How the internet has changed video advertising

tv static noise

Video advertisements were born at the dawn of television. But those adverts were very different to the ones we have today. Don’t believe me? Watch this:

That was the first ever video advertisement. Broadcast on US television in the middle of a 1941 baseball game, the ad was only 10 seconds long, but those ten seconds would change advertising forever.

Over the years TV adverts gained bigger budgets and utilised better technology, but nothing has changed them more than the rapid growth of the internet. Initially conceived as a commerce-free utopia, the internet slowly transformed into a lucrative money-making tool for multinational corporations. And despite its unfamiliar features, making money on the internet still requires advertising.

So we take a look at the key ways the internet has altered the very nature of the video advertisements that have graced our screens for years.

“Skip Ad” has adverts trying harder in the first 5 seconds

When it was first launched YouTube gave brands the opportunity to play video adverts in front of web videos. Lasting up to 30 seconds, these adverts had a captive audience of viewers eager to watch the video at the other side.

But viewers were unhappy with being forced to sit through adverts that were often just as long as the video they wanted to watch afterwards, so in 2010 YouTube introduced a “Skip Ad” button.

The ad-skipping feature was praised as a move that valued viewers over advertisers, and catered to short attention spans. Within a year, YouTube users were skipping 70% of video advertisements after the compulsory 5 seconds before which the “Skip Ad” button appears.

To get more viewers to watch the full content of their ads, brands had to make videos with an opening five seconds so captivating that even the most ardent of ad-skippers would hold off clicking “Skip” to see how they ended.

Some brands, such as UK recruitment website Reed, tried tricking viewers into watching their whole video ads by using internet-friendly imagery like cat videos to lure people into a false sense of security, before springing an overt brand mention on them by surprise:

Thorough research from Google themselves found that adverts without a brand mention in the first five seconds, audible or visible, are less likely to be skipped by viewers. They also found that humour was the best way to keep viewers watching, citing US insurance brand Geico’s “Unskippable” campaign as examples of ads that really were unskippable for many. Perhaps surprisingly, Google also found that any music in an advert encouraged viewers to skip it altogether.

Just as advertisers were getting used to these changes, though, YouTube has reintroduced the unskippable 30-second ad, alongside a new unskippable 6-second ad format that they hope will not test viewers’ patience too much. These latest developments are likely to change the video ad game even more, encouraging some brands to refocus their efforts on long-form adverts, and others to keep the focus on shorter ones.

Social media formats are shaping video content

YouTube may still be the internet’s primary destination for video content, but social media is increasingly encroaching on its territory.

The huge popularity of Snapchat amongst the coveted 18-24 year old demographic led many brands to gravitate towards the format for marketing reasons. Snapchat, though, is no place for the polished, professionally-made spots of TV or YouTube. Instead, brands are filming short behind-the-scenes clips of live events that take viewers behind the curtain.

The recently-launched Facebook Video format differs from many others in that it allows videos to autoplay without sound as users scroll past them. Guidelines for Facebook web video include conveying your message without sound, whether through captions or other means, and making them eye-grabbing enough to cause users to stop scrolling the page when they reach them. It’s also advised to make ads under 30 seconds long, as Facebook’s research shows that over half of the videos on the site are viewed for that length of time.

Detailed audience data is making ads targeted

Before the internet, adverts were targeted based on the assumed commercial interests of whoever was likely to be tuning in to the radio or TV program. This led to broad stereotyping and catch-all catchphrases. Now, things are far more focused. Big Data allows brands to target specific groups of consumers directly, leaving nothing up to chance.

Rather than for its autoplaying and lack-of-sound-unless-clicked, Facebook Video is most notable for the highly specific targeting it allows advertisers to engage in. By accumulating vast amounts of data on its users’ activities and preferences, Facebook gives advertisers the option to only show their ads to very specific groups of people, meaning the content of the ad can be very niche, appealing only to those who are most likely to enjoy it.

YouTube, too, allows advertisers to make their adverts highly niche, as Google’s own DoubleClick service finds the most appropriate places for advertisers to run their videos and places them there for them.

Whereas the first ever TV commercials attempted to reach a wide audience, the future of online video advertising lies in adverts that are tailored to certain viewers based on their behaviour online.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

Read next: How to manage your business and personal finance through online platforms