Video Advertising: Everything You Need To Know
Video is a primary vehicle to deliver advertising to consumers in the modern world. Advertising inherently battles for the attention of those who come in contact with it. In traditional media, this usually results in adverts maximizing real estate, taking up a double-page spread of a newspaper, or use of massive billboards. But a video has a distinct advantage over text and image—it moves. And when something moves, our primal instincts kick in, and we look, giving away what every marketer wants "our attention."
Video and advertising are like peanut butter and jelly; in other words, they complement each other incredibly well.
Of course, video advertising isn't necessarily simple. Still, it brings with it many advantages, such as the ability to convey large amounts of information, evoke emotional responses, and make brands memorable. Studies have suggested that viewers of video advertising retain 95% of a message, while readers of the same information keep only 10%. After statistics like these initially emerged, the advertising industry picked up video and ran with it. Moreover, seeing as we're living in the golden age of internet video sharing the value and power of the video advert has exploded, making it one of the most effective advertising tools out there.
Whether you're trying to market insurance, entertainment, or are looking for charitable donations, video advertising is undoubtedly one of the most effective tools in your toolbox. Thus, in this article, we will run down everything you need to know about video advertising. Looking back at its relatively short history, understanding the different formats and styles of video advert, exploring what utility commercials provide their creators, and uncovering some of the best practices in creating commercials with (or without) a video production team. From 1940s static time-piece commercials to Super Bowl spuds, video advertising is as weird and whacky as it is effective, so let's dive in.
What is Video Advertising?
Before we dive into history, let's unpick what a video advert is. Now, at a glance, this question has a straightforward answer; it's a video (moving images) produced for a sponsor (i.e., business) to persuade and inform viewers of a product/service. That is video advertising in a nutshell without going too deep into what constitutes an advertisement—because it's an absolute rabbit hole given the number of varying ad styles and usage.
Many types of advertising exist within the world of video, which wouldn't correctly constitute video advertising; sponsored videos of events and product placement are two prime samples. Instead, video advertisements are produced solely to market a product, service, or thing even if the content of the advert doesn't mention it—like Cadburys' infamous Gorilla commercial from 2007.
Thus the form of video advertising we're looking at is what we'd refer to in common parlance as commercials or ad spots. They nestle themselves between television shows, before online videos and cinema screening, find themselves on electronic billboards, and, in many modern examples, constitute a bizarre medium of short-form entertainment within themselves.
Take, for example, the ludicrously expensive Superbowl tv spots that make up the commercial breaks of a Super Bowl. With 30-second ad slots costing up to $5.6 million (each!), the quality of the advertisement must match the cost of airtime. The commercials shown during the Superbowl have become part of the tradition. Often time drawing in as many eyeballs as the sport itself. Viewers know brands don't cut corners on Superbowl ads, which adds to the anticipation of which brand will produce the best tv commercial.
"Spectators have come to expect laughs, mini-narratives, and fierce competition that happens off the field, with brands going head to head to make the most memorable tv spot of the year."
Viewers enjoy advertisements like these and, unlike most forms of advertising, are often sought out for repeat viewings. The buzz these commercials produce is felt weeks before the Superbowl and reverberate for many weeks after. The spots are shared rampantly online due to their high production value and a narrative first mentality that draws importance over the product.
However, on the other end of the spectrum, we have more direct ads. The reviews, testimonials, demonstrations, and many more types (which we will get into later), which do not constitute entertainment to an audience as much as being a general nuisance which splits up our favorite shows.
As such, the realm of video advertising is a vast and complex landscape, varying hugely in content, style, and format, but all with the core intent of spreading a message that persuades viewers to take action.
The History of Video Advertising
Advertising at large has been a mainstay of human civilization. Evidence of ancient Egyptian marketplaces using papyrus, posters, and signs as commercial sales messages is one of the earliest traceable links. Still, one could make easy arguments for precursors long before even then, for example, rock art and cave paintings.
Video Advertising's Arrival
However, the video advert is thankfully much easier to trace back to a handful of 1941 commercials for Bulova pocket watches, played at a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. The advertisement cost, then, four dollars but was broadcasted to a maximum of 4,000 television sets across the US. Ironically, the image was somewhat static, but it remains one of the earliest video advertisements on record, which set us on the path towards the domination of the video ad.
The Bulova ad did, arguably, miss the point of advertising, and its effectiveness in terms of selling more goods is still relatively unknown. Many advertisements from video advertising's early days suffer a similar fate, relying on extremely traditional methods of description, functional imagery of the product, and brand logos to raise awareness. In many ways, these translated the format of an advertising poster/newspaper ad into a video format. But, of course, video is an entirely different beast. Viewing almost any of these ads today, they seem, well, dull and cold. Their approach of convincing consumers through logic and reason feels dated, even if more honest. The ads of today usually tap into more primitive urges, be it emotive or social. A trend that can be traced back to, among others, Marlboro and their shift to lifestyle advertising.
Lifestyle advertising's main difference is that it highlights the way the product will make you live (or feel). This, of course, is often a fallacy such as Coca Cola's taste the feeling lifestyle advertising, as there is nothing inherent in the feeling or physical consumption of drinking coke that will promise a good social life. Nevertheless, we pair coke with that imagery. Marlboro's switch to lifestyle ads way back in the mid 20th century came from a market issue—men wouldn't buy their cigarettes. Since the 1920s, Marlboro had traditionally marketed their cigarettes for women, and therefore consumers associated Marlboro as a brand for women. Thus they created the character of the Marlboro Man, a rugged, masculine figure, much like a cowboy, who smoked Marlboro. The advertising campaign worked and has become a landmark case study in the history of advertising as a whole. However, for us, it shows the power of the lifestyle video ads prevailing where traditional-media ads could not, pulling us closer to the modern era of advertising.
The Explosion of the Television Commercial
As advertising was evolving, the advertising budgets were skyrocketing. In 1951 annual TV ad spending had reached $128 million, and by 1955 it had already shot to $1 billion. This growth of TV advertising extended until 2017, which saw overall television ad expenditure fall for the first time in over 70 years.
Hopping back to the 50s, although video advertising was booming, surprisingly, the industry had an unscientific method and approach. There was little research on both the effectiveness and social ramifications of ads on viewers. For example, until 1972, it was almost unquestionable that a standard advert would be 60 seconds in length. That year, Leonard Lavin, founder of beauty product company Alberto Culver, insisted on splitting his ads into two shorter 30-second pieces for separate products—and has since been cited as one of the first examples of shorter-form advertisement after the 50s. And, as we can see by most contemporary ads, short-form advertising is the more popular format for most companies and applications. That said, we live in an age of remarkably variable advertising, ranging from the extremely brief to 12 minute short films.
"Television still plays a vital role in the delivery of video ads to potential customers, but its decline in popularity is to be expected given the proliferation of internet culture—undoubtedly a place where attention is at an all-time high."
Early Internet Advertising
In 1994 the internet was young and remained an advertising-free space. That is until a small, and pretty innocent looking banner appeared on HotWired magazine's (now Wired) site. The banner simply read, "have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE?" with an arrow pointing to the phrase "You Will." Of course, at this point, there were no ad servers or providers, so the ad was encoded on the site and could be considered more clickbait than advertising. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the banner was tremendous, allegedly receiving a click-through rate of 44% of all site visitors. As such, the online ad machine was born and came to dominate in a matter of years.
One of the main booms of online advertising was personalization. Different versions/styles of ads could be placed on particular sites to target specific audiences and expand their effectiveness. The first fully online ad agency, WebConnect, laid out a lot of the groundwork on this trend—working closely with clients to pinpoint which websites their ideal customers visited. Ads were then planted on these sites in the hope of reaching such target audiences. Alongside this form of placement, WebConnect also produced a sly tool to prevent ad fatigue, which would prevent viewers from viewing the same ads repeatedly within a short period. With the arrival of Google Adwords in 2000 and Facebook in 2004, advertisers also began to accumulate vast amounts of user data to target ads to their intended audiences further. The launch of YouTube in 2005, and it's consequential sale to Google in 2006, introduced video ads, and paved the way for video advertising. 2006 also marked an exciting new form of online advertising launch; content recommendation. These are now rampant, especially within entertainment sites, again utilizing WebConnect's foundational attitude of targeting ads to users by obtaining information regarding their online actions.
Interestingly, this early 2000s boom in online ads saw a strong pushback from consumers. The reason was twofold; most obviously, adverts simply distract from a user's intended online browsing, but many were also concerned about how their information was being farmed and manipulated for the delivery of targeted ads. The first online Adblocker, named Adblock, was developed and distributed widely as open-source software by its Danish developer Henrik Aasted Sorensen and initiated the on-going war between advertising platforms and adblockers.
"Today, video advertising takes a page from the history books to improve both its television and internet ventures."
Advertisements seem to have penetrated almost every platform, even having intra-company commercials such as Netflix promoting their shows as pre-roll ads on their platform. Moreover, the styles and types of video commercials are more substantial than ever before, bringing many of the historic types from infomercials and lifestyle commercials to newer forms of entertainment ads, far from the rigidly defined 60-second spots of the TV age. Super-short ads are showing an immense increase, growing prominence by 300% between 2017 and 2018 alone—something that we can see in Hollywood trailers that now, more often than not, have a five-second micro-trailer play before the main attraction. Let's move away from the history of video commercials, as much of this is still evolving, and categorize the massive range of video adverts that exist today.
Types of Video Advertising
There are two key ways to categorize video ads; through their format and the style of their content.
