Product Promotion in Online Video: How Much is TOO Much?

I’ve been struggling with various revenue sources for videos (since the YouTube “partners” revenue hasn’t yet kicked in, and I don’t know yet whether it will be meaningful). There are several models in play…

  1. There’s custom work like the videos I’ve done for several sponsors for a flat-fee charge of $2-$5K (which is “found” money, but sometimes very high maintenance with many unexpected iterations).
  2. Then there’s Brandfame, which is creating ways that advertisers can pursue product placement in online videos, and creators can make some money doing product placement. See post for detail (and thanks for InsideVideo for the post).
  3. And new to the scene is creator-embedded preroll…I’ve been asked recently about what I’d charge to introduce preroll ads embedded into my video content before I submit them to sites. Although I think this doesn’t violate terms of service of video-hosting sites (who won’t participate in this revenue), I’m struggling with it. For starters, I don’t have a sense of the fair market value of this. If I had to guess, a preroll is worth about five cents to an advertisers.

While all of these offer new revenue streams for cash-poor creators, I worry about audience fatigue. For example, Revver’s use of preroll, according to the Revver blog, is something they’re testing with both eyes open:

We believe in keeping the ad experience brief and unobtrusive. To that end, we’ll keep pre-roll ads as short as possible, and closely monitor viewer response to make sure they don’t negatively affect the performance of videos on the network.

How Do We Discover What’s Too Much?

I’ve always maintained that the best way to test an audience’s receptivity to advertising is rather simple. If you ask them, they’ll tell you loud and clear they don’t want them. I hate prerolls, and stopped viewing iFilm because they got overzealous with them (and if they’ve tamed down I don’t know because I haven’t been back in ages). That said, there’s a lot of content (serialized videos like iChannel or anything JibJab) that is worth enduring a brief ad… after all, it’s free content.

So the real way to determine the impact of promotion before, during or after video content is to study it. An online-video site can monitor the aggregated impact of the pre-roll (which is something creators can’t do alone). Do views go down? How many stop watching in protest? Does early abandonment of a video occur in higher frequency? Most importantly, however, is this question:

What’s the unmeasurable impact on the “brand” of the creator if they’re seen as “selling out” in too many ways? I know I’ve stumbled around that fine line like a drunk walking a DWI test. Anecdotal feedback ranges- some viewers see it as perverse, while others say they’d be willing to pay for my content (yet that’s clearly not viable yet), so enduring ads is acceptable.


28 Replies to “Product Promotion in Online Video: How Much is TOO Much?”

  1. You made an interesting point there with the reference to ichannel. I would tolerate very short prerolls on ichannel for the following reasons:

    1. It’s a serial so I’m interested in seeing what happens next.
    2. There are fairly long intervals between episodes so by the time the next one posts, I’m chomping at the bit to see it.
    3. their videos tend to be longer than average (at least they seem so to me) so a preroll is a proportionately smaller portion of the entire viewing experience for an ichannel video.
    4. Their work on this series is very high quality (subjective, I know, but there is something to be said for those OCD directors!)

    By short I mean 10 seconds or less (my personal preference; anything over 15 and I’m sure to bail out before the video even starts).

    The only real experience I have with prerolls is on TMZ and they’re not embedded in the video – they’re just running a short ad before playing a video that you’ve clicked on. Those ads are 15 secs or less and they don’t play before every video. it’s really gotta be a good video for me to tolerate that preroll — like brittany shaving her head. About half the time I do abort when I see that I’m going to have to watch the damn ad before the video because, well, you know, there just aren’t that many quality celebrity meltdowns captured on video.

    I very rarely watch the video newsclips on CNN anymore because they have ads that go 30 seconds!!! It’s ridiculous.

    yeah I said it. . . TMZ. I’m addicted to the TMZ website.

    Re: selling out — for what it’s worth, I don’t see you that way and I don’t get the people who complain about that. But I agree, it is something you need to be concerned about. Also, just so you know, I usually enjoy your vlogs, because you are always funny, even when you’re just talking. However, that opinion is subject to change in the event you kill someone while doing it.

    blah blah blah blah . . . i’ll shut up now.

  2. I’m actually thinking of taking things in another direction, producing my own dvds, and just using my vlog and youtube to make people aware of what I do (5 mths to xmas).

    You probably have enough youtube subscribers Nalts to sign up sponsors, what about even just having a mention, ‘this video is sponsored by..’ and providing a weblink, or banner ad?

    If people want good free content (as most of your stuff is) surely they can understand someone has to pay the creator? Having a video sponsored by a benevolent company, may even create goodwill towards that company?

    suck it and see..

