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Ad A.D.D.: Why the Days of Digital Ads As We Know Them Are Numbered

Brands, prepare yourselves: Banner ads & pre-roll as we know them could be a thing of the past as digital marketing evolves to adjust to young consumers’ attention spans, desire for control, and preference for moving images. 

These days, when a brand announces their decision to target Millennials or teens, upping digital ad spending is usually a big part of their plan. But when we ask young consumers which type of advertising they usually ignore or avoid, 62% say online ads, like banner and video ads, and 68% say mobile in-app ads. In other words, online marketing—you’re doing it wrong. It’s not enough to be where they are. You have to be where they are, and match your message to their behavior. As more brands and platforms clue in to that fact, we’re seeing an evolution of digital marketing and pre-rolls, banner ads, and more are progressing to appeal to young consumers’ mindsets. Take note: if you aren’t doing these things yet, you should start, or risk having all that digital ad spending be wasted.

Considering young consumers’ legendarily short attention spans and predilection to A.D.D., it’s not surprising that the first spaces embracing evolved digital ads are those that target teens and young adults. Marketing Magazine recently wrote that brands should learn from the “YouTube Generation” and must shift their online marketing tactics to match up with young consumers’ tastes, saying, “Continued reliance on pre-roll advertising and the slick commercialized 30-second spot fails to tap into the authenticity and immediacy the medium demands. To truly capitalize on this trend, brands should invest in creating their own content or partnering vloggers.” But it’s not just the tone of pre-roll that needs to evolve, it’s the content and concept. Young consumers have ad A.D.D.—to capture their attention brands will have to resort to new tactics.

Geico’s new “Unskippable” pre-roll campaign is a nod to how young viewers generally approach ads on online video. As Adweek notes, viewership rates on pre-roll ads are not generally high, in part because “very few marketers specifically tailor ads to pre-roll—they prefer simply to run their TV spots unchanged.” Clearly brands should be creating content that fits in with the viewing behavior, and Geico has done just that in a (so far successful) bid to get their attention with ads acknowledging that they skip over online commercials as soon as they are able. The spots reward those that stick around, with a voiceover saying right away, “You can’t skip this Geico ad, because it’s already over.” The characters in the commercials then freeze, but for those who stick around to watch, the action on screen continues around them. For example, in one a family around a dinner table freezes almost immediately, and their giant dog jumps onto the table to take advantage, ravaging their spaghetti dinner. BuzzFeed’s review of the campaign sums up the reaction of viewers, “The absurdity of it all matched with the reckless dog and the family fighting to stay still makes for one hell of a commercial that you actually WANT to watch.” Young viewers are given a reason to watch far beyond the time their finger usually hits the “skip” button.

Outside of creative approaches, the length of pre-roll might just need to be chopped—considerably. In those Geico spots, all the actual ad content lives within the first five seconds, and everything after is merely entertainment taking place around a brand name. Digiday’s recent list of tips for creating effective Facebook ads advises to okay by the three second rule: “On the Facebook feed, each video ad starts autoplaying and stops as soon as people scroll past it. This means that the brand must catch a person’s attention almost immediately — in the first three seconds.” In both cases, getting the main message out right away, rather than waiting for the ad payoff, is essential. They probably won’t be watching more than a few seconds, so make the most of them. At the same time, they are now used to stories being told in just a few seconds time (thanks Vine!) so brands need to learn to fit the message within their attention span limits. New video platform and YouTube competitor Vessel has shortened the pre-roll length to be quicker than anywhere else, mostly five seconds, because they “don’t want it to be a tax, that doesn’t help the marketer or the consumer.” This approach could be majorly appealing to young consumers who tune out or skip over any commercial that they can.

Static banner ads are also on the chopping block. In 2013 when we wrote about the rise of the GIF in online communication, we talked about the potential impact of the medium, saying, “For young consumers this could be a rising expectation. Flat images could become boring, networks like Instagram might have to add moving image features, and advertisements that don’t hypnotize with subtle motion may be ignored.” Vessel is one of the online platforms making this prediction come true. The site/app has no banners, and no skyscrapers, because as founder Jason Kilar says, they “don’t want advertising to be unloved anymore.” Instead, while scrolling through the platform, brand “motion posters” are scattered throughout feeds. Potato chips fall hypnotically into a Lay’s bag, or a Jaguar rotates enticingly—nothing is static, and everything invites users to pause and watch, if only for a second. These motion posters resemble cinemagraphs, and Vessel has worked directly with brands to make sure they are attractive, and that users might want to stop and interact with them—though they don’t have to. Any add can be scrolled past at will, no mandatory interaction or viewing time included. The method, according to Vessel’s testing, leads to high recall and high favorability. 

With these platforms and brands at work, it won’t be long before young consumers view any ad that isn’t lightning quick and/or moving (literally and emotionally) as antiquated and not worth their attention. From our research they are already working to ignore digital marketing efforts as they exist. Adjust to their ad A.D.D. or risk being left behind.