Op-Ed: Why Brands Need to Be ‘Content Aware’

The following is a guest contributed post by Brunno Attorre,  ‎CTO & Co-Founder at Uru.

It used to be that the content people consumed was created with advertisers in mind — whether it was television shows with commercial breaks written into the script, newspapers with dedicated space for print ads, or singles edited for radio play. Advertisers were able to exercise a great deal of influence over the content itself, with the power to dictate where they wanted their ads placed, how long the piece of content would be, and sometimes even the subject itself.

The arrival of YouTube, Facebook, and other UGC video platforms, however, put a wrench into things. Suddenly, people were consuming billions of hours of content that had not been made to fulfill branding or advertising demands. Instead, people were making and uploading videos from their homes, from the street, in the grocery store. Ultimately, the issue for brands stems from the fact that most user-generated video content has limited opportunities for them to try and insert their narrative, whether through a short ad or a discreet product placement. Brands are having a hard time muscling into user-generated videos because there may not be natural breaks in the video that are suitable to insert an ad, for example, or because there are no opportunities for product placement within the video after it has been posted. Given these constraints, it’s no surprise that brands have tried to piggyback onto content that is already popular in order to get as many eyeballs on their ads as possible. 

This method would be successful if brands were able to come up with a whole new advertising experience optimized for YouTube. Instead, most companies end up repurposing their television ads for the video platform, thinking that the same content that resonates with viewers of Modern Family would perform well with those about to watch a makeup tutorial. Brands who go this route run the serious risk of disrupting the user experience by placing their ads next to content that may or may not be relevant to their company — and a user who’s annoyed at seeing an ad is not a user likely to convert.

With television, there’s no real escape from an ad: it’s part and parcel of the TV experience. Online, however, people have a lot more freedom; they can choose to skip an ad, or turn the sound of, enable AdBlock or even switch to a different window while the ad is playing. As a result, brands need to be “content aware” — that is, aware of the type of content they are advertising against and the platform it’s on, and modify their ads accordingly. Essentially, this requires shifting the paradigm from focusing on getting an ad in front of as many people as possible, to creating ads that understand the importance of placement and timing. 

People are making videos now from their homes, from the street, from waiting in line at the coffeeshop. They’re not necessarily thinking about monetizing them while they’re filming, but they might choose to do so at a later date. How, then, should brands and advertisers insert themselves into these pieces of content that don’t necessarily have space for ads, without disrupting the user experience?

As ever, technology provides a way. Brands can use artificial intelligence to determine which videos to advertise against, or where best to insert a product placement. The goal, ultimately, is to be able to strike a balance between producing an ad that is “in your face” and disruptive, and one that might fit within the context of a video but fade quickly from memory. 

Let’s take, as an example, a popular video created by a young gaming influencer. By leveraging artificial intelligence, brands can understand the best way to appear in the video given its content and subject matter: making an animation that appears in the upper right corner when the influencer wins a match, for instance, or inserting a commercial while the game is loading. Using AI will also allow brands to do this at scale and programmatically, targeting content to viewers and determining the best times, places, and ways ads should appear.

At the end of the day, brands are still the ones paying the bills for platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook, as well as content creators themselves. But they can no longer rely on a captive audience: users themselves now have expectations for ads, and distinct preferences for the types of advertising they enjoy. Brands need to reach customers without interrupting their viewing experiences — which is where AI will come in. Advertising will not end anytime soon, but it will have to adapt.

There were no times set aside for commercial breaks, or an apparatus in place to secure sponsorships or branding opportunities — but this was what people were watching and enjoying, so of course brands wanted to get in on the fun. The most popular way was simply to repurpose television ads by turning them into online videos — or to take banner ads from websites and graft them onto someone else’s video. The video-viewing public did not respond well to these strategies, as the sharp increase in the number of people installing ad-block and extremely low click-through rates indicate. 

And AI will help.