Imagine having to watch a two-hour movie with 30-second commercials popping up every 15 minutes. How would you feel? Pretty annoyed, if you ask me. But this is basically how people experience today’s ad-supported content. It’s no surprise that there are at least 200 million monthly active users of ad blockers worldwide and still growing.
According to Noah Fenn, head of video sales and strategy at AOL, this is largely due to a “collective amnesia” among ad execs. When they walk through the doors to their offices in the morning, something strange happens to these ad execs: somehow, they forget that they are also part of the population that brands are trying to reach with their ads. And with this perspective erased from their minds, people become merely “users” who “consume” content.
Is There A Cure To This Collective Amnesia?
Fenn feels this collective amnesia can be cured if ad execs simply remind themselves that they, like the rest of us, are also viewers – viewers who just want to watch or read their content when and where they want, without the unwanted interruptions. And Fenn believes this points to a major problem in our industry: the need to balance the current top-down thinking with a more bottom-up, consumer-centric and empathetic marketing approach.
But finding this balance isn’t easy. Our industry, in Fenn’s words, is a “complex mesh of technology platforms, data solutions, acronyms, and buzzwords.” There are multiple definitions for the same term. If you don’t believe it, try asking five coworkers to define the word “viewable.” You’re likely going to get a variation of, if not completely different, interpretations.
This complexity is often what leads to the need for top-down thinking, lingo and generalities, for the sake of consistency and efficiency. But Fenn wants us to remember that on the other side of the screen there is a person, a real human being. Adopting this mindset can be challenging, and that is where empathy comes in.
Empathy Is The Antidote
The easiest thing you can empathize with is time. Everyone’s time is precious and limited. And data can prove that a 30-second pre-roll ad before a 1-minute video is just not a fair tradeoff at all. But you probably don’t need data to tell you that.
For Fenn, while the top-down approach can help us see what is working and how well something is performing, it also holds us back from innovating because we may stick to what has worked in the past. But just because something is working, do we really know if it is what consumers want, when they haven’t been given any other choices at all? If you were given the option to skip a pre-roll before viewing a video or piece of content, would you still have watched that ad? Probably not.
That’s why we need to stop thinking in 30-second increments. Digital is not the same as television. We’re not stuck with a 15 or 30-second ad timeslot. Now more than ever, we have the ability and freedom to push our creative boundaries, give people more choices and drive engagement by leveraging different devices and platforms to share tailored content. But this isn’t easy. As Fenn points out, the industry still largely thinks in terms of creative development and media buying when allocating marketing budgets.
The “30-second mania” is even more problematic for mobile advertising, according to Fenn. He can’t understand why our industry would still repurpose TV creative assets for mobile, when clearly mobile is different than television. Over the years Fenn has seen numerous clients spending $50,000 on a 30-second TV ad, but then hesitating to pay an additional $30,000 when suggested to cut a mobile-friendly, 15-seocond version – ironically for a $5 million mobile campaign.
Fenn says that years of research have shown that, for less than 1% of a $5 million budget, marketers can develop creatives that have a much greater impact on their brand objectives. Yet, this investment is often considered too expensive, and the campaign ends up running with a creative asset that doesn’t fit at all.
Marketers, Are You Listening?
The solution to the consumer attention and engagement problems marketers are facing is right in front of us. The people we are trying to reach are telling us they want something different from us. And to reach them, we just need to listen to them and respond accordingly with more relevant, valuable content and experiences – quality content and experiences that people actually want and need.
Adopting a more consumer-centric, empathetic mindset is the secret sauce to connecting, engaging and converting today’s consumers. So, will you be adding empathy to your marketer’s toolbox? If it’s already in your toolbox, what impact does implementing a more empathetic approach have on your marketing success? Please share your thoughts below!
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