The above image was part of a pre-roll ad that aired several hours before Superbowl XLIV. In celebration of the game, Hulu launched a special section called AdZone which will feature Superbowl commercials after they air during the broadcast. Hulu visitors will be allowed to vote on their favorite ad. We all know that the ads are part of the Superbowl’s appeal and people expect them to be grandiose and entertaining. The game is continuously the most-watched telecast of the year and is pretty much immune to time-shifting and audience segmentation, issues that are haunting broadcast networks. The Hulu spot and the whole AdZone concept makes me wonder what kind of viewing behavior is Hulu encouraging?
Live blogging, Tweeting and chatting about shows as they air is becoming part of the viewing experience. For an event that is synonymous to HD, big screen TVs, it seems Hulu is reminding visitors to go online for a more involved, informed and personalized feeling. While Hulu is primarily a streaming video service and, the AdZone section does have some social network-like offerings, such as a message board. The site provides a space for reflection and discussion where viewers can feel actively involved in a cultural event.
Ads are obviously used to increase brand awareness and likability, so as media habits change, adverting approaches need to evolve as well. Compared to television, watching videos online is significantly more active. People actively seek online video content as opposed to aimlessly flicking through channels. I’ve recently noticed a proliferation of Hulu ads that appeal to the more active, and possibly impatient, type of viewership emerging.
The Hulu ad package has gone from predictable overlays, slates and pre-rolls to experiences where viewers chose which ads play or watch “branded commercial-free” content (click here for video example). Last year, Hulu unveiled what I refer to as their “choices” feature, which provides the option of watching one long-form video or several shorter ones. Hulu describes it as a “win/win experience for both the advertiser and the user” (via: Hulu Case Study). This approach has evolved to Hulu offering viewers ad selection options, which of course provide for a more meaningful and memorable experience.
In a medium where people can search for, create and tune-out content so easily, it seems only natural for them decide what marketing messages they would like to receive. Unlike YouTube, which recently introduced an ad-skipping option to its site, even Hulu’s commercial fast-forwarding feature is brand-sponsored (click here for video example). What Hulu particularly succeeds at, is making its ads seem non-invasive. I’ll go as far to say that it’s creating opportunities for ads to be a form of entertainment. YouTube product manager, Phil Farhi states, “Advertisers like in-stream ads because they look and feel like TV ads,” however to truly reach and engage audiences pre-rolls/in-stream ads must mimic how people use the web (via: Adweek). Case in point: Lowe’s Christmas ads inviting users to tour its websites.
The Lowe’s ads combines terms like “mouse around” and “explore” with interactive displays that invite heavy click-through activity. Viewers are even invited to build their own online Christmas tree, which would obviously distract them from the program they’re watching. Farhi believes people are “less conditioned” to ad interruptions online, but I believe since the Internet consists of perpetual interruptions, advertisers just need to put audiences in the driver’s seat and make those interruptions entertaining.
Hulu in-stream ads aren’t going the way of the 30-second TV spot, they’re going the way of the app. By this I mean they have the potential to develop into fun ways to waste/occupy time. I recently saw a Hulu ad for Toyota that featured a trivia game before my program began. I played out of curiosity and boredom, but was overall impressed by the lack of the hard sell. And with Hulu inevitably transitioning into both an ad-supported and subscription service, the advertising as entertainment approach seems even more appealing and less likely to draw resentment.