There is a vast array of formats that accommodate everything from the 5-seconds Youtube spot (bumper ad) to a 3-4 minute ad in a cinema. We can break these different types into four clear categories; (1) In-stream, (2) out-stream, (3) interactive, and (4) in-game video advertisements. Interactive and in-game video ads are self-explanatory; they require/incite user interaction while interrupting the flow of a video game, respectively. So we'll focus on in- and out-stream. In-stream video ads play before, during, or after other content, while out-stream ads are explicitly designed for mobile and tablet, so users can tap to play your video ad or quickly scroll past when reading the latest news or shopping for products. We are familiar with in-stream commercials between our TV shows, YouTube videos, or before a film at a cinema. But out-stream ads are a bit more obscure, as they are not be directly preceded or proceeded by any other content.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) lists three types of video ad formats—Linear video, non-linear video and companion ads—which correspond to the in-stream form.
A linear ad is the most common, playing before (pre-roll), during (mid-roll), or after (post-roll) other content, interrupting the runtime of that content. For example, when a YouTube video is interrupted, and an advert plays, that's a prime example of a mid-roll linear ad.
Conversely, non-linear ads appear concurrently, playing at the same time as the other content you are attempting to watch. But, they remain superimposed on the content you are consuming.
Companion ads are almost identical to the non-linear type, but they exist outside/around the content you are looking for. Here they take the form of pop-ups, sidebars, or similar elements in the periphery.
Out-stream ads are presented without any surrounding content. We see these on digital billboards and advertising compilations, turning the video itself into the only content consumed in that instance. These can result in incidental viewings, such as seeing a billboard.
With all this terminology behind us, it's most important to simply remember that video ads come in many different formats, which can, often, lead to extremely varied content. For example, a pre-roll advert for a YouTube video will significantly vary from a pre-roll ad for a cinema, as it must grab our attention enough to hold off from pressing that skip button.
Style of Content
The variety of video advertisement styles is unprecedented as we roll into the new decade; as such, it's almost impossible to categorize them all. But let's give it a shot.
In general, the new spot advertisement, derived from the TV spot, is the most standard ad. It's generally a 15- or 30-second commercial, and it can contain any of the content types below, which we will split into two broader categories of product-focused or non-product focused style advertisements.
Beginning with product-focused, we have four principal types:
These do what their name would suggest; explain something. They can range from explaining how the product works, its strengths, or how it solves a specific problem. New tech commercials often use this style advert, when concepts such as the cloud were first introduced the explainer video helped pin down exactly why this new service would be helpful to its customers.
Testimonial / Product Review
This golden oldy form of advertising generally sees individuals vouch for a product or business. Testimonials can include talking-head interviews as these conform well with the explainer form. Two modern examples that always come to mind for the testimonial format are the recent Squarespace and Grammarly adverts.
These both employ individuals to describe how the product has helped them, and often, in doing so, see the reviewer explain how the service works. A survey by Vendasta saw 68% of participants say such positive reviews make them trust a business more.
A second form quite similar to the testimonial is the brand/service comparison video.
Demonstration / Proof of Performance
Proving the effectiveness of your product/service is, by far, one of the best ways to convince potential customers. These ads either display video evidence, as with the Go-pro or iPhone camera ads, or quote eye-popping statistics.
Behind the Scenes
These ads highlight the process of manufacturing the product, showcasing the story of an individual team member confronting the trials and tribulations of going to market. Such a style introduces narrative arc and is especially suited for artisans of all sorts, as it displays the love and care behind the creation of the products. A BTS ad spot provides spectators a natural inside look at the passion behind the brand.
Non-product related ads interact with the product indirectly, often selling a lifestyle or feeling in place of information on why the product itself is worthy of note. This form includes:
Much like the Marlboro adverts we discussed earlier, these commercials attempt to sell the feeling or lifestyle associated with the brand. Alcohols is an excellent example of an apparel brand that sells using the lifestyle approach, and even Coca Cola strives to sell you an identity or convey emotions through their product. GoPro is, again, a great example of lifestyle advertisements, the whole brand revolves around adventure.
Brand Image / Company Culture
These, somewhat like the lifestyle ad, display the core values of the company, and the associated feelings that it'll bring you as a consumer. Company culture can be achieved directly, by introducing yourself, your team or place of work, and displaying the core values of the firm. Or it can be indirect, showing the mood the company emanates more abstractly.
Seeing as we're on the topic of the company itself, the employee portrait is very similar to the product-focused "behind the scenes" ad. However, this time we focus purely on the individual and, much like the brand image video, the goal is to display the core beliefs of the company using the voice of one particular employee. This method is especially beneficial for small businesses rooted in the community, as the protagonist of the video will be a relatable figure.
