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Why Your Commercials Should Be More Like Emails

By Ellen Eastaugh, Senior Experience Strategist

I’m not sure what was worse, seeing the same ad multiple times whilst binge-watching during lockdown or not seeing my friends for an entire year. This complaint is not unique: According to Deloitte, people tend to find streaming video commercials (Hulu, Paramount+, Peacock, etc.) more annoying than memorable, and 40% would pay $12 per month to avoid such ads.

This means viewers are tuning out during ad breaks, checking their phone, muting the TV, and ultimately wasting your precious marketing dollars. In order to make an effective impression, advertisers need to break through the well-fortified attention wall, which screens out most of the 4,000 to 10,000 ads we see per day, and earn their spot.

With attention spans shrinking, marketing channels fragmenting, competition increasing, ad-free streaming growing, and advertising itself getting more and more expensive, this won’t be an easy task.

Check Your Inbox

Though marketers can now reach more consumers via streaming TV or video-on-demand than linear TV— and see a higher return on ad spend (four to 10 times that of linear TV) — consumers have more options and control over their viewing. If they don’t like your ads, they can take their party elsewhere. While creativity has always been the most important element for effective advertising, media and context are growing in importance. To engage viewers, advertisers must consider the consumer experience of the advertising itself.

This is something CRM (customer relationship management) marketers are well-versed in. When we design campaigns, we think about the story within each individual email or piece of creative, as well as the story across all the communications a customer receives. While commercials’ plot structures are often strategically tailored to the channel (e.g., front-loading pre-roll), the narrative across commercials is usually nonexistent.

Given that streaming platforms know that consumers have seen the last commercial multiple times, OTT (over-the-top) digital video advertising could incorporate some of that information into the next commercial, increasing the consumer's entertainment and making a more impactful brand impression. That same information can also be used to personalize the viewing experience, serving up a series of ads based on behavioral parameters and guiding customers towards valuable lower-funnel behaviors. Using data like this to dynamically adjust in-email content and tailor the user journey is an essential CRM strategy, and one that I’d be happy to share.

Increasing Engagement With Streaming Ads

Building brand affinity through TV ads relies on a similar philosophy used in CRM marketing. It’s not about instantaneous results, but rather about nurturing a relationship across multiple interactions in the long term. To keep up with the shifts in the TV landscape, those looking to advertise in OTT or streaming context should keep the following in mind:

1. Think about the customer on the other end.

Brands use a great deal of data and insights to craft commercials that resonate with target audiences. But they often take for granted a key piece of the equation: that moment when a person is watching that ad (for the 87th time). The same level of thought and creativity should carry through from development to delivery. Just as email marketers track inbox placement, opens, click-through rates, and so on, consider whether your message will be missed, muted, or groaned at during delivery — defeating all the work that went into its creation.

2. Plan for long-term narratives.

TV advertisers need to break out of the :60/:30/:15 box and start thinking about creating campaign narratives over a longer period. How can you build and tell a story over a series of multiple campaign iterations? Can you shape a narrative that brings individual customers through the funnel from awareness to purchase? This could look like 10-second “episodes” aired over several months or a seamless transition from passive to interactive formats in digital video.

During the 2018 Super Bowl, Tide spoofed a different advertising trope in each quarter to build up its running #ItsATideAd joke. While none of their ads made it to the top of the “best of” lists, Tide washed away the competition when Ipsos tracked audience biometrics. The campaign in its entirety, and the continuity between the spots, increased viewer enjoyment and brand memorability.

3. Build flexibility into your plans.

Media departments often develop strategies separate from creative — problematic, to say the least. Media placement, frequency, and timing all factor into how consumers react to TV ads. For example, is there an opportunity to trigger a commercial through CTV based on certain behaviors? Could you target an ad based on prior exposure to the brand? What can technology do for a campaign to avoid wear-out on an individual level as opposed to in aggregate? Consider the timing just as much as the content of your advertising, as 40% of consumers may want more personalized ads, but a greater number (57%) want to see them with less frequency.

4. Demand better from media outlets.

Brands and advertising agencies can pressure media outlets to prioritize a better customer experience, starting with transparency around impressions, more flexibility and control over ad placements, and even the option for dynamic variation. This is well underway, especially as advertising dollars shift from traditional TV to digital video, but there is still a ways to go.

With the available technology, there is no reason advertising on streaming TV can’t offer the same tailored experience that 43% of consumers expect when browsing online. To create effective impressions that build lasting relationships, advertisers should enlist some of the principles from CRM marketing, such as customer-centricity, journey mapping, and dynamic personalization. Because ultimately, good advertising is good for everyone.