YouTube ads: when 30 seconds feels like ‘an eternity’

The digital world isn’t governed by the parameters of fixed time-blocks like television and it’s mighty annoying when a 30-second advertisement is forced upon you, when you were simply trying to watch a 10-second clip of a cat, writes Rachel Jena

Time flies they say, but to consumers waiting for a much-desired piece of content on YouTube, 30 seconds is an eternity. Which makes YouTube’s recent announcement unsurprising; as of 2018, YouTube’s 30-second non-skippable pre-roll videos will no longer be on the cards.

These Reddit users will be pleased. And frankly, so are we. The 30-second spot is television’s legacy to the advertising world and a move like this has been warranted for – well – what seems like forever.

Mobile killed the pre-roll star

Let’s face it, what works on television doesn’t translate to today’s small-screen world. And, as that Reddit thread proves, transporting TV’s mainstay format doesn’t work well for the platform or advertiser. And it’s all because of the smartphone. YouTube says that 50 per cent of all its traffic now stems from mobile devices. That number is only set to grow.

Think about it. Today’s consumers include an entire generation that has bypassed the desktop. These millennials have never had to wait for a dial-up modem to make its tedious connection to the internet. Their lives are governed by 140 characters, six-second videos and ephemeral mobile-centric stories. We live in a world that wants it now.

You don’t skip a great user experience

While the 30-seconder wasn’t the only format in YouTube’s pile of non-skippable offerings, less savvy advertisers weren’t investing in the shorter formats to match today’s mobile-focused consumption. The digital world isn’t governed by the parameters of fixed time-blocks like television. And it’s mighty annoying when a 30-second advertisement is forced upon you, when you were simply trying to watch a 10-second clip of a cat.

Plus, there are developing markets to consider. Despite weaker infrastructure than the developed world, emerging-market audiences are no less hungry for content and data is akin to digital gold. That compulsory 30-second ad? It’s a data-draining, equity-killing hindrance.

You can blame smaller creative budgets or a lack of media insight, but two things are for certain: great user experience has always been the holy grail in marketing, and YouTube killing off its 30-second non-skippable should be treated as a lesson for advertisers. You have to wonder, after the demise of the 30 non-skippable spot, how long will the proposed 15-20 non-skippable replacements last? Are they not destined for the same fate? The trajectory of consumer patience suggests they will be the next to go. 

Brains over brawn

It is clear there is a need for deeper strategic thinking. We need to get smart about how we communicate with made-for-mobile strategies, channel-specific brilliance and more thoughtful discussions about how we up the game for all our brands. Asking yourself the following questions would be a good starting point:

  • Is the 30-seconder irrelevant altogether?
  • How do we appropriate the 30-seconder for smaller screens?  
  • Are we seamlessly integrating all our channels with mobile devices?
  • Should we be creating content or a commercial?
  • Is branding upfront in all our video assets?
  • Have we prioritised the idea above the platform?

The focus should be on impact rather length. Therefore, we must flex our cerebral muscles and bring the best ideas to the table – with innovation at the core. We’ve already certainly seen great work in this vein, from turning feature phones into a media channel in remote parts of India, to using media channels to tell Kiwi consumers that drinking beer could help them change the world.

Effective advertising isn’t about the best 30-second commercial anymore. Campaigns now must be built around game-changing insights, brilliant strategy and great ideas. So thank you YouTube. Your decision gives us a greater impetus to steer brands in this direction. And not before time.

Rachel Jena is strategy manager at PHD Singapore 


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