Topical / Contemporary Issue Ads
These ads tackle trending issues and global concerns, often associating the brand with a positive change beneficial for all. A great example of this is the UK's banned Iceland Christmas advert this year, which contained an extremely potent message against rainforest destruction and the use of palm oil.
Social Message Ad
The social messaging ad is closely related to the contemporary commercials. While remarkably similar, it mainly focuses on social issues. Starbucks' latest What's your name ad campaign displays this, interacting with the struggle for acceptance of transgender identities.
These can include elements from the above three categories, but can also be entirely different. The outdoor brand YETI has pushed the boundaries with this form recently, creating numerous outdoor documentaries of expeditions to exhibit and promote their products. These videos often spill over the 15-minute mark and thus begin to blur the line between entertainment and advertising.
Branded Short Film
Similar to the mini-doc, branded short films blur the line between entertainment and commercials, but this time through fiction. Back in 2001/02, BMW made waves with their The Hire film series, which contained eight shorts by big-name directors. Since then, the form has been dabbled in, obviously requiring a significant investment of both time and money, but has also found a place in concise types of advertising as narrative adverts are rife, many of those discussed above are narrative.
Viral / Unrelated Ad
This genre is self-explanatory, and has a bunch of the weird and whacky commercials that don't quite make any sense, are often quite funny, and get stuck in our brains for their unique twists and turns. These range from Cadburys' ingenious gorilla playing the drums and Cards or Humanity's 2017 Super Bowl "Potato" advert (which, yes, is literally just a potato with the word advertisement written on the side, sitting still for 30 seconds). Comedic is one of the most common styles of commercial, due to its effectiveness at creating memorable moments, even if it's completely removed from the understandingly persuasive modes of lifestyle or informational advertising. A personal favorite is David Lynch's incomprehensible The Third Place advert for the PlayStation 2.
Despite these many discrete categories, most advertisements fall between two, or many more, of them. Short films that merge into product demonstrations, or viral explainers are rife. As such, if you're deciding on an advertising style, feel free to mix and match, an excellent place to start is watching a bunch of your favorite commercials to see how they incorporate these different tones together to make something uniquely fresh.
Producing Video Ads: Benefits for Videographers
If you're a video artist, filmmaker, or videographer looking to get involved in the commercials business, it's an exciting area. In the interview, Jen McGowan, an experienced commercial and feature film director, explained a few of the biggest draws of creating commercials.
"A shit ton of money"
The budget of the average commercial for a mid-sized company is vast, McGowan says that in her experience the budget for shooting alone (not including post or talent) is usually around $300,000. Thus you gain experience with large crews, cutting edge equipment, expensive locations, and, ultimately, the best of the best.
Along with expensive gear and locations, comes some of the most experienced and sought after crew members in the business. As such, it's a great place to make secure connections and build a network for future projects.
As commercials are usually very short and have decent budgets, you get to spend vast amounts of time perfecting every aspect of a single shot. This, again, is a great experience that can easily be applied to smaller sets.
Get your name out there
Commercials are seen by millions and have far-reaching tendrils. As such, if you land a hit, you're bound to have tons of eyes on you and companies looking for a similar promotional boost for their project.
With all this said, which mostly applies to the film industry, there is also considerable space historically for video producers who dabbled with making commercials. Individuals such as Norman McLaren and Alejandro González Iñárritu employed their unique talents to create ads for big companies. Video advertisement is an excellent place for creatives to get a start at working with large scale projects.
How to Produce Amazing Video Advertising
Producing a video advert is similar to creating other video content; however, due to the short window to get across a large amount of information, the process of shooting and editing will rely far more on pre-production. What follows is a brief breakdown of how to approach creating a video advert.
1. Create an Initial Brief
It's essential to understand the concept and objectives of your project. A great way to start is to get this down on paper and communicate the plan to others. The goal is to create a blueprint for your video. You can present this to companies and crew alike to quickly and effectively communicate the video's concept through text and images.
The brief should contain:
An overview of the brand/product/service, plus the video's target audience and the measurable objectives (to increase sales, gather more donations, increase site registration, raise awareness, etc.) A rough timeline of production. Your budget. Video concept (including the video's format, style, mood, theme, and further specifics).
2. Refine Your Concept
Tons of points rush to mind here, and many will depend on the project's concept, but a few of the most important are:
Optimize your video for the intended mode of distribution. For a YouTube ad, make the first few seconds of the ad count, as you need to hook the audience's attention, but for a cinema ad, perhaps go for a more cinematic approach.
Define what you want your brand identity to be, and make sure the concept aligns with that.
How long will your ad be? This largely depends on the intended platform.
Give the viewers a call to action, so they know how to interact with your product.
3. Script it
Make sure to have the ad in black and white, which can be refined by you and your team throughout the production.
Remember to include a hook at the start, to get your audience involved.
Include some kind of progression (narrative) throughout the ad.