by Janet Martin
Ever since YouTube decided to sign on with Vevo—a music content and music video website— users of the site haven’t shied from expressing their thoughts on the partnership. Now, along with all of the other opinions expressed in the comments section, people complain about everything Vevo has brought to YouTube with the biggest problem being the incorporation of advertisements. Countless comments are dedicated to the annoyance and irritation viewers feel as soon as an ad pops up on their screen. Even with that said, not all ads are seen as an annoyance. Take the Darth Vader Volkswagen ad from the Super Bowl, for example. This ad has received over one million views on YouTube. So the questions arise—why do users complain about some ads while simultaneously hunting down others and how can ad agencies create ads that are welcomed instead of passed off as an annoyance?
Interactivity: Internet Ads Need to Differ From Ads Shown on TV
Erik Bucy, who holds a doctorate in mass communication studies, is a visiting scholar at the University of California’s Los Angeles Department of Communication Studies. He is teaching a class on computer-mediated communication while visiting the university. Bucy has written papers on media psychology and conducted research conceptualizing media stimuli. In other words, he knows how people react to the media and can even provide ideas as to why. He believes that the problem with ads on sites like YouTube come from the biggest difference between the Internet and television—interactivity.
“The most fundamental thing with the Internet is its interactivity,” said Bucy. “Interactive communication tends to be more involving and engaging, [but] sometimes it can be very routine or you can have interactivity when you don’t want it. It can kind of overwhelm or distract users and turn them away.” So if you are going in to watch a quick, one minute video, you don’t want to add another 30 seconds to that time with an advertisement.
“There’s a threshold of time that interactive advertisers have to consider,” said Bucy. “That’s one of the challenges, to find that spot where viewers or users will give you their attention.” The need to create interesting ads is essential, but the difficulty lies in determining how it is done. If the responses to Super Bowl commercials are any indication, people are more than willing to view commercials, and yet YouTube still finds it necessary to incorporate a “Skip Ad” button—and we are all the more than happy to use it.
Ads Need to Have an Entertainment Value
So how should companies suck people in? According to Bucy, it is both a complicated and simple issue. “There’s more to media engagement than simply understanding what is being presented, that’s just a cognitive kind of outcome,” he said. “There are emotions that come into play and there are motivations—whether you’re motivated to continue viewing or to stop, search, rewind or share—and there are all kinds of factors that you have as the viewer that kind of drive your media use.”
Advertisers have to consider all of these factors when they create an ad campaign. They cannot go in with an idea they like and hope that is enough, they have to think about the people they are selling to, the medium through which the ad will be presented, and most importantly, why people are using that medium. When it comes to the Internet, the motivation for using it is simple. “A lot of content is consumed online, in video downloading or [some] kind of social media websites, not so much purely for an educational or information point of view but for an entertainment point of view,” said Bucy.
That’s the key. People go online, especially YouTube, to be entertained. YouTube is not a sight for news or serious information. It’s a place to see cat videos, stupid stunts and flash mobs. Advertising must meet that level of entertainment if they want people to be intrigued by, rather than turned away from, the ads. “So one of the things that, at least major advertising and broadcasting has figured out, is that ads kind of have to be highly produced and entertaining, and in many stories and narratives, in order to keep people’s attention,” said Bucy. “Then people love them. But if they just pop up and they are almost non-sequesters and they don’t really belong in the space and they have nothing to do with the reason you came to the site, then I think that’s where the annoyance comes in.”
If you are going online to look up the latest music video from your favorite pop star, you probably aren’t in the car insurance mindset. When an ad for Progressive or Geico comes up, it needs to be in the vein of that video as opposed to a list of selling points. A 2004 study by Chang-Hoan Cho and Hongsik John Cheon, published in the Journal of Advertising, corroborates this conclusion. They polled 266 college students in September 2002 and discovered that one reason for negative reactions to ads is the fact that ads can be annoying. “Internet ads are a significant source of noise or nuisance, hindering consumer efforts to browse Web content [by] disrupting consumer Web page viewing, distracting viewers from the Web page’s editorial integrity, and intruding on their search for desired information,” according to the study.
Tap into Talent: Use YouTube Users to Create Ads
That’s not to say all ads before music videos need to incorporate music, or cat videos need to be proceeded by ads with cats. Content is not the main thing to consider. Interactive ad agencies need to consider and adopt the mindset of the average YouTube user—the younger, more tech-driven generation that has seen everything now that the world is at their fingertips. According to Bucy, it helps to “be unconventional and have a little bit of a flippant attitude. Some of that stuff is the most interesting. I like watching, [but] they don’t show it anymore, the Budweiser Real Men of Genius [ads]. Those were hilarious.” The key is to provide something new and unique that will interest viewers as much as the video they initially came to view. Agencies and companies need to use the Internet to their advantage.
