Coull Quickie – March 2014

The Coull Quickie is a wrap up of digital industry news for the month. We’ve kicked off the very first Coull Quickie with March 2014…

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Explaining the Video Player-Ad Interface Definition (VPAID)

Spelling it out

The purpose of this post is to briefly explain VPAID and its function within online video advertising. If you’ve been monetizing your video inventory for some time, you might have noticed some changes in the ads delivered across your site. You may have also developed your own unique video player to enable compatibility with the standard ad unit requirements that have been implemented by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

If all this sounds relatively new to you, don’t panic – the standardisation was implemented to ensure better measurement and compliance across the online advertising industry. You may only just be beginning to serve advertising across your inventory or you may be switching to the IAB standard ad formats so let’s take a look at VPAID specifically and what it means for you.

VPAID – the IAB’s Video Player-Ad Interface Definition

The IAB created this ad format to ensure a standard template for online video advertising across all types of video players that allows all compliant publishers to display. VAST itself however, is limited in regard to the extent of interaction the ad unit allows the user.

The VPAID ad format allows a rich interactive user experience with in stream video ads. Not only does it provide a deeper experience for the user than VAST, but it captures and reports how the user interacts. Advertisers can use this information to improve their creative and technical specifications.

In short, VPAID allows executable ads with compatible video players, while VAST delivers a packaged ad with basic interactions.

Video ad flow with VPAID


The Executable Ad

VPAID communicates a set of instructions that informs a video player of the length of the advertisement, tells it when to play, when to disappear or re-appear within the player and allows the user to interact in a variety of ways.

An example of a VPAID enabled interaction would be that a user could click on an ad to view more detailed content such as a longer version of a pre-roll. The publisher can choose to set what time and where the ad appears within the content, and the basic functions of play, pause, close/hide etc. remain. Whatever action is taken by the user will be recorded and reported back to the advertiser.

Types of ads supported include:

  • Clickable pre-roll

                                   clickable pre-roll

  • Companion banner

                                   companion banner

  • Overlay banner

                                   overlay banner

  • Overlay banner with click-to-linear video ad

                                         overlay banner with click-to-linear video advertisement

What if the player can’t read a flash format such as the type VPAID uses?

VPAID uses the .SWF file format which enables graphics, gifs and other interactive elements via Flash that standard file types do not. If a publisher player is unable to read the .SWF (eg, it only reads JavaScript) the VPAID tag will be overridden by the VAST tag so that an ad will still be served but it won’t have the interactive capabilities the VPAID tag allows for.

What does it mean for advertisers?

VPAID is an important IAB development because it means advertisers can see how individual ads are performing and devise improved ways of engaging their audiences and increasing the level of interaction with the ad.

What does it mean for publishers?

Publisher players must be compatible with IAB standards to ensure VPAID ads are executable and this is of mutual benefit across the industry. Publishers compatible with VPAID ad formats can accept more rich interaction advertising, and the premium experience, according to the IAB, will often lead to ‘premium compensation’. The IAB standard formats also make it easier for publisher development teams because they only need to build one compatible player which will accept all standard formats.

All example images from: 

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Digital Advertising: Click-Through Rates

With digital ad spend swiftly rising year on year (Emarketer) it’s hard to ignore the change in the advertising landscape. We’ve come a long way from flashing banner ads and invasive pop-ups (although they are very much still around).

Advertisers are suffering from consumer ‘banner blindness’ and so are being forced to move away from standard formats and to be more creative in reaching their audiences. We all know that there’s a huge range of online advertising formats out there, but which ones should you bin and which ones should you adopt?

Check out our infographic below which details the average click-through rates from a range of online advertising formats.

Sources listed at the bottom of the page.

We’ve focused on click-through rates here as they are one of the most widely used metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of an ad format to drive response. However, it’s important to note that with any rich media ad unit that features brand creative, engagement rates are only one side of the coin. For many advertisers digital advertising is as much about branding as it is direct response. However, with attribution in brand uplift difficult to measure without focus groups and consumer research, click-through rates will remain a key metric for some time to come.

Trends in engagement

The building trends in digital advertising include real time bidding, online video, social media and of course, mobile. Something that can be be seen in all these formats is the buzzword of the moment – yes, native advertising. It seems pretty obvious that relevant, integrated advertising is going to be more effective these days than the more traditional methods. But what do the stats say?

