In last week’s Part 2 of our Social Video Blueprint series, we talked about how brands are shifting away from traditional video advertising toward creating their own, original entertainment video content as a means of boosting brand-lift and audience engagement. This week, we dive deeper into that shift to examine how social video allows media planners to graduate from measuring impressions to counting views.

sharethrough social video advertisingThis post was made possible by Sharethrough, the social video distribution platform that offers guaranteed viewership and maximized sharing for branded video content. Sharethrough distributes brand videos in user-initiated content placements across the social web and tracks detailed campaign viewership and social analytics. Click here to learn more about their distribution platform and see past campaigns.

Out With The Old: Impressions

Impressions have been around as a measuring tool since the dawn of online advertising. For a long time, it was one of the only measures of an ad’s reach. Text ads, banner ads, display ads… all counted the raw impressions, and charged the advertiser by that metric as well.

But there’s a fundamental flaw when counting impressions: it cannot measure audience engagement. Impressions count the number of times an ad is displayed; there is no information regarding whether the viewer even sees it, let alone if they have high engagement levels with it or share it with their friends. Just raw display numbers.

Impressions are like highway billboards. You have some idea how many cars will drive by it, but no way of knowing how many–if any–looked at it, enjoyed it, or talked about it. 

Then came clicks. Now advertisers could see a little better data about their ad’s success by counting the clicks–typically these kinds of traditional display ads send viewers that click to a landing page or company home page. We’ll get into clicks a lot more next week, particularly as they compare to shares as a measure of online video ad success, but in general… they still leave the advertiser wondering an awful lot about their impact on audiences.

Impressions In Video

Online video’s arrival didn’t kill the impression. In fact, most video ad networks still operate on an impression basis. You see these ads every day… they’re called pre-roll. A video ad impression occurs when a video plays without the viewer choosing to watch it (pre-roll viewers have made a choice to watch another video altogether, and are then subjected to a video ad they did not ask for). This includes pre-roll video ads, obviously, but also any other video ad on a page that plays without warning or permission.

It’s the same with traditional television commercials as well. Advertisers are charged by the number of viewers a particular show or time-slot gets. But you can’t click on a TV ad. Those brands will never know if audiences watched the ad, or went to the kitchen to make a snack. There’s zero measure of attention span or emotional reaction. Just raw “plays.”

And I’ve always argued that this is the fundamental flaw with pre-roll and auto-play video ads: you have no idea how much engagement the spot achieves. None whatsoever. All you know is how many people were forced to watch it. Even if a user clicks away from the page while the pre-roll is playing, and completely ignores it, the advertiser gets charged. You don’t know if they laughed and enjoyed it, or if they hated it and made a personal vow never to buy your brand again. And that just seems silly to me. At best, it’s simply inefficient use of ad dollars, especially when there are much better ways to manage viewer engagement with video ads.

In With The New: Views

When a viewer chooses to watch a video–amateur or branded–they’re not surprised to then see that video play on their screen. After all… they chose to watch it. And what that does is lower guards. A viewer choosing to enter into a branded video experience is much more open to what it has to say. Pre-roll viewers–by comparison–are more likely to be annoyed or frustrated, putting them in less of a mood to be marketed to.

Impressions can tell you how many viewers watched an ad they didn’t ask for. But views can show you the number of viewers who asked for your video… chose it… requested to see it. That’s several rungs up the engagement-measurement ladder from raw impressions. Which is why cost-per-view is becoming a preferred online video advertising method for brands: instead of paying for raw “plays,” they pay only for the times their message is watched by willing viewers.

If you want to back way out and really simplify the difference between impressions and views, then think about it this way: impressions are a measure of you going to the viewers, but views are a measure of them coming to you. Impressions are about you “selling”… views are about them “buying in.” As a brand… which would you rather have?

Social Video Engagement Numbers

In Q1 of 2011, data from Sharethrough–the social video distribution platform–shows that video campaigns where viewers choose to watch the clip have a sharethrough rate that is 75X higher than auto-play (pre-roll) campaigns.

Also, in a joint research study with Vizu, Sharethrough found that user-initiated branded video content delivered 2X higher brand-lift than :15 second auto-play pre-roll ads. Actually, pre-roll created no brand-lift whatsoever–zero!–when measured against the control group.

And somehow, those numbers are both staggering and obvious at the same time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a lot of pre-roll fans. But I do know a ton of people who watched this Volkswagen Darth Vader ad of their own free will and loved it:

In fact, 41 million people (to date) have watched that commercial by choice. Now don’t you think Volkswagen would rather have that kind of data over the raw impressions number they can get for the same content on a television network?

And yes, I know the ad also ran on television (during the Super Bowl, in fact)… that’s my point. That part of the campaign couldn’t give the auto-maker anything more than number of times it aired. But the YouTube portion gave the company a much greater understanding of how viewers connected to it.

It also gave Volkswagen the chance to see how many viewers liked the ad so much that they voluntarily shared it with their friends–but again, we’ll dive into that more with Clicks Vs. Shares next week.

Social Video Views Trump Impressions

Until the day that brands can sit down and have a conversation with every ad viewer, there will always be unknowns in online video advertising. But the new technologies and techniques of social video allow us to learn far more about the audience than ever before. Once we can measure engagement through the power of views, we don’t really have as much use for impressions as we once did.

Just like email marketing moved small businesses a huge leap forward in marketing effectiveness over direct-mail print ads… so too views are providing brands with a vast improvement over impressions. There is a Grand Canyon of difference between a viewer being talked to and a viewer initiating the conversation with a video view.

And with today’s social media tools, social video also opens up a whole new level of engagement measurement with sharing data from YouTube, Facebook, & Twitter, which leads us straight into next week’s topic: Social Video Blueprint: It’s About Shares, Not Clicks

If you’ve missed any articles in our Social Video Blueprint series, you can catch up below: