There’s an iconic scene from the eighties comedy A Christmas Story that perfectly encapsulates much of what is wrong with marketing today. Ralphie, the story’s young protagonist, has saved up and mailed in to receive an Ovaltine decoder ring that will allow him to decipher secret messages shared over the airwaves during his favorite radio show. From a marketing perspective, it’s a pretty creative effort: Give your audience something physical to pursue and possess, make the barrier to entry just a regular behavior they do anyway (in this case, “drinking more Ovaltine”), and layer on a measure of mystery. But when Ralphie finally receives his ring and sits down to his first secret message, he’s greeted with the 1940’s equivalent of a CTA: “Drink more Ovaltine.”
In a day and age where technology has given marketers nearly boundless ability to create content that can appeal on every personal level, why do our digital ads still pull the Ovaltine wool over audiences eyes? Why does brand storytelling too often end at the call to action?
Traditional digital ads are beginning to go the way of the dinosaur. Between viewers becoming ever more used to ignoring display formats and the ever-growing prevalence of ad blockers, marketers have had to seek out ways of more effectively turning impressions into engagement. As such, interest in mobile marketing has become a focus in recent years—partially due to the increasing population of people who are accessing the Internet through mobile, and partially due to comparatively fewer options for ad blocking. But even in this space, should marketers still be relying on the same tools and methods they’ve become accustomed to on desktop?
An often overlooked and particularly powerful tool in the marketer’s arsenal that takes on additional depth on mobile are rich media ads. This format, while similar to other display placements, allows for expanded functionality for user interaction, third-party platform integration, and a wider set of media types supported. As a formula, rich media ads appear to be working, with mobile rich video boasting a staggering 93.69 percent completion rate, the highest out of all offered media types. Many marketers see this as a more powerful way to interrupt users with their ads—and likewise, a more powerful way to reduce the number of steps between content and conversion.
But with such a high rate of completion, why aren’t more marketers seeking to engage and educate through brand story? Is a conversion really the best your media can be doing for your brand?
Video’s popularity as both marketing collateral and social media currency continues to grow as audiences are demanding more engaging and high-quality content. As such, it is not uncommon for rich media ads to take advantage of auto-playing videos, GIFs, and other creative means to engage audiences with brand story. But there’s a difficult contention that arises from this. Interrupting your audience isn’t the ideal way to hold attention, but rich media ads are presumably playing in front of or around the edges of other content that your audience cares about. So how can a brand take advantage of rich media and video marketing to capture audiences without the risk of seeming like a distraction?
There are two approaches for marketers to consider. The first method is through careful content consideration. Interrupt advertising would suggest that the punchier, more distracting your ad can be, the more likely it will be to capture your audience. However, consider that if an ad’s primary goal is to distract, then it almost certainly isn’t offering anything more valuable than the content that a reader is already engaging with. Why should a reader leave what they’re doing to follow your ad’s promise?
Rather, a stronger approach that can both net better conversion and also maintain user trust is to offer content that extends a viewer’s experience, rather than distracts from it. For instance, a brand that’s audience is interested in the latest film news, trailers, and awards might run video ads about the behind-the-scenes process of filmmaking. Suddenly, rather than your video distracting from, say, an article about the latest Oscar winners, it serves to build off of the viewer’s interests and engage them in something that’s actually worthwhile to them.
The second approach can likewise be powerful, but often more complex to carry out, and that’s to take advantage of the technical opportunities afforded by rich media formats. With a good developer and some careful creativity, it is very possible for brands to tell their story through the platform of the ad itself. For instance, a video game was released recently called “SUPERHOT” with a unique premise: time in-game only moves when the player moves. So, to emphasize this unique element of its product through video, the SUPERHOT team employed rich media that would only play through the video while a viewer was scrolling on a page. In this, the brand was able to use its promotional medium as an extension of what made it unique. And in terms of not distracting from content, the video could only be experienced by making it all the way through the content that the reader was already engaging with.
Essentially, the beauty of rich media ads are that they grant marketers improved ability to actually present content that is meaningful beyond the distraction is provides. Marketers should not be wrestling to drag readers out of each other’s content but should rather be working to utilize existing content as a way of understanding audience needs and then building upon each other to create holistic, meaningful brand experiences. Wherever that sweet spot can be achieved, no matter how technical it may be, the results can only beneficial for your brand.
Interested in learning more about creating content that captures audiences and extends their experience? Check out this eBook on cutting through the social media noise.