Interactive video ads: Strategies, struggles and soaring potential

Lectures can be good, but dialogues are almost always better. That’s the truism underpinning a surge in interactive video ads that allow brands to connect with audiences in ways impossible for static spots.

In a survey of marketing professionals, video production and content marketing agency Wyzowl found nearly a quarter previously employed interactive video for marketing purposes and 43% plan to use it this year, an upward trend expected to continue as interactive video ads reach beyond the most adventuresome advertisers.  

Interactive video is attractive to marketers because of the potential for deeper engagements and, as the enabling technologies improve, the strategy is being embraced for a growing array of actions, including completing a transaction and stepping into the shoes of a character. There are challenges — like the need to pinpoint the right KPIs — and interactive video isn’t likely to replace static video entirely. However, there is a good chance interactive video will eventually account for a big chunk of budgets. 

“Interactive video ads are an opportunity for viewers to not just watch, but to engage, click and swipe via a call to action,” said Gregg Rogers, global product marketing manager at creative optimization and data activation platform Sizmek. “It’s not about being passive anymore. It’s about active participation with the video ad, and consumers get to learn more about a product before making a commitment to buying something like an automobile or clothing.”

Engaging experiences

Through participation, interactive video ads can be tailored to individual tastes and desires, a boon for both consumers on the hunt for content right for them, and brands seeking consumer information.

“Brands will personalize placements with interactive features in order to create a deeper user engagement with more relevant messaging, and it can be cost effective for brands, maximizing impact with inexpensive, quick and dynamic updates,” said Monica Down, senior video delivery strategist at global marketing technology company Amobee.

Consumers apparently are deeply engaged. According to data supplied by the video marketing platform Innovid in its 2017 Global Video Benchmarks report, consumers spend an average of 41.3 seconds watching so-called custom interactive ads that contain a variety of interactive elements on top of the time they spend watching 15- or 30-second standard pre-roll ads. Innovid also discovered custom interactive video campaigns generate a 561% lift in total user activity compared to standard pre-roll campaigns.

“You can more than double the engagement time with the consumer by running interactive video,” proclaimed Ronnie Lavi, senior vice president of product at Innovid. “Once you understand that — and you start calculating your cost per second and engagement — your ROI looks totally different.”

The ingredients of interactivity

Explaining the capabilities of interactive video ads, Lavi underscored Innovid’s platform essentially turns video players into web pages and web page functionality can thus be translated to ads to make them compelling. For instance, brands can integrate social media feeds, store locators, additional videos or images and product try-ons into interactive video ads. Real-time discount information, behind-the-scenes footage from movie shoots and maps of local establishments can also be components of interactive video ads.

In a recent rundown of intriguing interactive ads, Econsultancy spotlighted an ad from the charity Mended Little Hearts prompting donation pledges, one from Warner Bros. letting viewers step into the shoes of a con artist movie character through a series of deceitful decisions, a Deloitte spot eliciting reactions to potential work scenarios, and a Maybelline ad triggering consumers to choose between several beauty tutorials.

As capabilities evolve, playable interactive video ads are emerging, noted Dan Greenberg, chief design officer at mobile marketing and monetization platform ironSource

“A user can play with an ad, win or lose points, and play again if they wish. This goes far beyond any kind of ad experience out there today, and packs a much more powerful punch in the same amount of time as a standard video ad,” said Greenberg.  

Burgeoning technologies such as 360-degree video or virtual reality are possibilities for interactive video ads as well. 

Last year, Lexus teamed up with Amobee and the agency Team One on a mobile campaign that invited customers to explore 360-degree vehicle models. Amboee disclosed it achieved 3X more smartphone engagement and increased tablet engagement by 43% over Celtra automotive benchmarks. Users spent at least 16 seconds in tablet units, another measurement that exceeded the automotive benchmarks.

“We are seeing more VR and 360 video,” said Innovid’s Lavi. “There is definitely interest around these things. There is not so much interest in live feeds yet.”  


Tactical thinking  

While results are promising for interactive video, brands should avoid diving in without a clear strategy, cautioned Matt Byrom, managing director of Wyzowl.

“If you are trying to achieve leads, that should be the focus point. You might get people to fill out a form at a particular point in the video,” Byrom said. 

