Times. “But more than half of them ran without being seen by a human being.”
Over half of video ads are “unviewable” because they are buried low on web pages, run in tiny video players or run simultaneously with other ads, according to The Times.
Blue Chip Marketing recently hired video-verification company BrandAds to track one of their campaigns after receiving ambiguous answers from media buyers regarding exactly where the campaign’s video ads were running. Not only were many of the “mom-related product” ads running contrary to Blue Chip’s insertion orders, but some were found on pornographic websites.
“The team opened one site with an especially lewd name and gaped in horror. ‘Oh my God,’ some shouted. Others cursed. Ms. VanHeirseele picked up her phone to call the media buyer in a fury,” reported The Times.
But it is starting to dawn on marketers that the online video ad system has a few booby traps. Let’s leave aside the reality that many consumers feel bombarded by video ads and actively tune them out. There is the issue of outright fraud, courtesy of bots that are programmed by hackers to rack up impressions. In early April, an ad tech company, TubeMogul, reported that it had discovered three new botnets that were generating 30 million fake video views a day, earning as much as $10 million a month. TubeMogul said the culprits were well concealed and likely operating overseas.
But just as troubling to advertisers are practices that are perfectly legal.
The crux of the problem is that the number of video ads that agencies and brands want to run far exceeds the amount of quality inventory — that is, well-placed video players on prestigious sites, like, say, Nationalgeographic.com. When the premium space fills up, media buyers start looking for video players in less coveted online real estate.
When the most appealing sites are full, media buyers may turn to less popular sites (with video players not as well situated on the page) or use ad exchanges that place ads automatically. Ads resold through the exchange may restrict the buyer from knowing exactly where and how they are running.
According to The Times, “The mess starts with the ecosystem of companies in the online video ad world, which is so complex that it seems designed to baffle. A common refrain among veterans in this field goes something like this: ‘I’ve been at it for six years, and I still am learning how it all works.'”
The Times provides an interesting case study of Oscar Mayer ads found on conservative Washington website The Daily Caller, which has 11 million unique viewers a month.
“Some of these Oscar Mayer ads were high up on the page. But many were posted so low that they were near the comments section of individual articles, in small players that rolled automatically when pages loaded.”