YouTube and the “unskippable” ad journey for brands, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity

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A recent experiment in video sharing and streaming platform YouTube has taken the internet by storm. During a commercial break, it reportedly showed ten non-skippable advertisements to its users.

Users were irritated and unleashed on social media. For them, it was just a series of ads blocking their content viewing or streaming experience. They were either bothered by the number of ads or the length of the ads. Or in some cases, both.

Are brands able to crack the code?

The size of digital advertising budgets is growing by leaps and bounds. GroupM’s TYNY 2022 report says India is on track to become the world’s largest advertising market in 2022, with digital media expected to overtake traditional TV media for the first time ever this year in terms of spend advertisers.

Digital media is poised to become the leading medium with an estimated 45% share, driven by 33% growth during the year, according to the report.

According to a report by TAM Media Research, during the period January-June 2022, digital ad insertions jumped 109% compared to the same period last year. YouTube alone held 24% of ad insertions among all major web publishers.

While the numbers look good, are brands really capable of playing well on digital? Are they able to understand what their consumer is really looking for, while they are on a digital platform?

Looking at the range of complaints against platforms for serving an “n” number of ads, the future looks a little bleak for brands and advertisers. Ultimately, the central idea remains to provide the best experience.

In order to maintain a smooth experience, when YouTube started showing ads, it stuck to those that could be skipped.

“There were a lot of complex systems and that’s why what really became important was framerates. And then eventually they came out with these two products, which were skippable and non-skippable,” said Vishal Chinchankar, CEO of Madison Digital.

The extremely short attention span of consumers is no stranger to brands. Ask a user what they do when an ad is shown on a platform and you’ll probably hear, “I’m looking for the skip button.”

However, brands are still investing in must-have models.

Chinchankar believes that from a brand manager’s perspective, the non-skippable ad model is a very effective asset. “It’s because it allows it to tell the emotional story of the brand to the consumer. It really helps to communicate the brand functions or emotional elements well,” he added.

The ‘must-see’ path to brand recall

Brands are more likely to generate decent brand recall, if they are able to communicate well. Experts resonate with the same.

For example, Preetham Venkky, President of 22feet Tribal Worldwide, believes that non-skippable ads have extremely high awareness and recall.

However, it also clarifies that this would be the case for a lesser number of non-skippable ads and not ten. It becomes important to note what the transactional negative of ad awareness and recall is as more and more ads are added to that stack, Venkky said.

The brand recall, however, would only exist if the consumer paid enough attention to it. Take for example a series of announcements in the middle of an episode. Under normal circumstances, the first and last advertisement would attract the viewer’s maximum attention.

Chinchankar pointed out that in the television space, the first and last advertisement have an added premium. But in today’s digital scene, that’s not something brand managers need worry about, he believes.

“I don’t think this trend is going digital. Because we haven’t seen a space where there are five consecutive commercials coming,” Chinchankar added.

He also mentioned that in the future, when publishers impose such bonuses on the first and last ad, brand managers should take better consideration of the timing of their ads.

The price to pay

Looking at non-skippable ads from an experimental perspective, this might start to seem like a fair way for brands to answer “how to” and “where to stop” questions.

“Unskippable is an amazing product from Google because in all unbranded settings they get the best results. It’s good to experiment and see what I can basically ‘give users’ versus where I ‘have to’ stop me’ and where it gets frustrating,” Venkky said.

But the best always has a price.

For example, an advertiser on YouTube only pays for skippable videos that viewers watch for 30 seconds or more (unless the ad is shorter than that). So they don’t really have to worry about paying for all those people skipping the video whenever they can.

However, unless people watch the ad, click on it, and convert to buyers, the brand doesn’t really benefit from it either.

“Non-skippable ads are the most expensive to run because brands know what they’re going to get out of them. “View rates” tend to be affected when muted because you’re interrupting something the user wants to watch,” Venkky said.

This does not mean that if one works well, the other falls through. Chinchankar pointed out that skippable banners can be used to retarget.

“So if a marketer is doing a media plan, I think they’ll make sure there’s at least 40-50% of the inventory that’s actually bought on unskippable, to gather their reach and frequency for those respective markets. And once it reaches that reach and frequency, a skippable ad works best for remarketing,” he added.

The “leaning forward” medium

Narrowing things down to what works best for brands on digital, Ajit Varghese, Chief Commercial Officer, Sharechat and Moj, believes that the digital ecosystem gives consumers choice. If they like the content, they watch it, if they don’t like it, they skip it.

“If you force the television model to go digital, it’s like calling for disaster. It’s like trying to force a traditional ecosystem model into a new ecosystem model where viewers have already shown a distaste for that model,” he added.

To assume, it may make economic or business sense to run more ads during a break. But the reason people are at the heart of digital is the choice factor.

As Varghese puts it, the digital space is almost like forward-leaning media, where one leans forward due to curiosity, inflection point, and getting more information.

In the current scenario, it’s only a matter of time until everything returns to a lite medium and consumer interest in digital wanes, as it has in television.

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According to 9to5 Google, YouTube has issued a statement in this regard advising that this experiment with ads is now “over”.

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