Online Video Ads More Effective When Viewers Are in Control

By Priya Alexander on Dec 06 2011 at 8:00 AM

As long as ad agencies have been around, they have shown countless guys commercials for feminine-hygiene products and women ads for the latest sports cars. Not that women don't drive flashy cars or that men have no interest in tampons (the army uses them for bullet wounds, after all), but these commercials are far from targeted. 

A possible solution? Give viewers more choices. In a move that puts consumers in control, Hulu debuted an ad-swap feature in October. It’s not just networks deciding what commercials to broadcast anymore. Viewers—at least Hulu’s, for the time being—are no longer held hostage to 30 seconds of irrelevant advertising. With the rise of unbundled digital content, they’re already choosing what to watch, when they want—why not let them choose what ads as well? With this level of control, users are likely to stick around for longer, the logic goes. This feature doesn’t cost advertisers if their ads are swapped. And since ads are performing better, this feature could facilitate higher ad prices. 


Before launching Ad Swap, Hulu conducted a survey of 1,500 users, and they found:

69 percent said choosing their own commercials improves the viewing experience

73 percent said they were more likely to pay attention if they could select their own ads


Running a test, the publisher found much more engaged audiences for brands, seeing:

93 percent increase in enhanced unaided recall

27 percent increase in brand favorability

35 percent increase in purchase intent 

46 percent increase in stated relevancy

Hulu isn’t the only player in the ad-swap space. At the end of October, Google announced an ad-preferences manager that allows users to block specific brands they’re not interested in—or, at the other end of the spectrum, turn off personalized ads entirely—in search results. More players could emerge, especially since initial research from the company has found this feature to be beneficial for consumers, advertisers and content owners alike. 

Moreover, it’s worth noting that putting viewers in control isn’t the only way to deliver highly targeted ads. Using video ad analytics, for example, publishers can serve engaging ads based on demographic—and even psychographic—data. Want to target left-handed 30 year-old males in New York City? The concept isn’t that far off. Like Ad Swap, analytics can help create a more enjoyable video experience, encouraging viewers to stick around for longer while watching more ads that are relevant to them—a win-win for consumer and advertiser. 

Choosing your own commercials is far from mainstream; Hulu itself only expects a response rate of about 3 percent. But it’s an innovative approach to better targeted ads. The potential is also there with analytics, extrapolating real data to find the right audience for different products. Here’s to taking the randomness out of so-called targeted ads and improving their reach and effectiveness.


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