  3. what about licensing your films to other bloggers, tv channels, web portals or short film makers to use? are their any people that you think would license one of your videos to have the exclusive showing of your latest video and you get paid to let them be the only person with that content.

  4. I got one of those boogers one time, John: $500 for one month’s exclusivity. But it wasn’t something I sought out. It was more like winning a lotto scratcher. Unrepeatable.

  5. You made mention of the content being ‘worth enduring a brief ad’. This is one of the major problems I see with online advertising. A lot of the time with sites like YouTube, when you click on a video, unless the content is from a proven creator, you’re not quite sure what you’re getting (a river of dung maybe???). Is it worth it to endure an ad to see this video that may or may not be good? (Sure, if it’s a video that you want to see, ie Britney, Lindsey, Paris etc, you might endure the ad because you have some idea of whats coming.)

    You would like to think that creators can be judged based solely on the content they create, but the web is a different world. People pay money for programs so they don’t have to see ads. I remember a time a few years ago when someone on a message board I frequented payed the web host the fee so the board could be ad free for a year. A lot of people see online ads as being very obtrusive, and i’m sure that part of that is from pop-up ads and banners that have all the flash to get people attention. Unfortunately more often that not what advertisers end up with is a negative impression on the consumer.

  6. I wouldn’t mind a pre-roll, or post-roll ad on your vids Nalts. My biggest petpeeve with pre-rolls are their volume. I mean, srsly, those of us who know how to mix video audio to be tolerable should not have to endure ear bleeding audio in pre-roll ads.

    As for fees, I’d have no idea what to charge them, can’t help you there.

    As for “selling-out”, I can’t see it being that big of a deal. If people are going to bitch, they’re going to do it about something, wouldn’t matter if it’s pre-roll ads, the music you use in your vids or your kids appearing. Meh.

    I’d love to find a revenue model. I emailed YouTube about the Partnership Program, but never heard anything back. Sure, I don’t have mountains of views, but the little bit of cash from it would at least keep me in tapes. And maybe pay a friend or two to appear with me in the vids…

  7. I agree with much of what Sukatra said. I would tolerate very short pre-rolls for stuff I KNOW I want to see. iChannel is a great example. I am one of those guys, though, that skips the movie previews half the time, ALL the time with DVDs, and lets videos preload so I can skip the introductions… I won’t mention any names *cough*EvilWillie*coughcough*

    I am a bigger fan of “outros” vs. “intros” and if you made them cleverly enough, I could see myself sticking around to watch your ads. If they were “professionally created” and boring, I’d click off before watching them… but I guess that doesn’t matter to YOU ’cause you still get credit for the click.

    I subscibe to over 200 people and watch pretty much all of them, but my tolerance varies and there are times I definitely times I pay more attention to the shorter videos that I KNOW will get to the point. Anyone that has a long intro, anyone who takes to long (historically) to set up a gag, or anyone who vlogs with a lot of pauses and “umms” gets pushed off ’til later.

    ALSO, if a video doesn’t hold my interest right away (especially if there is a lag in the preload), I might just skip it altogether. I’d hate to see the day when I go, “Nalts has all those damned ads at the beginning of his video, I’ll skip his stuff and watch a Sean Bedlam video.”

    I specifically put my snarky little “I’m such a whore” thing at the end vs. the beginning because of my own dislike of intros. Oh, and I chopped it down significantly from the version VelvetElvis01 created for me. He did a fantastic job, I’m just anal about keeping it short. I stop before watching “outros” I know will be long too. Once again not mentioning a name. *cough*

    Really, the only intro I really like (apart from the ones with my music in them… I AM a whore!) is Consumatron’s. I don’t think his four seconds or whatever are enough to get an ad message across.

    Here’s a weird idea, but something that might be worth a look. How about coming up with some way to create a buzz in the comments about the products? There are quite a few of people in the community who engage in “comment section conversations” quite often! *cough*SarryCrey*MusoSF*BibleGirl7*TheMightyThor1212*July7nyc*PrincessDiana161*ChristopherMast*etc*cough*

  8. Concern over the impact of pre-roll on the brand of the creator is valid. From our testing so far it seems to depend on the creator’s audience – some audiences mind, others don’t. And if they do mind you can bet they’ll email the creator and let them know.

