Programmatic trading is transforming the way that marketers, publishers and brands can work, providing tools that reach more targeted audiences while still working at massive scale. The ability to reach people on their most personal devices has never been more powerful.
However, mobile advertising has increasingly become a delicate balancing act. Much of programmatic relies on older ad formats that audiences have trained themselves to ignore, but using more intrusive methods like pop-ups and interstitials can feel disruptive or overbearing, driving yet more consumers to ad blocking.
To that end, mobile video ad tech firm Celtra recently partnered with the IAB, engagement platform PadSquad and ad agency Millward Brown Digital to apply its 'inter-scroller' format in a programmatic landscape, taking advantage of mobile native features while also offering the scale that brands need.
A native, in-stream video format, the inter-scroller was designed with the IAB's LEAN ad principles in mind. The file size is smaller than a comparable expandable banner format, it can be served encrypted, and is ad-choices supported. In addition, as an in-feed unit, the ad never blocks content for users, who have full control over it through the scrolling mechanic.
"We were looking for a good compromise between a full canvas format, that gives you the ability to have really great storytelling, but at the same time, a format that's not too intrusive, that's still user-friendly," said Matevz Klanjsek, chief product officer and co-founder of Celtra. "We like to call it 'friendly interstitial' – it does have the visibility and impact, and the storytelling capabilities, of interstitial, but at the same time it's not as annoying, not as intrusive, and it's native."
While the inter-scroller format has been in use by Celtra for around a year, a recent campaign with SpringHill Suites by Marriott was the first to leverage the ad format using programmatic, marking a shift that will enable it to be deployed at much greater scale than before.
Programmatic enables creative to be tailored to particular audiences, times and more
"When you think about programmatic media buying, it's designed to buy standard formats - interstitials, banners, perhaps expandable banners - the standard IAB formats," said Klanjsek. "Whenever you launch a new format that has a slightly different experience, programmatic platforms have problems buying that kind of format. There are both technological problems, because these things are done slightly differently, as well as business or semantic problems, because they don't know how to qualify these formats.
"This has been the case with inter-scroller as well. When it was first launched, it was a premium buy format, sold using standard buying through premium publishers. Then when you want to scale it, you have to make it viable programmatically, which means making it available through the exchanges, DSPs have to know what they are buying, publishers and SSPs have to know what they're selling - it's a challenge for every single format that's not a standard format."
The Marriott campaign offered consumers an engaging video tour of SpringHill Suites hotel facilities and rooms, with a multi-video element enabling the audience to engage with additional content directly within the ad format.
According to Klanjsek, even Celtra were surprised at how successful the ad format was at persuading consumers to engage with multiple videos, averaging over two videos watched per engagement.
"When we analysed the results, we realised that users liked it," said Klanjsek. "In terms of how they behaved, how they consumed that ad, it proves that the user experience is friendly. You can have fantastic performance with forced engagement, the best example is pre-roll you can't skip, where performance will be great, but you know that users probably haven't enjoyed having that experience forced on them.
"In this case, nothing was forced and users actually initiated all the consumption of the content. That was great to see, and showed that great user experience really does work, and encourages people to engage with and enjoy the ad."
Overall, the campaign garnered ad engagement rates nearly three times higher than Celtra's benchmark for hospitality and travel marketers, and five times higher than Celtra's industry-wide benchmarks for Q1 2016. According to Celtra, that's positive news, and a sign that the industry is ready to start embracing premium formats traded in a programmatic way.
"This is a milestone, because what you want is to build advertising experiences that do offer fantastic user experiences for end users, that offer opportunities for brands to have great storytelling, but if you're not able to scale that, then you have a problem and the industry has a problem. We managed to solve that problem and scale this format.
"We are seeing a lot of publishers saying that they are abandoning standard formats altogether, because they're just not working anymore; they're being blocked, and they just can't monetise through them anymore. They want something that is more mobile native. On the advertiser side, as well, brands are also aware that standard display is not working and their need to move on.
As programmatic video on mobile begins to mature, marketers, brands and publishers need to remember the lessons learned from the past and embrace formats that offer audiences a choice in how they consume advertising, placing the controls in their hands. As Celtra's work with Marriot shows, the results can be favourable for everyone involved.
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