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When online video was still nascent, there was a general sense that the advertising models underpinning television would one day be a thing of the past.

But despite the online video boom and the rise of powerful digital distribution platforms like YouTube and Hulu, advertising in online video still looks a lot like advertising on television. Case in point: the pre-roll.

There's nothing surprising about the pre-roll. It's an easy format for publishers to implement, it's a familiar enough format so advertisers feel comfortable buying it, and consumers generally dislike it. The latter has prompted many sites, including YouTube, to give users the ability to skip certain pre-roll ads after a set amount of time (eg. 5 seconds).

That, obviously, is good news for viewers who aren't interested in the ad, but it's bad news for the advertiser. Solve Media, an advertising startup which has pioneered CAPTCHA "type-in" ads, thinks it has a better way: pre-roll "type-ins."

Yesterday, it announced what it's calling "Pre-Roll Insurance", which provides an alternate way for consumers to skip an ad without really skipping it at all. The company's press release explained:

...Pre-Roll Insurance prompts consumers to enter a brand’s tag line or message in order to to skip an ad. Once the brand message is entered into the text box, the consumer moves swiftly to the requested video content without having to watch the full length pre-roll. This cognitive approach guarantees brand lift and safeguards against consumers skipping ads and wasting advertising dollars in order to maximize the effectiveness of media buys for agencies.

According to Solve Media, 70-80% of YouTube viewers skip pre-roll ads when given the opportunity, and the company cites comScore figures indicating that a substantial chunk of viewers "zone out" or multitask during pre-roll ads if they can't skip them. The cost is high: Solve Media says "as much as $33 per second is wasted on skipped or ignored video advertising in the US alone."

From this perspective, allowing a viewer to skip a pre-roll ad by typing in a brand message seems like a better solution. After all, it's not hard to believe the claim that this action significantly improves brand recall.

Still, it's hard not to think that this isn't a step back for consumers. While publishers and advertisers using Solve Media's solution gloat about creating "a better user experience for consumers" and helping "advertisers drive and measure consumer engagement while helping consumers get to their content faster", let's be honest: consumers generally don't enjoy the pre-roll advertising. Or any intrusive advertising at all for that matter.

Some probably don't care what's being advertisers, while others probably aren't specifically interested in what they're being sold. Thus, the question facing brands is this: just how aggressive should we be in trying to get viewers' attention when we're not happy with the performance of an ad format?

The saying "If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it" is one that a lot of businesses try to live by. Maybe -- just maybe -- advertisers should consider that a new one, "If it is broke, don't try to fix it," is warranted when you can't reach consumers effectively without making the user experience even less enjoyable.

Patricio Robles

Published 6 March, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)

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Fred Turner

I think the fact that 70-80% people skip the ads on YouTube clips should show how much people dislike them. However it would be interesting to see the conversation rates of those that watch the whole thing.

over 3 years ago

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