    As you noted Nalts, Revver is keeping a close eye on the effects of pre-rolls on video performance, and also listening to what creators have to say about their audience’s response to pre-roll. Pre-roll ads are only given to those who have opted in, and if there is an audience backlash creators can opt-out at anytime. So what seems to be really important is for creators to be able to have a dialogue with the site hosting the vids and serving the ads, and to be able to say “hey shut it off” if they get the sense that it’s not being received well by their audience. A few creators using Revver have done that so far, but with the revenue increase creators have seen since the introduction of pre-roll, most are very happy with the new ads 🙂

  9. Sebastian here, I’m the creator of Brandfame. I’m glad to see you Nalt writing about Brandfame. And thanks Mike for the support!

    My thougth on pre-roll is that it should be kept short. Stupid short. Like 2 seconds maximum. More than that and you’ll upset the hard web audience.

    Compare that to someone who’s going to see a movie. There is:
    – the 15 minute walk/ride to the theatre
    – 3 minutes line-up to get to the ticket
    – pay a (relatively) insane amount (while making the commitment that it is worth it)
    – 4 minutes to get popcorn and a huge coke (another insane amount of money)
    – 3 minute stop at the washrooms (if you’re going with a girl)
    – 2 minutes looking for a nice spot in the center of the room
    – 5-10 minutes wait before the movie starts
    … well, actually, before the ads start.

    So that’s more than 30 minutes of effort before the ads, so let me tell you your brain is set to enjoy the ads as a part of the whole hassle (and expense) to see the movie.

    If you don’t like the ads are you going to change rooms? You could try, depending on the theatre you can simply switch room (you have the choice between 5-10 movies total) and HOPE that it is starting when you get in, or you might have to go back to the ticket booth get a refund, buy another ticket, and hope that you’ll like it.

    How about on YouTube? There is no walk to the computer, you’re already there, no line-up, no ticket to buy, popcorn and coke you say? The can is already at arm’s reach. There is no better spot in front of the computer than the one you have now, and the video clip start when you want to.

    Don’t like the ads? There is another billion of videos waiting to be watch just a click away …

    Don’t upset the audience!

  10. My feeling on ads is ‘if it gets in the way of viewing the content then people will tune out.’ Pre-roll ads get in the way.

    Post roll is better because the viewer has already seen your content and is sticking around to see what else comes up because there’s still a bit on the play meter left. If it is an ad they can click away without missing the content and at least they’ve seen a bit of the ad.

    Blip.TV is using overlay ads that pop up with a short link across the bottom of selected videos. I kind of like this model because the ad creeps in whilst you’re watching – it’s a simple link with maybe an additional line of description. Plus you can close it down if it is obstructing a critical viewing area.

    Blip.TV is also planning to trial mid-roll ads but aren’t doing so as yet. Personally I think a mid roll ad will be as popular as pre roll and spark just as much outrage.

    This is starting to sound like an ad for Blip.TV (and I do use them myself but anyway) Blip.TV include ads next to their players on their web site (not next to embeded players) that supposedly display targeted ads based on the video content. I’m a bit skeptical as to how that works but it’s another avenue for ad revenue.

  11. For me personally i wouldn’t watch any pre-roll ad video full stop UNLESS it was one of those “You have to watch this” links.

    I don’t mind them being on my Revver vids cos Iv’e already seen em, but i do worry it could have a negative effect, it’s too soon to tell just yet.

    I think a pre-roll should last no longer than 5 secs or just a momentary still, anything more could be pretty dangerous to one’s fan base and the ability to attract new viewers could be seriously hampered.

    and just for Sukutra heres another comment closing ……………….POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

  12. I think a lot of video makers could actually make the decision as to what type of ad would work best on each particular video (The video itself almost determines the ad’s length, if it would be better as pre or post and even if there should be an ad at all). I have seen a few video makers who have longer intro’s, Notably SarryCrey & ChristopherMast (self pimp I did the graphics for their intro/outro/titles), who haven’t just stuck them at the front or end of each video but have carved them up, used bits and pieces here and there or just not used them at all to suit the video they have done. I think the same thing could be done for ads.

    An alternative is something like what Askaninja does ( They embed ads for their own products towards the end of their video’s and then follow it up with a little more ninja before dropping into their sponsor ad’s. They are now sponsored by and have a little gimmick to get people to go to use the Ask search engine. They have a “find this made up ninja word on Ask and you get an additional 20 second Askaninja video” which drives people to the ask website and gets them familiar with the search engine by providing them something they want to see – more askaninja.


  13. SHORT — Short, Short, Short!! 3 seconds. By the time someone realizes they’re pissed that they had to watch an ad, the impression’s been made, and the content video is already underway.

    Those of us without TiVo already endure pre- and post-roll ads constantly every time we watch TV. We’re used to it. It doesn’t hurt. It’s part of life.

