Ad Blindness and Online Video

Google Eye TrackerThe more we surf online video the more savvy we become about content versus advertising.

A marketer recently told me he was pleased by the impressions he got from a YouTube homepage advertising buy, but…” I finished his sentence for him.. “your featured video didn’t get a lot of views.”

I told him we’ve been trained that the YouTube featured video is an advertisement, and he said he was working on ways to produce a more provocative headline or thumbnail. This “learned ad blindness” (I just coined that) was true with Revver ads, where virgin viewers would click the end-frame ad out of curiosity while the regulars learned to move to the next video. Revver is now adopting overlays jam packed with what appears to be Google Adsense Ads. Meanwhile, Adsense itself is under performing. Jason Lee Miller of WebProNews wrote recently about performance declines of Google Adsense, and one of his theories is:

“People are ignoring ads at a higher rate, and this has been evidenced by eye-tracking studies, especially when the ads appear in the places they expect them to appear.” (Note: to reinforce Miller’s point, I’ve displayed an image tracker of where eyes go when viewing a Google search-results page… hot in the top of organic area and rather cold on the ads).

So what’s the solution? Is it constant rotation of ads so they masquerade as content or perpetually innovative ways to interrupt, arouse or tantelize?  YouTube’s “videos being watched right now” is a combination of sponsored videos and popular ones. They’ve changed the name of this section several times, but I believe it remains an advertorial blend.

YouTube ads versus contentThat’s not the answer long term. Your most trusted sources of media (television, print, radio, web) usually make it abundantly clear what’s an advertisement and what’s content. Google pioneered this delineation by giving a color to ads while some engines continue to advantage advertisers in the “organic” listings with something called “paid inclusion” that creeps me out. The “advertorial” game, where advertisers sponsor what appears to be objective articles, is for the bottom feeders.

My first job after college was for a small Georgetown newspaper where the editor literally put a small white fence between the editorial and advertising department. I proudly stood on the content side, and the newspaper went bankrupt in 9 months. It was what prompted me to attend business school and move to the marketing side. I’d need to shower more frequently, but I’d at least have some control of my destiny.

The solution to “learned ad blindness” (copyright Kevin Nalts) is making ads that appeal to viewers and targeting people based on relevancy. If I’m in the market for a car, I want your car ad. If I’m not, it better have dancing clowns, hot models and site gags. If watching videos about the new overpriced talking parrot toy in late November, I’m probably ready for a 20% Toys-R-Us ad. See my next post (Cherry Chocolate Rain) for an even better example of when advertising does indeed become content.

Initially advertisers were terrified by technology that would block ads — from FireFox plugins to TiVo remotes. I’d content the greater barrier is the technology of the human mind, which learns quickly to discriminate between valued content and noise.

Like my old boss used to say, “even an amoeba learns by repetition.”

4 Replies to “Ad Blindness and Online Video”

  1. Hey Nalts. Interesting post. I wonder if the eye-tracking study took into account whether or not the person was searching Google to buy something or not. When I’m looking for a product, I’ll often be as or more interested in the ads than in the regular search results.

    (Also, typo in your last sentence: content should be contend.)

  2. The solution to “learned video blindness” (copyright Marquisdejolie) is making vids that appeal to viewers (which is other vloggers).

    Oh, and targeting videos based on relevancy to the advertising. That’s the key to success!

  3. “The solution to “learned ad blindness” (copyright Kevin Nalts) is making ads that appeal to viewers and targeting people based on relevancy.”

    That doesn’t always work. Just having an ad that appeals to the user isn’t enough.

    You first have to get them to look at the ad, and read it (or watch it if it is a video ad).

    And that’s not an easy thing… and is really an art. For anything new you do… user will eventually get used to it, and will eventually learn to ignore it.

    If your ad looks different than the rest of the content, user will eventually start to ignore it. And if it looks like the rest of your content, user may stop coming to your site because they consider it “SPAMy”.

    In terms of clicks, the best technique I’ve seen is blending ads in with the content… but then you get alot of accidental clicks. (Which can make advertisers unhappy if they are paying per click. And make them bail on you and stop supporting you.) And, like I said, could make you audience members stop visiting your site (because they consider it SPAMy). Not to mention that it can be a “shady” activity if you do it in certain ways.

    Google’s text ads did well originally because they were a new thing. Not because there is anything inherently better about text link ads over graphical images. In fact, image ads generally get ALOT more clicks that text link ads.

    Really, you need to do things in a way where the user is basically looking for that ad. That’s the advantage Google, Yahoo!, and MSN have on their search pages. The ads on there (on the search result pages) work well because people are looking for that stuff.

    That same idea can be translated to non-search pages too. But if help if you know what you are doing.

    (Disclaimer: I used to be the Principal Software Engineer at an ad network.)

    — Charles Iliya Krempeaux

  4. I definitely ignore the text ads on the sidebar from google searching and in my gmail, but I dislike the banner ads, etc, enough that my husband (a programmer) showed me how to edit my host files to block them all. So I don’t make you any money by watching your videos, sorry 😉

    But anyway yes – I agree with what you have to say here. And even though people will continue to learn to ignore adds, if they are targeted and they know this, they will start to look at them when they want them or at least when they think they’ll be funny, which is better than never at all.

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