Let’s look at the click-through rates (CTR). At the lower end of the scale display ads are seeing a CTR of around 0.11% and falling (Smart Insights). Mobile banner ads are performing slightly better at an average of 0.35% CTR (Marketing Charts). In fact, mobile advertising seems to perform better than desktop all round. Facebook news feed ads on mobile devices have an average CTR of 3-6% (Digiday) – a pretty impressive statistic. But what do you do if you want to completely trample those figures? You invest in mobile video ads. With a staggering reported CTR of 11.8% (Mobile Marketer) it’s hard to push to one side. Combine that with some clever native advertising and you’re on to a winner.

Video advertising in the marketing mix

We’re seeing brands and publishers increasingly taking advantage of these engaging and contextual advertising formats – and it’s paying off. A recent IAB report found that advertising revenue in the US from digital video increased by 24% in 2013 from the previous year and mobile revenue soared by 145% in the first half of 2013 (IAB). David Silverman, a partner at PwC US comments:

“This report not only confirms that brands are making a greater commitment to interactive, but also points to the fact that mobile and digital video are being identified as integral elements of the marketing mix. Internet advertising’s ability to impact and engage is evident across digital screens, whether big or small.” (IAB)

It’s an exciting time for the industry – with these developments in digital advertising technology opening up a better way for advertisers to reach their audiences. There are certainly some doubts surrounding native advertising, and there’s some catching up to do in mobile marketing, but the industry has come a long way since traditional advertising formats which arguably have pushed consumers away with their irrelevancy and invasive nature. Consumers are embracing new screens and new media, so that’s where we need to be.

In our next piece we will be exploring why engagement rates in mobile advertising is becoming increasingly higher than that of desktop.

Display ads 0.1%
Google display 0.4%
Facebook news feed 0.5% – 2%
Facebook display 0.12%
Twitter 1% – 3%
Video 4.25%

Facebook news feed 3% – 6%
Display ads  0.35%
Native ads 1.37%
Video 11.8%

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Alternative ways for online publishers to create revenue

Many traditional print publishers now have online offerings, allowing them to access new revenue from digital marketing. Until fairly recently this was done mainly through the ubiquitous form of banner advertising.

However, recently the rise of ‘banner blindness’ has struck the internet as explained by Jakob Nielsen: “people won’t see ads at all, ads might as well not exist as far as users are concerned.” The stats certainly back this up as although the typical internet user is served 1,707 banner ads per month, click-through rates are as low as 0.1%.

Publishers who used to make money from banner ads are therefore suffering a drop in the revenue being generated. So what are the alternative ways to create advertising revenue online?

Text Linking

Ok, so this is really simple. Companies like Skimlinks monetise any existing product links you have by turning them into equivalent affiliate links, or they search your content for product references which can then be turned into relevant affiliate links.

Image monetisation

Monetising images is a great way of getting more relevant advertising on your page and because of the way we consume content, images are more likely to generate interest than random, generic advertising.

There are various monetization companies such as Luminate, who overlay your images with an ad that they contextualise based on keywords in the surrounding text. Or Stipple who place icons on top of your image linking to relevant products to purchase.

Marrying content and commerce

For years publishers have wanted to get more value from the content they already generate. More is now possible, with examples such as Esquire who are launching an online retail store. The editor-in-chief, David Granger, explains, “Magazines have already done one essential thing — we’ve made people want things: a better life or better shoes…But for the hundreds of years magazines have stopped short of delivering that desire”. Therefore, large-scale publishers could be earning revenue by selling products which they have already marketed through their content on their own online stores.

Syndicating content

Another inventive way of creating revenue is by syndicating content. For example, Hearst Magazines syndicate their content to women’s lifestyle site, republishing existing content from their portfolio. This is a great, effortless way to make the most of your content whilst not having to use it to advertise irrelevant products.


Monetising video is the big next thing in online marketing. As Google product marketer Mel An Chan says: “When we think about the multi-billion dollar future of digital advertising, we believe that much of that growth will be driven by video. Video advertising is a very compelling way to connect and grow an audience.”

This quick run-through demonstrates the variety of options for publishers seeking new revenue streams. In our tech-savvy age, there is no excuse for irrelevant, stale banner ads to be languishing on our pages, instead publishers should look towards advertising that enhances the user-experience, drives engagement and delivers sustainable revenue.

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What are the video distribution options for advertisers?

We’re all aware that video has moved from the ‘up and coming’ online advertising format to one of the most popular forms of digital activity. However that doesn’t mean that it’s becoming easier to choose the right online video distribution channel. Each campaign will require something a little bit different, and with so many online video formats it’s not easy to understand which will deliver the results you’re looking for.

