Video advertising is changing – but not because of COVID-19

By Matt Shearer, Director of Product Innovation, Data Language, previously Head of BBC News Labs

There is extensive data to show that COVID-19 has dramatically changed consumer content consumption, which has of course had a knock-on impact on the advertising industry. These behavioural changes are particularly noticeable in the video space; over 50% of global consumers are watching more streaming services, and in Europe alone there was an 11% increase in video plays during the first week of lockdown.

While the increases in media and video consumption are striking, it’s worth noting that these trends already existed. They have simply been accelerated by COVID-19, in the same way that the use of online banking services was already increasing prior to the pandemic but jumped sharply in the first few weeks of lockdown. When lockdowns across the world lift, video consumption levels will most likely dip in the short-term, but it’s unlikely that these figures will ever fall to pre-pandemic levels.

There are bigger, non-pandemic-related changes afoot too – changes that marketers need to be aware of to stay ahead. In the drive to better understand their audience and increase sales, businesses have been taking steps to gain more visibility of how advertisements and other marketing collateral are performing. In the video space this has been about tracking ROI against metadata, which is the information about what is in the videos.

Now in 2020, this focus is evolving further, and moving towards video moments, where videos are broken down into a series of addressable snapshots or ‘moments’ using structured data.

Google makes its move

This technology was thrown into the spotlight last September, when Google announced an update to how it displays videos on its search results page. Now, instead of simply listing the most relevant videos, Google highlights the parts of videos most relevant to the search query in question. This is based on timestamps provided by the video creators, and is particularly useful for longer videos and how-to guides.

This is important for advertisers as it enables less intrusive advertising on video content, which there is strong consumer demand for. As a New York Times article headlined late last year: The Advertising Industry Has a Problem: People Hate Ads.

This is especially true of YouTube adverts and other online video adverts with sound. 67% of US consumers found video ads that play automatically with sound “annoying”, and as far back as 2017, YouTube was already being recognised by millennials, alongside Facebook, as the platform with the most irritating advertising.

Making it easier for viewers

Breaking videos down into moments enables more targeted and less intrusive advertising, as products and services relevant to the specific moment can be linked to below the video itself. Not only does this not interrupt the flow of the video nor obscure the screen like traditional video adverts, but by only showing directly relevant products that have been chosen to be shown at that moment, it’s more useful to the consumer.

For example, in this Jamie Oliver video on roasting your Christmas Turkey, the long-form video is broken down into 8 steps, or moments, and two of these are linked to relevant products. In the moment demonstrating how to grate nutmeg onto the Turkey, there is an option to buy a fine grater. There is evidence to show that these less intrusive forms of video advertising don’t just match conventional video adverts in results, but beat them.

The example above by Jamie Oliver’s marketing and advertising team increased CTR by 4.9% and generated an incredible 9.6% conversion rate to sales of the products on Amazon.

This form of advertising also aligns with the second important trend in the video space – consumer privacy concerns. This is because targeting advertising by aligning adverts accurately with what consumers are watching means you do not need to track individual consumers’ browsing behaviour, which there is a growing backlash against. The demand for more ethical advertising practices is no longer just coming from consumers and consumer action groups, either.

At the start of this year, Google made public its plans to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome within the next two years, citing a desire to make the internet “privacy-preserving by default”. This will require a step-change for the advertising industry.

COVID-19 has accelerated developments that were already happening within video advertising. As the time that consumers spend watching videos online increases, it’s likely that irritation with intrusive adverts and privacy concerns will increase in tandem.

The current pace of change may feel rapid, but in reality, video marketing and advertising technology has not evolved significantly for the past decade. Now it has, thankfully just in time to address viewer concerns and not a moment later. If advertisers don’t keep up with consumer expectations for less intrusive adverts and more privacy, they can expect their views, traction, and ultimately ROI to fall.

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