OPINION: Duncan Southgate, our Global Brand Director for all things Digital at Millward Brown, thinks I spend far too much time dissing digital advertising. In a recent email to me he wrote, “I don’t see us writing articles about how TV ads suck.” OK, Duncan, let’s see where that comment takes us.
Let’s agree on the basics; no normal person welcomes advertising into their life unless it offers them something worthwhile. The reason I diss digital advertising and not TV, is because the former violates this basic principle of value exchange more often than the latter. It’s a given that advertising is necessary to support free content, but the established model of inserting TV advertising into content is more graceful (and more consistent) than many of the digital forms.
As with all things it is a matter of relativities. From a creative content perspective, some TV ads suck more than others. The same is true of digital advertising. There is little evidence that digital creative is worse than TV creative. As far as I can see from our data, the essential difference between TV and digital is that TV sucks less because its delivery is more carefully controlled (even if that control varies by country). There are a set number of ads shown and the ad breaks are ’engineered’ in a way that fits the content being shown. They may leave you eager to get back to the action, but the break tends to build anticipation more than irritation.
Now let’s switch over to the insertion of digital video into content, where the way that advertising is inserted differs dramatically, and ads often ambush the recipient unexpectedly. The worst example I have come across is on PBS, where ads are inserted into content without any consideration for the content flow. The switch between content and ad is instantaneous. One minute you are watching Endgame, and the next second, bam! It’s that blasted ad for European cruises again – how many times do I have to see the same aerial shots of Budapest and the Danube? Writing this post finally forced me to remember that the ad is for Viking River Cruises but, even if I had been inclined to take a cruise I am less likely than ever to choose them because I now associate negative emotions with that brand.
Then there is the inRead video It is bad enough when the sound is off, but now many sites seem to think that it is acceptable to start the video with the sound on. By now most people know they can scroll past the ad and it will disappear, but it is still an interruptive experience on a par with the now old school pop-up.
In his email to me Duncan pointed out that skippable pre-rolls are more popular than TV ads, and inferred that if all digital ads were skippable digital advertising would be better received than TV. That might be true, but I suspect that people like skippable videos precisely because they do not have to waste extra time watching them. If all ads were skippable, then advertisers would have to pay far more time and attention to ensuring that the first few seconds encouraged people to watch, and not just skip instinctively.
Anything that interrupts what you are doing is a pain but some things are more painful than others, and I believe that digital advertising is just getting too painful for many.
Nigel Hollis is executive vice president and chief global analyst at Millward Brown.