Considering the widespread consumption of online video, it should come as no surprise that online advertising that incorporates video is a popular option. Not only does video content transmit a lot of rich information visually, there are ways to measure the extent to which users engage with it. And when it comes to the purchase funnel metrics marketers care about most—purchase intent, brand favorability, online ad awareness, and aided brand awareness—ads with video vastly outperform rich media ads without video, to say nothing of simple flash or image ads.

Before we get any further, let’s dispel any ambiguity associated with “video ads.” The term can mean:

  1. Ads that appear in a video: pre- and mid-rolls, banner overlays, etc. (The IAB calls these In-Stream Video Ads.)
  2. Ads that are videos (like Google AdWords’ video ads), that look like embedded videos on a Web page
  3. Rich display ads with embedded videos alongside other content. (The IAB calls these In-Banner Video Ads.)

For the purposes of this blog post, we’re focusing on #3 (In-Banner Video Ads): display (banner) ads that incorporate a video as part of the overall creative. These types of ads do not rely solely on video to communicate an advertiser’s message, but include video as an important, usually central, feature to the ad.

Here are some examples:

This tab set ad shows an autoplay, silent video in the default tab, but allows users to check out the company's blog and Twitter feeds once they're engaged.

This ad offers users a number of interactive options in a stacked format. The (default) video's play functionality is user initiated.

There are some decisions that a marketer needs to make when assembling a display ad with video:

  1. Is the video autoplay or not?
  2. If autoplay, is audio automatically enabled or does the user click a button to enable it?
  3. If audio is autoplay, does the user have the option to mute the ad?
  4. How long is the video clip?
  5. Does the user have access to video controls, such as the pause button, playhead, or scrub bar?
  6. Does the video include accessibility options, such as captioning?

While each ad, audience, and site context is different, there are best practices that marketers should adhere to. With respect to the autoplay question, it’s an advertiser’s call. A study by Undertone Networks suggests that autoplay video annoys users, but also enhances awareness. Much of the objection to autoplay is likely due to the audio component, which is probably why the IAB's standards require all audio to be user initiated but allow marketers to decide whether to autoplay the video component.

And there isn’t much of a rationale for autoplaying audio (especially when it’s longer than 3 seconds), or restricting user access to video controls or the mute button, unless the intent is to irritate users and associate the ad’s brand with their aggravation. The IAB requires all compliant video ads to grant users access to play, pause, and mute buttons.

The maximum length of a video according to IAB specifications is 30 seconds (increased from 15 seconds in 2011), and DoubleClick research from a few years ago suggests the average user sits through about ⅔ of an advertising video.

However, within the context of a rich-media interactive video ad, there are other ways to engage interested users beyond watching the video.

  1. Swipeable galleries, slideshows, and stacks are more interactive ways of surfacing image content for users.
  2. Enabling Facebook, Twitter, and blog (RSS) content provides a current, information-rich adjunct to the visual experience of video and image galleries.
  3. Polls and forms represent an even higher level of social engagement, allowing users to gauge their sentiments against those of others and even engage with the brand itself in the form of feedback or contact.

Used effectively, videos can comprise an integral element in a display ad, lending the ad a richness that users generally respond to far better than with more static ads. Key to video ads’ success is adherence to principles around user control and minimizing intrusiveness. A well-executed video ad can be an important foot in the door for a user to engage more extensively with brand content.