Improving video ad relevance with a search marketing mindset

In this blog I will go into a recurring conversation I have about the (ir)relevancy of online video ads. I believe this irrelevancy is the result of a lingering mindset from traditional TV advertisers who now buy online video ads; their mantra is that the advertiser decides when a user sees an ad, instead of the user.

The stats on the perceived irrelevancy do not lie – in the article “Mary Meeker is right — most online ads suck” the author writes that 81 percent of Millennials, here defined as people now aged 18-34 years old, mute video ads they find irrelevant. It is now more easy than ever to tune out, ignore or literally ‘skipping’ a video ad. The specific targeting capabilities of online media also bring increased expectations by the target audience with respect to relevancy; if the message does not speak to them, they have all the tools they need to ignore, skip and even block your message. For decades, audiences are used to tuning out of the TV commercials, however the shorter length of online videos led to new ad formats for video; those that offer users control over the ad, such as a skip button.

The old school of broadcast TV advertisers typically uses audience descriptions that go no further than ‘M/F 18-34’ – males and females aged 18 to 34. The ‘programming’ schedule of old school TV included the same ads for everyone. One reason people love online video is its on-demand nature; there is a vast video landscape, and each of us can discover, pick and watch what we like the best. This on-demand nature of online video also raises the bar with respect to the relevancy level of the video ads shown before and around the videos that we choose to watch. Now that we can each program our own schedule, why would we all need to see the same ads at the same time? The schedule shifted from being advertiser-driven with broadcast TV, to being user-driven with online video. Users decide what they watch and that holds for ads too.

This shift means that now more than ever, a video campaign should start with researching the online behaviors of the audience whom you will show the video to. This research should lead to a more granular knowledge than the MF18-34 description known from broadcast TV. Although gender targeting makes sense for many products, an age range from 18 to 34 is simply too broad; someone who is 18 years old might not be interested in the same video as a thirty-something. A helpful exercise can be to imagine what your target audience is interested in, and what they do on the video platforms – again, their behavior is leading. For example:

  • Are you promoting an app that helps users play the guitar? Then it can help to target the people watching the vast amount of how-to guitar videos on YouTube
  • Are you promoting a healthy food product? What about targeting the many food-related channels.
  • Are you targeting people currently looking to buy a car? Then you can consider to target in-market audiences for autos

Bottom-line is that you should look for the common behaviors of your ideal audience, rather than  characteristics only. For example, you can narrow your targeting by targeting gender female, age 18-34, who have an interest in healthy food. On the other hand, your campaign may not need gender and age targeting at all; why would the guitar learning app keep its app from showing to everybody interested in learning to play the guitar – narrowing down with gender and age would just keep you from reaching a valuable target audience. The behavior of the audience should be leading when picking your campaign’s targeting.

The easiest way to think about this is in terms of ‘ready reach’. Ready reach means that your video will be shown to someone who qualifies his- or herself for getting that impression at that specific moment in time. This is not new, as this concept has made the case for search engine marketing. However, for video ready-reach is a departure from the burst-reach flight campaign mindset known from broadcast TV.

Burst-reach means showing the ad to as many people as humanly possible in a rather wide audience, and the campaign is on for a few weeks a year. You could say that by being in the gender and age bracket someone also qualifies herself to see the video, which is technically true, however that is not the point. The point is that someone in the MF18-34 bracket will not experience improved qualification, because the video ad is not shown at the right moment – relevancy is not improved.

Who is best positioned to deliver relevant video ads? What I see happening is that performance marketeers, often coming from a search engine marketing background, have the mindset to do this. They are used to considering audience behaviors before creating a campaign. They are trained to harvest demand, to be there when a user qualifies herself to see an ad when she types in a search term related to that ad.

This online video buyer thinks in terms of a ready-reach video campaign which is always-on; why would the guitar learning app mentioned in the example above, turn off a ready-reach campaign that is working – if it is realizing downloads of the app at the target cost-per-install? Pausing that campaign would hurt the business. This campaign should be on all the time, reaching people when they qualify themselves to be reached. In that moment the message will be highly relevant too – you just killed two birds with one stone.

To improve the relevance of  online video ads we should approach and plan these campaigns akin to a search engine marketeer; someone used to carving out his audience with narrow sets of keywords, harvesting demand by showing an ad only when a user qualifies herself for that ad, and measuring success using analytics.

Do you see yourself applying the search mindset to online video ads? Share it in the comments.

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