Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

Most Marketers Want to Hold Consumers Hostage

This post originally appeared in our January issue of “Live Report from the Future of Marketing,” our monthly Post-Advertising newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

According to the results of a recent Break Media study on digital video advertising trends, a frightening percentage of marketers still consider the pre-roll ideal placement because the audience is “held hostage to watch.” In spite of plentiful research indicating that new formats and techniques are more effective,  marketers still want interruptive advertising. Have they learned nothing?

After the mainstream embrace of the world wide web in the mid 90′s, advertising was quick to ride the wave into the digital age. But the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. The interruptive model traditionally defined by billboards, television spots, and print ads was replaced with more of the same in the digital realm — irrelevant and intrusive banner ads, email spam, and captive online video advertising.

The recent Digital Video Advertising Trends 2011 study from Break Media is further proof that confirms all our worst fears. According to the research, around 40% of advertisers [who] favor pre-roll [over any other video ad format do so] because they believe the audience is “held hostage to watch” and thus the format “garners the most attention from the viewer.”

We’ve preached that there are better ways to market — strategies that prioritize engagement, relevancy, value, and storytelling — in which audiences opt-in to expose themselves to branded (as well as non-branded) content. It’s a fantastic ideal, and we’ll never stop striving towards this model, but to imagine that the entire advertising world will see the light and adopt this approach is, well, unrealistic, and it’s important to recognize that.

As long as there is an easy way to kidnap eyeballs, a large faction of lazy marketers will resort to the lowest common denominator, even if this approach does, according to Break Media, run contrary to “research indicating consumers are weary of [pre-roll] and newer formats hav[ing] greater impact on purchase intent.” It’s simply too easy for brands to purchase attention instead of truly earning it. Why try when you can just buy?

Story Worldwide CEO and fellow Post-Advertising blogger Kirk Cheyfitz addresses this in the Story of Story:

The big agencies are even trying to put TV ads on the web. I was trapped recently by a Prilosec 30-second TV spot running on Yahoo! It was placed there as an unavoidable penance that had to be endured before the site would let me see a news video. Folks: Just in case anyone was wondering, this is not an endearing or effective move. It gave me heartburn, for which I now have nowhere to turn. Thanks a lot, Prilosec.

I could understand a Prilosec ad being served to me if I was searching for “acid indigestion” or anything that made it likely that I need Prilosec. But to play it to me because I clicked on a news item about Iraq is just silly. (Unless, of course, one of AstraZeneca’s agencies has undisclosed research that news from Iraq exacerbates esophogeal reflux disease.)

I suppose we could look at it two ways. On the one hand, it’s sad to see marketers still clinging to traditional, self-serving methods like barnacles to the bottom of the Titanic. On the other hand, we could be happy knowing that all those advertisers are going down with the ship, leaving the post-advertisers to set sail.

  • Anonymous

    There’s still a lot of TV thinking out there—a misplaced belief there is such an animal as a “captive audience.” Still, the research about all this love of pre-roll seems suspect and not at all in line with anything that savvy marketers are saying lately.

    I recently attended an Advertising Club of New York event that featured five smart high-level marketers for very big brands ( the list is here: ) debating—you guessed it—the future of advertising. I was startled by how clear the consensus was: Engaging an audience online with valuable content, everyone seemed to agree, is the way forward.

    The smartest stuff came from Kimberly Kadlec, Worldwide VP of Johnson & Johnson’s Global Marketing Group, who said, among other things, “Content is the biggest opportunity in front of us and probably the most complex.” The challenge, she went on, is to understand and leverage paid, owned and earned media, while also understanding that the quality of your content is far more critical than the channel you use to convey it. “Content–it isn’t going to be about where it is, but what it is,” Kadlec said.

    Finally, she added, the marketing conversation can no longer begin with questions about how much to spend on TV. Rather, it needs to start with conversations about “time spent”—the new industry-speak for measurements of where and how your audience is spending their media time. Increasingly, Kadlec said, as more and more time gets spent on social networks, the challenge is, “How do we integrate ourselves into these incredible forms like Facebook and add to the experience, not detract. If we’re talking about 30-second spots (online), we’re having the wrong conversation.”

    I have never heard a louder, more pointed and more accurate denunciation of “pre-roll” and all that it implies. The truth, of course, is that no audience is captive any longer. Everyone can click away, walk away, block you and forget you if you’re not of value to them. My prediction, based on what I’m hearing, is that pre-roll ads online are a passing bit of extremely bad behavior that will quickly fade away.

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  • Jon Thomas

    “My prediction, based on what I’m hearing, is that pre-roll ads online are a passing bit of extremely bad behavior that will quickly fade away.”

    I certainly hope so.

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