Boasting 46% year-on-year growth, online video plays an increasingly crucial role in brands’ media mix. And this growth only seems set to continue, with companies such as Amazon starting to implement video options for ad slots that were previously limited to banners.

But however prominent video may be, advertisers seeking to leverage its potential still face the challenge of keeping audiences engaged. In fact, 90% of viewers skip pre-roll ads, and videos that autoplay with sound are on their way out after updates to Chrome 64 and the introduction of standards set by the Coalition for Better Ads. Today’s viewers want flexible and fast access to content that isn’t interrupted or delayed by intrusive ads. So, to connect with audiences via video, advertisers must meet the challenge of balancing impactful messaging and minimal disruption.

Skipping preroll ads is a cultural punch line

It’s well known that real audiences often switch off when TV ads start. Studies show fast-forwarding ads in timeshifted content was the norm for 86% of viewers back in 2010, and recent research reveals three-quarters of UK audiences now use a second device while watching TV. But the fact such behaviours are equally common online isn’t as widely recognised. Many digital viewers divert their attention or bypass ads where possible — up to 90% choose to skip pre-roll, according to a US survey. Indeed, the frustration caused when there is no skip option has even become a comical topic on sites such as Reddit; just try a search for skip button memes.

The growth of this behaviour across all audiences means large volumes of consumers simply aren’t watching ads: though second screening is most prevalent in the under-25 generation — with 93% doing so — nearly half (45%) of those aged over 55 juggle screens during TV viewing too. Plus, there is an increasing risk that continuing to serve formats that audiences consider disruptive is only increasing annoyance.

For the brands still pouring significant portions of budgets into standard TV and pre-roll ads — an estimated 74% of spend at the beginning of 2018 — there is an urgent need to change tack: ads must be more aligned with the screens and formats that do interest audiences, and hold their attention.

So what does engage audiences?

In a word: mobile. UK smartphone penetration alone is expected to reach 54 million by 2022 and attachment to devices is strong, especially for younger consumers. Our own research shows mobile absorbs 71% of daily video consumption time for Gen Z and 46% of millennials would rather lose a finger than their smartphone.

But what’s interesting for advertisers is how these devices are used. Because they often watch content on the move, most Gen Z consumers prefer silent video: with over 60% turning sound off for work, commuting, and leisure. Additionally, 91% of millennials find content through a social media or publisher feed. This may explain why desktop staples – in-stream pre-roll, autoplay video with sound, and in-article ads that overlay content — aren’t popular on mobile. These ads not only cause audio and visual disruption, but also take up valuable space on smaller screens and eat into data allowances.

Brands therefore need to provide a different kind of ad experience that delivers content consumers want to view and complements the mobile environment. And the most obvious candidate for this role is native outstream. As a format that sits within editorial feeds, emulating the look and style of surrounding content, this is a type of ad that respects mobile user habits. When done well, native video ads can be attention grabbing — if, for instance, content is instantly enticing, delivered in silent autoplay, and includes an engaging headline — yet remain unobtrusive. Because they feel like other site content and don’t interrupt scrolling, ads form a seamless and convenient part of existing mobile activity: as attested by 79% of GenZ and millennial consumers. Plus, they are more effective at driving awareness too, which makes them a better option for brands.

Of course, native isn’t the only available format, but it is worth considering for any brand keen to engage with increasingly distracted audiences and end the battle of advertisers versus consumers. By marrying the appeal of video — fast, on-the-go entertainment — with the subtlety of native, brands can pique the interest of uninterruptible audiences, bolster top-of-the-funnel metrics, and avoid intruding on the intimacy of mobile content consumption.

Ally Stuart

Ally Stuart