Online video: advertisers need to start asking what success really is

As part of an occasional series of comments, Martin Galvin, director of agency sales at Specific Media, argues that online video has made it easier than ever before for brands to connect with consumers, but has created challenges when it comes to defining success.

Online video: enables audience involvement as never before says Martin Galvin
Online video: enables audience involvement as never before says Martin Galvin

I love telly. From 'Scooby Doo' as a kid, through to 'Mad Men', I have always loved telly. Don't get me wrong, I also loved rock pools and kites as a kid, so don't think I'm some kind of weird obsessive with an aversion to natural light. I digress.

As a kid I loved telly so much I thought that it was actually real. I used to turn the TV off when I left the room so that I wouldn’t miss anything, and at one stage of early Betamax, I used to think the characters on screen were little people who lived in the black casing of the cartridge, and that they used to come out and play when I put the video on.

As a result, I would always try to play my tapes in equal rotation in order to ensure that I didn't tire the little people out.

The point is that I interacted with both the equipment and the things I saw on the screen, and while a lot of the TV I watch now is a more passive (physically at least) experience, it still sucks me in emotionally and, at its best, can make me feel like I'm part of another world.

Clearly the world has moved on a bit, with more screens and more control than ever before.  In fact, a recent report from Nielsen revealed that 36% of global online consumers are now the proud owners of a smartphone and a further 12% have a tablet computer in their possession.

In many ways, it's like my beliefs as a kid have become reality, in that I can now interact with my TV, or rather my various screen-based devices in my home and elsewhere, thanks to the possibilities and behaviour change engendered through internet connectivity.

These possibilities extend to the advertiser. What we have come to refer to as "online video",  has given advertisers a canvas that lets us get the audience involved as never before, be that through brilliant storytelling, engaging and relevant execution, and back-end functionality that lets us buy the stuff with a single(ish) click.

This is clearly a good thing and there has been some excellent work as a result, or at least it looks that way to the naked eye – but how exactly are we defining "excellent work", what are the relevant barometers of success?

If you look at the role of TV-based "brand" advertising historically, it was about doing an awareness job. It was the early part of the classic AIDA model – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action – and it was easy to measure.  Now, online video lets us knock out the entire model in a single hit.

So the "input" part of advertising has merged with the "output" part, which has created challenges with regard to both measuring the effectiveness of video advertising, and actually defining what success will look like – and indeed what the real point of the activity is at the outset of the campaign.

In my view, some sort of metric that can quantify the emotional response to an advert is what we should all be striving for. With brand based activity, a view-through rate is a decent proxy given it implies someone has watched the ad and – by not turning it off – must have enjoyed it. (This is assuming they were on a site that both allowed the user to initiate the content being consumed and to skip it if they didn't want to watch it.)

On direct response-based activity, clearly a more ROI-focused eye is required. Traditionally, this has been the dreaded click-through-rate. However, a click is open to question, given the many cases where the user may just be trying to turn the ad off. Furthermore, only 16% of the population account for all clicks. Further heavy clickers are even more prominent, with some 8% of clickers accounting for 85% of all clicks, according to comScore.

Nevertheless, the measurement of some sort of interaction is beneficial – although that interaction may not be the second a user sees an advert but, instead, might be banked in the memory and acted upon later (hence the relative impotence of CTR as a measure).

Better still, we should kill the distinction between brand and direct response and simply ask: "What does success look like for this client and this campaign?" and "How do we ensure we can actually deliver and measure what'[s relevant in this individual case?". What we should absolutely not be doing is asking the activity to be all things to all men, but measuring VTR and CTR as part of the same campaign – the two are diametrically opposed.

Data is clearly a hot topic. The intelligent and respectful use of data to power internet-enabled advertising will let us understand the consumer as never before, and tailor accordingly the way we target them with our commercial messages. However, we shouldn't rely on this to the detriment of the story we're actually trying to tell.

Take the John Lewis Christmas ad for example – acres of column inches suggested it was one of the all time greats and, according to the retailer, it helped bring in more than £500m in Christmas sales. It was 60 seconds of joy, as effecting as it was resonant, and it's a piece of work that I actively shared with others as I thought it was magnificent.

However, at a conference recently, I found out that if the creative agency responsible for it had acted according to the results of the pre-testing, the advert would never have been made. In other words, the best activation in the world will never compensate for bad creative work, and data should run concurrent with instinct.

Online video advertising allows us to marry the very best of both worlds – brilliant ads that are intelligently deployed. However, if we cannot get to grips with what the objective of the advert is in the first place and the impact we want the activation to have, we'll become mired in a world where competing metrics work at cross-purposes and will miss out altogether on the powerful opportunity online video affords.

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