Why Do Marketers Still Fall for the Siren Call of Video Completion Rates?

Back in 2015, my colleague described the many reasons why video completion rate (VCR) was an inadequate way to measure campaign success. In the two years since, marketers have done little to replace that metric with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are more useful and relevant.

To be sure, our focus on VCR is a direct reflection of the industry’s obsession with numbers — number of impressions served, Click-Through Rate (CTR), viewability rates, and so on. Since its earliest days, digital has been hailed as a channel where everything is measurable, and measurement needs numbers.

Add to that, numbers prove that the technology marketers rely on to execute their campaigns do what their tech vendors said it could do. In other words, numbers prove that the video ad server loaded and played a video ad all the way to the end. But the fundamental problem hasn’t changed: video completion rate by itself is of little value to a marketer.

It’s worth reviewing the limits of VCR once again. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of false positives counted in VCR. For instance, a video ad may play all the way to the end and be included in a VCR count, even though the consumer may have scrolled away from it, as is the case with pre-roll. Or the consumer may switch off the sound, in which case, the marketer isn’t reaping the complete benefit of sight, sound and motion.

It’s true that the consumer must sit through these if they’re intent on watching a desired video, but they’re also likely to pick up their phones and engage without other content if those ads have no value to them.

More troubling, a fully viewed video is no indication of attention paid to it. Take pre-roll and mid-roll ads, which the consumer can scarcely avoid, especially now that server-side ad insertion is growing in adoption. It’s true that the consumer must sit through these if they’re intent on watching a desired video, but they’re also likely to pick up their phones and engage without other content if those ads have no value to them.

Moreover, the assumption that a completed video view equates to higher message absorption is false. A brand’s message, especially if it’s well done, is communicated from the very first second the video begins to roll. To write off non-completed video views as worthless is a mistake. It’s as if you’re assuming moviegoers who leave during the end credits didn’t get the point of a movie. But in the video ad world, that would indicate an incomplete viewing!

So, what are useful metrics? VCR still has an important role to play, but it needs both context and additional metrics for optimizing. Beginning with context, VCR should be complemented with metrics such as audibility and viewability so that marketers can assess if the consumer saw AND heard a video ad. When combined with VCR, these tell a much more compelling story.

But the more useful, and more difficult, part is to focus and optimize based on user desired outcome. Before launching a video campaign, take the time to determine the role of video ads in the consumer journey, and track how well the video ad moves your target audiences through that journey.

Planning your consumer journey — and the role your video ads play in it — requires you to identify additional behaviors that indicate true engagement. You’ll know consumers really engaged with your ads if they click through to your site, and spend a bit of time there.

Before launching a video campaign, take the time to determine the role of video ads in the consumer journey, and track how well the video ad moves your target audiences through that journey.

Another good strategy may be to include various engagement elements in your video ads, such as a store locator, sentiment survey, or even a carousel of additional videos to view. The rate at which consumers interact with these elements is far more telling of campaign’s effectiveness, and more valuable to a marketer.

User behavior within a video itself is also quite insightful.  Do users rewind to specific parts of a video? If so, it may mean the message that section of the video was particularly compelling, insight that you can use for future message development.

In the end, video campaigns must be planned as part of a consumer journey, and success should be measured by the rate at which targeted audiences move through the funnel. VCR tells a small part of the story. Given the ad spend marketers are investing in the channel, it’s time to relegate the metric to its proper role.

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