“There are a lot of opportunities with the online format to do something original,” said Bucy, “but a lot of times I’m surprised at how mundane some of the ads are. And isn’t this space supposed to be more creative and dynamic? And sometimes it’s just not.” Once the commercial incorporates the right kind of attitude and production quality, viewers are more likely to consider an ad a valuable use of their viewing time. Bringing in Generation Y viewers is a great way to do this. Let them work for you.
“There’s a lot of talent out there. A lot of young talent that is trying to break in to online entertainment, and so one suggestion might be to employ that talent to produce really, you know, innovative commercials that would engage their peer group—talking to young users with other young users,” said Bucy. “So it’s like a conversation, or at least the sensibility has a conversational tone. It’s not a corporate sensibility trying to hone in on what is seen as a younger user’s kind of space.” These young people can bring a real, in-depth understanding of the average-viewer mindset and use it to create something fun and entertaining. They use YouTube and have opinions on the ads, so chances are some of them will have great ideas on how to improve the ad watching experience.
Should an Ad Appear Before, During or After a Video?
Another important concept to consider is timing and location. Ad agencies and YouTube need to re-evaluate when these ads are placed in front of the users. In a 2002 study published in the Journal of Advertising, Steven M. Edwards, Hairong Li and Joo-Hyun Lee hypothesized that ads are considered most intrusive, and therefore ignored, when they appear during the content. According to the study, 379 undergraduates were asked to start an Internet search. During the search, ads popped up at specific parts throughout the search and the interest level of each ad was rated at the end of the session. It was concluded that in order to limit a feeling of “intrusiveness,” ads need to appear when cognitive effort is low. In other words, it is better to place an ad between searches or at the end of an Internet session. For YouTube, this means placing ads at the end of videos, while users are searching for something new or are about to close the browser, rather than at the beginning. This should decrease the irritation felt by users of YouTube and increase their interest in the content.
Create a Character
A final piece of advice to consider in the YouTube world of advertising is to develop a character. So many people love the Geico Cavemen and Gecko as well as the Jack Links Sasquatch and Dos Equis’ The Most Interesting Man in the World. There is even an Internet meme dedicated to The Most Interesting Man’s image and catch phrase—a meme is an often humorous photo that someone has written text across that illustrates an idea that can be a parody or commentary. Any time someone downloads The Most Interesting Man’s image to create their own meme they are essentially doing the advertising for the company.
“It starts with very intriguing, outrageous character development,” said Bucy. “So if I were designing an ad or an ad campaign, I would think about a really engaging actor, who maybe hasn’t seen a lot of work lately, who can be completely off the cuff and off the hook.” And it is not enough to have celebrity endorsement because that’s different. You need actors who can portray something new and extreme, not just themselves. Bucy recommends Mike Meyers or Andy Samberg for the job.
“I think it should be a character, I mean, if [the actor] could play off one of his characters that would have way more resonance than just showing up as himself,” said Bucy. “I mean, a lot of these characters can be copyrighted, you know, if they are from a movie or a previous show. But why not invent new ones? That’s where the young talent comes into play. I’m sure there are characters out there that young people have thought about that can be packaged as advertising personalities.” Bucy recommends branching out because even these new ads have their limitations.
“We aren’t seeing that many interesting female characters either. Not just the sex symbols or the action and athletic types,” said Bucy. “Where are the funny female characters? Where are the Tina Feys and the Molly Shannons, you know some of the real talents, out there in advertising? You see a little bit of it, maybe, with Progressive commercials and the Flo character, but not enough. [They] really [need to] try to break expectations by just being outrageous. At least if you’re trying to get younger viewers.”
So there is potential for great YouTube ads. If companies and ad agencies are willing to put some consideration into the Internet as a new form of media with new requirements, rather than just an extension of television, they can create some dynamic and entertaining commercials that might end up getting more views than the other clips and videos people find online. This can be accomplished by creating ads with an entertainment value, using talented people in ads or to create the ads, considering when the ads will show up in a video, and creating a character. “[The ads] really got to be on the level of, you know, the top content of YouTube for a given day or on the level of like, Tosh.0 and what he’s showing. [It needs] that kind of sensibility,” Bucy said. “It’s got to be the Super Bowl every day, but in micro-form.”