How Brands Can Create Awareness in Streaming Video and DVR Programming

Let the Viewer Control the Ad Experience (and Make the Most of the Pause Screen)

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Product placement has been around forever, but it's only becoming more important as streaming shows like 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' take off -- and technology is offering new twists.
Product placement has been around forever, but it's only becoming more important as streaming shows like 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' take off -- and technology is offering new twists.
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Brand advertising in TV is at a crossroads, right at the moment when traffic lights are changing. For TV networks, the investment in broadcast from brands is still strong. But brands are increasingly finding their audience elsewhere. Eyeballs are moving over to streaming services, which have been cropping up in droves as of late from the likes of NBC (TV Everywhere), CBS (All Access) and most recently HBO (HBO Now), across an assortment of devices. This change is generational, rapid and growing.

As viewers' video content consumption habits shift and splinter across on-demand TV and DVRs, brands are increasingly questioning how to effectively create awareness within these emerging content formats. While traditional TV advertising isn't going anywhere, companies will still need to refresh their brand marketing strategies to not only navigate this rapidly emerging new video content exchange, but to truly benefit from it.

To talk meaningfully about how brands can benefit, we need to consider what makes these newer forms of video consumption so appealing to viewers, and we need to offer solutions within the strengths of these newer formats. Broadly speaking, audiences are gravitating toward online video and DVR because these formats give them control, and because they allow the viewer to focus purely on the content.

If the viewer wants to control the way he or she watches video content, he or she should also be able to control their ad experiences. And if the viewer wants to focus on the content, brands need to be thoughtful about finding new ways to be integrated into the content.

Pre-, mid- and post-roll ad placements became the norm in digital video in large part because they parallel the way ads are placed in TV programming. The problem is that their results in digital are mediocre at best. Part of the reason for this is because we ask the viewer to be passive, when the format affords the audience active control. This doesn't mean the viewer takes in video without breaks. The viewer should be in control -- to take the ad break when he or she chooses.

Say the viewer sees, in the context of the program, something he or she wants to know more about. It could be a product, or a brand's name or logo, or a particular actor (who could have connections to media properties far beyond the program in play), or an opportunity for social engagement. The viewer should have the option to pause the video and then be offered additional information and links on the pause screen itself.

The opportunities and variations on the pause screen are seemingly endless, bound only by the imagination of the video provider and advertisers, and triggered and controlled entirely by the viewer. Engagement comes whenever the viewer wants, and it comes when the viewer specifically expresses interest, which translates to increased potential for conversion.

Familiar tactic made new
One branding opportunity presented by the pause-screen concept -- and also an existing model in itself that can be expanded upon -- is product placement within video content. With the pause-screen model, when viewers pause on a scene in which there is a placed product, they could click to get more information about the product or link to find out more about the brand.

A great example of the product placement model in digital is Netflix's popular "House of Cards," where brands have associated themselves with the program through product placement. The strateggy is only becoming more important as Netflix grows -- and continues to refuse traditional ads.

Each "House of Cards" season has included over 100 products on screen. Aside from simple visible placements, it would be easy to imagine brands making their way into the scripts of other programs, being mentioned or alluded to in dialogue as well. These sorts of subtle references to the brand can be measured, and they offer ways for brands to remain in the programming even in an environment of endemic ad-skipping. The tactic isn't new, but the media environment is.

The fragmentation of viewership and changing content landscape is a wake-up call for brands to think differently than they always have about TV. But we can create meaningful solutions by taking cues from what makes newer video formats appealing to viewers. In this new paradigm, brands enjoy deeper and richer engagement by relinquishing control over which messages people see and when.