We have looked at the spectrum of online video distribution options and come up with four key categories that encompass the most common video advertising formats. This post is a (relatively) jargon-free guide to understanding them.

In-Stream Video Ads (Pre-Roll, Mid-Roll, Post-Roll)

In-stream video advertising (widely known as ‘pre-roll’) is by far the most common video ad format. In-stream video advertising presents a video ad before, during, or after a piece of video content is consumed by a user. YouTube, for example, sometimes serve 30 second adverts before a video.

The benefit of in-stream ads is the significant reach they can offer brands. With so much video content on the internet, in-stream ads can reach an audience of millions. This reach doesn’t guarantee engagement though, as most in-stream ads now offer consumers the ability to skip the ad, something many are choosing to do.

In-Banner Video Ads

Another prevalent form of video advertising is in-banner video advertising. Video ads are placed in standard display ad units on websites. The video can then be presented to the user in a number of ways.

  • Videos can sit in a standard MPU (Mid-Page Unit) banner, and will play when clicked on, rolled over or automatically when the page loads.
  • Some banners will present a video in a pop-up player when the ad is engaged with. Pop-up video players can be presented in full-screen or smaller sizes.

banner displayed in pop-up player

These ads tend to offer the user more of an interactive experience, supporting the content with a variety of additional features that are designed to engage the user.

In-Content Video Ads – ‘Native’ advertising

Content based ’native’ advertising is an expanding advertising format that enables branded video content to be placed within contextually relevant editorial. Video viewers engage with the branded content as part of their interest in a topic and desire to learn more.

Brands often sponsor premium sites to enable their content to be included within a post. Content can also be included voluntarily by the author. One of the main benefits of in-content video ads is the implied credibility the website, author and supporting content given to the brand. A sponsored story on a trusted, premium content website will make the consumer react positively to the video.

Social Video Ads – Social Networks, Gaming

Social and gaming apps have become a priority platform for ad distribution, thanks mostly to the influx of mobile consumption. Video is a major part of this, as consumers engage with and share content on the move. Ads are used to drive social engagement with a brand, either incentivised or non-incentivised, but the platform can be used to drive e-commerce.

Whether it is distributed within Facebook or Farmville, video consumption on mobiles provides advertisers with significant reach and also the ability to target ads to specific audiences.

Ultimately, it’s going to be a mixture of video distribution methods from the above four categories that will combine to make a successful video campaign. The key is choosing the right content and setting smart objectives to maximise the potential of each channel.

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How trust in publisher’s videos creates demand that leads to a sale

Video is coming up fast on the inside lane and overtaking written content as the first place we turn for answers to our questions. Each day, over 100 million Americans watch online video, a 43% increase since 2010. By next year, video content could account for over 50% of online traffic.

Whether you type ‘how do I?’ into Google or Youtube depends on your age  – the younger you are, the more likely it is to be Youtube that you turn to first. But whatever the demographic of your audience, video feeds the demand for quick, clear, easily digestible nuggets of information that can be consumed on the go.

Video is easy to understand and makes a quicker emotional connection than written content. Because it’s easy to share, it spreads faster.  Not only is watching video less demanding than reading copy – it’s also easier to trust.

Show don’t tell

Seeing is believing, so a video demo that shows how straightforward it is to use a product is more credible than a written review that tells you it’s a breeze. People looking for answers to their questions seek out online video product reviews, trials, and how-to-guides to help them make decisions. And videos from trusted sources fuel demand for the products they feature.

What does this mean for great publishers with a high proportion of video content on their sites? In a nutshell, it means potential revenue.

Trust and revenue for publishers

Whether your videos offer inspiration, entertainment, or information, it means you have a large audience who trust you, and who will consider the products you feature. Your videos will be in the palm of your audience’s hand, and if the products are an integral part of content they have sought (rather than an advert they haven’t asked for) they’ll engage with it. If, at that point of piqued interest, they’re in the market to buy, it would be right and good if you could take a cut of the sale.

A new generation of online tools are bridging the gap between publisher’s video and consumer sale. The current state of play works against publishers. Your video creates a demand that takes the viewer away from your site – they go back to Google to search out where to buy it, or to a price comparison site to find out the best deal. New tools link your audience directly with the merchant, cutting out the search step, and rewarding you for your part in generating the sale.

Embedding a discreet natural next step in your trusted content such as ‘click here to buy’ is helpful for your audience. To see how we allow you to do this, check out Coull in-video overlay in action here.

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