Millward Brown Study Reveals What Viewers Like (And Hate) In Digital Video Ads

Digital VideoAs digital video sellers angle for TV dollars, here’s something everyone should remember: People hate ads on their smartphone or laptop a lot more than they do on TV.

People have 50% negativity toward smartphone video ads, according to Millward Brown’s latest AdReaction: Video Creative In A Digital World study, with computers and tablets trailing at 46% and 45% negativity, respectively. The study surveyed 1,000 people ages 16 to 45 in the US as part of a larger study that spanned 42 countries and 13,500 respondents. WPP Group owns Millward Brown, which is part of its Kantar division.

In contrast, live TV has just 30% negativity and 27% positivity. Positivity for digital formats hovers below the 20% range.

Despite these differences, the negativity ratings are actually an improvement over past studies, according to Joline McGoldrick, VP of research for Millward Brown Digital.

“There’s this inflection point now,” she said. “Digital ads really struggled to get near 20% favorability. We are starting to see that change when you look at the effects of ad skipping and rewards.”

When Millward Brown started breaking out video ad formats, they noted a bifurcation between the types of digital video ads that users loved and hated to watch.

Mobile app rewards, where users watch videos to advance to a new level or get tools, scored 54% in favorability and just 18% in negative reactions, making it the most preferred digital advertising format. Skippable pre-rolls (44% positive) and skippable mobile pop-ups (41%) were next on the list.

At the bottom of the list were ads that gave the user none of the control they expect to have in an on-demand digital environment. Unskippable mobile app pop-ups scored lowest, with 64% unfavorability, followed by unskippable pre-roll (63%), social autoplay (55%) and in-banner autoplay (53%).

In order to resonate with consumers, brands need to embrace the formats that consumers like most, McGoldrick advised. “The challenge here for advertisers is how to choose the places where audiences don’t see it as an interruption.”

And because that means using skippable formats, they also need to make their message clear and compelling enough in the first few seconds, before it can be skipped, to capture user attention.

“What has been the turning point for brands is seeing data, like the digital video drop-off rates [with about 70% of viewers leaving at 10 seconds],” McGoldrick said. Instead of holding users captive with unskippable formats, advertisers need to do a better job engaging users in digital formats.

Many brands believe carrying the “right message” helps, but the study also spelled out another big no for brands: retargeting.

Ads using targeting based on online shopping history, search history, browser history or a social media profile had over 40% negativity in consumer reaction.

But targeting a user’s passions, hobbies and pastimes scored 43% positivity and just 21% negativity. Targeting based on favorite brands or the surrounding context of a show or website also scored high in favorability.

“These can be more challenging types of targeting to implement, but the potential payoff is so much bigger,” McGoldrick said. That type of targeting works because it connects with audiences’ “aspirational self” vs. the reality of what they’ve actually viewed recently.

The study advises those running digital video to embrace the formats that users like most. Then, advertisers must connect with consumers not by showing them an item they just browsed but connecting with their broader interests. It’s a tough challenge, but one that McGoldrick sees brands, agencies, platforms and publishers rising to.

“The format or channel has matured enough that there’s lots of different ways forward in building audience receptivity,” McGoldrick said. “There’s more exposure to the reality of digital video consumption: that it has to be thought out in the way TV advertising needs to be thought out.”

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