Video Advertising: Everything You Need To Know

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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

1950s advertising. the history of video marketing.

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

the first commercial. first video marketing campaign.

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.

advertising golden age. Marlboro advertising designs.

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

first ever internet marketing banner. digital marketing. internet marketing and 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

optimizing video advertising. winning with video marketing.

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 d