Video Ads: Context and Relevance Go Hand-in-Hand

Too often, audiences are viewing video ads where the context has clearly not been taken into consideration. I can’t begin to recall how many times I’ve had to endure a pre-roll that had nothing to do with the video I was watching and even seemed inappropriate to the context (e.g., a pre-roll for an investment firm before a news segment about a child abduction case). Not only are these types of experiences alienating, but they are also a serious waste of money for advertisers and may even taint a publisher’s image. Janrain’s 2013 Online Personal Experience study showed that 74% of audiences get frustrated with sites that advertise content that has nothing to do with their interests or the content they’re watching. Ad context appropriateness needs to become a part of every advertising conversation and a part of the technologies we provide to advertisers and publishers so we can better serve the audience.

Will Richmond from VideoNuze hit the nail on the head in his article when he said “… as viewers see/notice ads that aren’t relevant to them, they’ll learn to ignore and view these ads as an intrusion on their experience.” However, when ads are relevant, they hold a lot of benefit not only for the audience but also for the advertiser and publisher. In fact, Yahoo! published a study that found that contextually relevant ads draw viewer attention faster and evoked stronger emotional responses than non-relevant ads. Ads that are more targeted and relevant have a higher chance of being engaged with, and they’ll generate more revenue for the publisher. ChoiceStream released its 2012 Study of Consumer Opinions on Audience Targeting & Relevant Offers, which found consumers are more likely to engage with online and mobile outlets that cater to their interests with relevant ads, but a huge challenge for advertisers is accurately targeting audiences in the appropriate context.

There’s an advertisement for every video

A few months ago, I was on CNN watching a video about a deadly train crash in Spain, but right before I got to watch it, the video served an upbeat pre-roll for Home Depot. Not only was the contrasting content cringe-worthy, but it also disrupted my viewing experience. And this isn’t an occasional problem, unfortunately. There have been many examples of out-of-context and insensitive ads running before content, mostly because algorithms rely solely on text and keywords to determine context and lack the ability to assess the situational context. No one should have to be subject to a pre-roll for “Burning Love” right before a news segment about a limousine that had crashed, caught fire, and killed a bride and several others in her wedding party. For the particular news video examples above, I can think of several pre-rolls that would have been more suitable, such as an ad for the Red Cross, or an ad for a science or tech company that specializes in life-saving technologies.

In another example, I watched a comedic pre-roll for right before a news story talking about death and the destruction caused by major floods in the Midwest. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for viewers to see an ad for IBM’s smarter planet here, or even the Army Reserve? I’m not trying to pick on CNN – it’s just my favorite news site.

There are some industry experts who may argue that there are types of videos (e.g., a news story about a deadly tornado) that should exist without any advertisements. I argue that they can, if the advertiser and publisher work harder to collaborate on context and are given the right tools by their technology partners. While I agree that video content needs to be taken into consideration across all advertising conversations, I won’t go as far as some to say that ads should be pulled from videos with sensitive subject matters. It’s not necessary to forego running an ad before sensitive and serious content (and we also shouldn’t have to sit through a comedic and irrelevant ad before a tragedy). As we’ve shown, there are many creative ways ads can share a relation to the topic and monetize without coming off as completely insensitive or jarring in tone.

Algorithms are calculations, at best

One of my favorite definitions of the word algorithm comes from Rob Griffin, EVP, Global Director of Product Development, Havas Digital, in an AdExchanger article:

“Let’s start with what it is not. An algorithm is not human-less automation. An algorithm is not a human-less tool. An algorithm is at its simplest a process followed in executing calculations for processing data and decisioning. To quote from Wikipedia’s definition of an algorithm, it is ‘more precisely, an effective method expressed as a finite list of well-defined instructions for calculating a function.’ In our industry this is leveraged for improved analysis to generate more efficient and effective marketing communications and better optimization.”

When algorithms do work (which more often than not they do), they can work very well. In contextual targeting, there are technologies that analyze keywords, word frequency, and link structure to determine the content of the page and dynamically serve relevant ads. In placement targeting, advertisers will specifically choose where on a website they’d want their ad to run. For example, an advertiser for an international airline would most certainly want its ad to run in a travel subsection, perhaps next to an editorial piece about a travel destination where that same carrier just launched a new route. But there’s a downside to doing that. What if that same advertiser had an ad running in that subsection against a news segment addressing the rising costs of airline fees, bad airline food, or worse, a plane crash? Although relevant, that would be considered a very unfortunate ad placement. But sometimes relevance isn’t the problem – it’s context. If an automotive brand is running a campaign for its latest sports model in an automotive section of a website, sure it’s relevant. However, it wouldn’t benefit the advertiser if its ad ran against a news story linking the brand to poor consumer satisfaction, a model recall, or rising gas prices.

Reader’s Digest Association (RDA) is one company that understands the importance of matching ad context to content. Instead of identifying content by the page or article URL the video is embedded in, RDA’s new contextual video ad network identifies content via the video URL. That way, buyers are able to get a more specific description of the video inventory, as well as where the ad will appear on the page, the size of the player, content detail, and ad clutter. Tom Bosco, director of sales for RDA’s Haven Home Media division, told Folio that “Most of the online video today can only be optimized to the site or page it was bought on.” What RDA is working toward, Bosco said, is identifying videos that work best and optimize for the actual video, just like a buyer would identify programming for television.

What will the future hold for contextual advertising and the technologies that go along with it? Just a few years ago, Gartner predicted that context-aware technologies will affect $96 billion of annual consumer spending worldwide by 2015. Hopefully we’ll advance far along enough that none of us will be subject to an ad letting us know where we can take our next cruise before watching a heartbreaking news story. When ad content better matches the context of the video audiences are expecting to watch, everyone will be better off.