“If it is to improve knowledge transfer, creating a video that directs people to the information they need as quickly as possible would be the right strategy to employ,” he said. “For an interactive video more than most videos, it’s a good idea to plan out what you want to achieve and how to get there.”

Identifying KPIs at the inception of an interactive video ad effort is critical, Amobee’s Down stressed.

“It’s important to start with your KPIs and select the formats that are going to support and boost these goals,” Down said. “If time spent and brand recall is what matters, think about 360 video. Or, if creative analysis and engagement are a priority, introduce Multiple Video Select ads to have an A/B creative test in each and every video ad delivered.”

By virtue of the immediate responses they compel, interactive video ads aren’t typical ads — and shouldn’t be evaluated similarly to them, advised Lavi. He noted completion rates may not be as crucial for interactive video ads that drive action as standard ads driving awareness, although Innovid revealed the custom interactive completion rate to be 79.3% versus 77.3% for standard pre-roll.

“We see a big trend starting to utilize video more from a bottom funnel [perspective] and, when you do that, then you should definitely think mobile video first to generate higher click-through rates than desktop,” said Lavi.  

Data capture can be a central interactive video ad imperative as the amount and type of data that can be gathered from an interactive video ad is much greater than the amount from a standard ad, per Greenberg.  

“In a campaign for a leading audiobook brand, the ad asked users where they prefer listening to audiobooks and which genre they loved best,” Greenberg said. “Just from looking at the in-ad behavioral data the brand was able to identify that the majority of users prefer to listen to fiction in the car on the way to work. That insight then contributed to a follow-up campaign leveraging this data point.”

Interactive video obstacles  

Interactive video ads are rising as the technological infrastructure that supports them is transitioning. Flash is being abandoned in favor of HTML5. However, it’s not been a completely smooth road to HTML5 adoption. Currently, Sizmek estimates about 85% of its interactive video executions are HTML5-based, a dramatic swing from Q1 of last year, when around 98% were Flash-based.

“During the shift from Flash to HTML5 and in parallel with the increased demand of more engaging video ad opportunities outside of your traditional 30-second spots, publishers and players now need to get up to speed supporting this new tech environment, if they are not there yet,” said Rogers. “Not all players can accept HTML5 VPAID tags. These are some technical challenges that we are seeing.”

In another interactive video dilemma, Byrom mentioned interactivity can be lost in mobile devices as viewers enlarge videos to full screens. “Mobile manufacturers will realize this and will obviously want to offer the best technologies to customers, and there will be workarounds and new technology to retain interactivity in mobile devices,” he said. “The market is still quite early, so the software for creating interactive video is relatively new. There are big advances to come over the next few years. For the viewer, the experience will improve.”

Besides the technical difficulties, cost can be an issue for brands considering interactive video ads. Byrom said the expense of producing them isn’t strikingly higher than standard video, but acknowledged it can be slightly higher due to “work to add interactivity.” CPMs, on the other hand, are substantially higher for interactive video ads. Rogers estimated they can be 5X to 7X higher than CPMs for non-interactive spots. “It’s a competitive industry,” he reasoned. “I’m sure that mark will hold for some time.”

An interactive future

Asked to peer into advertising crystal balls, interactive video experts predicted over-the-top video and social media will play increasingly larger roles. Already, OTT ads are swelling. Innovid reported a 27% jump in the number of advertisers running spots on OTT from the first half to the second half of last year.

“It’s all about reaching your consumer at the end of the day, and content in the OTT world is very powerful. Once consumers are in that environment, it’s easier than desktop or mobile to pull in that engagement for more click-throughs and video plays to learn more about a product,” said Rogers. “The consumer really walks away with a better understanding about the brand or the product to move them forward in the purchase funnel.”

Social media presents enormous promise for interactive video ads, too.  

“On Snapchat, they are encouraging interactivity. Brands are going to try to figure out how can I make interaction with their ads part of the message in a way that the consumer feels they have access to something that other people don’t know about it,” said Mark Douglas, president and chief executive officer of advertising software company SteelHouse.

Despite the vast potential for interactive video ads on OTT, mobile and more, it isn’t overtaking static video, at least not for the foreseeable future.

“Interactive video ads are a very good way of telling a story that engages the viewer,” said Greenberg. “It’s unlikely to replace static video because some stories simply don’t need that layer, but it will likely eventually take a big chunk of video budgets.” 

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