    FREQUENCY — Nalts, if you’re gonna make a go of this, I would suggest putting together an offer of so many dollars for so many videos sponsored, or so many weeks or months of sponsorship. Companies looking to make a lasting impression must make their brand known over time. Constant peck-peck-pecking away at consumers’ brains over months works much better than a one-off commercial. Case in point: How many ads do you remember that ran only once during last year’s Super Bowl, versus sing the Yahoo! jingle.

    EXCLUSIVITY — As a sponsor, I would want as much isolation from other brands as possible, and as a creator, I’d want my content as un-cluttered as possible. Both parties should insist on it.

    OTHER: Would you charge less for post-roll? Seems just as valuable to me. What about a sliding payscale for sponsorship opportunities based on creator viewership? (i.e. I’d pay more to be on Nalts’ videos with 15000+ subscribers, than on my own, with less than a hundred.) I believe there are many ways to make the viewer/creator/advertiser menage a trois work well… We’re all smart people here, let’s think about it. What about middle-of-the-video roll? As in, “We’ll be right back after this,” followed by a 3-second ad graphic. Why not? Do you think the writers of Seinfeld got upset because their “Master of Your Domain” episode had to be interrupted for a commercial break? If so, do you think they were still upset after they got their check?

  14. SlatersGarage said: “What about middle-of-the-video roll?”

    Alan says: Hah, that would kill the thumbnail game, wouldn’t it? Well, I guess the ad wouldn’t have to be exactly in the middle… or video creators would have to get better at finding the 25% and 75% marks in their vids now that YouTube allows you to choose from those three frames…

    You could even put the ad in at the 75% mark, like right before the third act and then charge extra for the ad to be the thumbnail, lol.

  15. Anything after the start of the video and you are going to have to base the number of people watching on the actual content of the video. If a video is lame, people will click off quickly. So by the time you get to the middle or the end of the video, you could possibly have quite a few less viewers. You would have to have solid tracking numbers on how many people watch all the way to the end of a video, instead of clicking off before they get to the end.

    VelvetElvis mentioned chopping up ads, and this could potentially work, but don’t forget, most companies pay a guy like Nalts who in his day job it’s his responsibility to come up with some version of the ad that would be usable. The companies themselves would be much more unlikely to want you to chop/cut up their ads if they developed and created them. They want to shape their brand, and by giving us the opportunity to slice and dice we could inadvertently end up doing something they might not necessarily approve of.

    It’s awesome that Alex from Revver posted on here. I would like to say, that I think most people would be more tolerant of any kind of ads on a site like Revver than they would on YouTube. Why? Revver is a site that you go to, if you want to watch videos. YouTube is much more of a community, and I think online many more people make that distinction. YouTube gives them a much more personal experience, and they will be more guarded of what they will let in and what they won’t.

  16. ChristopherMast wrote: “I don’t think his four seconds or whatever are enough to get an ad message across.”

    That depends on the message. How long does it take to make an impression? “Ba-dah-bah-bah-bahhh, I’m lovin’ it!” Takes 3 seconds. And it says “McDonald’s” without even saying “McDonald’s.” The Yahoo! jingle takes even less time, and says just as much.

    Even if creators flashed a logo or a web address for a frame or two — quite literally just enough time for the brain to register the exposure, it would still make an impression on viewers. As I mentioned above, the key is repetition.

    For discussion: What if an advertiser offered YouTubers $50 per thousand subscribers to run a 3-second pre-roll on all your videos for a month? Assuming that if you have, say, 5000 subscribers, and you post 12 videos a month (estimated), that’s 60,000 impressions per month (assuming each subscriber watches every video), costing a sponsor $250. Is that worth it to a sponsor? Would you like to see a check show up in your mailbox every month if all you had to do was drag a jpeg into your video editor? For me, at least, it’s a “yes” on both.

  17. Matt – Sorry, didnt make myself clear on that one.

    I wasnt suggesting the ad’s themselves be cut up but rather that depending on the video the ad could be placed in a different location. The creator of the video could choose where and when the ad appeared to suit the video itself. Some ad’s would work as pre-roll, some as post and some would be able to slot into the middle of the video.

  18. I agree with SlatersGarage, Sebasitan and sukatra on the pre-roll. Short, like stupid short. And punchy. By the time you’re annoyed you’re watching an ad, it’s already long-gone. All the ad really needs to do is make an impression. How long do people look at billboards on the highway? ‘7 Words Max’ is the going standard for that message. What if video ads only had 7 words max?

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