Explorium Retail
December 4, 2015
Ascetic Luxurians
December 4, 2015

Marketers are mimicking digital behavior in a bid to capture the attention of those online viewers who see ads as a nuisance to be skipped—or even blocked.

“People want to fast forward, so it is natural and healthy for us [as an industry] to face the challenge and move with the times,” says Freddie Powell, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy London. “If people want to skip forward, they should be allowed to.”

The challenge for retailers is to make an impact on less-than-captive audiences within shorter time frames than ever. Creativity is the name of the game, and successful advertisers are playing off of online viewers’ urge to jump past advertising—or to challenge their instincts altogether.

[gdlr_stunning_text background_color=”#f3f3f3″ title=”WHY IT MATTERS” title_color=”#94d64f” caption_color=”#a0a0a0″]With YouTube receiving up to 240 billion video views a month, according to research firm Ampere Analysis, it is now near the top of many media buyers’ lists of advertising slots. The problem is that the pre-roll—the advertisement before a video plays—is perhaps one of the most reviled features of the site, with 94% of viewers skipping it and 52% saying they do so frequently, as David Waterhouse, head of content for Unruly, has noted.

Beyond creating innovative advertising to limit the skips, brands now face the more serious problem of consumers blocking ads altogether. Almost half (47%) of U.S. Internet users and 39% of UK Internet users have installed ad-blocking software on at least one device, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

D&AD launched its own plug-in for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, the D&AD Ad Filter, for those who skip most ads, but still enjoy a good piece of creative work. Rather than block all advertising, the plug-in blocks “bad ads” and will only show D&AD-winning advertisements, such as Volvo’s Epic Split ad, featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme, which clearly has popular appeal with more than 80 million views on YouTube.

“People love good advertising,” says Matt Mattox, vice-president of The Martin Agency. ‘The Super Bowl is as much about the half-time ads as it is about the game. It’s not that all advertising is bad, it is that bad ads are bad.”


In addition to stale pre-roll ads that online viewers view as a necessary evil to find compelling content, a number of other factors are driving the trend toward Mimicry Marketing, including:

  • Consumers have shorter attention spans than ever before, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  • Advertising that mimics online behavior—such as the tendency to click “skip”—is finding success (see examples in Paradigm Shift below).
  • YouTube advertising is witnessing a revolution. According to a Business Insider report, all of the top 100 global brands have run YouTube’s TrueView video ads over the past year, which allows advertisers to overlay more information about their brand, related videos, playlists, and links to their websites.

The days of advertisers running a static, one-way video pitch to entice users to purchase a product are over. Immersive and interactive content that plays into the way online viewers watch videos is the future of pre-roll advertising.

While some advertisers are repurposing television ads hoping users won’t hit the “skip” button, some brands are embracing the trend and succeeding with innovative ways that engage or even challenge the behavior.

U.S. car insurance firm GEICO, for example, embraced the pre-roll ad by creating a spot (see YouTube Video1; Video2) that lasted only five seconds but put across both the brand name and its main message—savings—before viewers had a chance to skip it. “People are in such control of what they consume. Interrupting people is no longer the best way to get their attention,” says Matt Mattox, vice-president of The Martin Agency, the advertising company behind GEICO’s Unskippable ads.

Volvo also recently experimented with its own pre-roll ads by tailoring the content to whatever video followed the ads so that they felt relevant in the context of what the viewers wanted to see. If a viewer was searching for Justin Bieber antics on Twitter, for instance, a Volvo pre-roll ad would start with the tagline “make him stop” and connect to the car’s auto-braking safety feature.

Similarly, fast food giant Burger King created a humorous, search-based ad campaign that relates to the search the user performed to find the video, according to Christopher Rick of Reelse.com. If a viewer searches for animal attacks, for example, the pre-roll video mimics the message about animal attacks while cleverly promoting BK’s message.

Other, more daring techniques that challenge viewers’ urge to press the skip button have also emerged, like this video by Nail Communications. In it, an adorable puppy appears tethered to electrical jumper cables while an announcer dares the viewer to skip the ad. (Of course, not only is the puppy safe, but the agency informs viewers that by viewing the ad, it donates a portion of its proceeds to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.) It’s a gamble, but one that proves effective.
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Successful Mimicry Marketing isn’t easy, but brands that choose to creatively engage audiences and feed off of their instinctual behaviors will emerge on top. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Embrace the skip button and use it as an inspirational challenge.
  2. Rather than trying to change online behavior, make advertising that mimics how people navigate the digital realm.
  3. Consider the context. Volvo and Burger King made their YouTube advertising relevant by keeping it in the same theme as the video that viewers wanted to watch.
  4. Think brief—five seconds can be enough to be memorable.

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