The Danger of Advertising when Paused

Miles Weaver
Miles Weaver Marketing Director

It’s not just the weather that’s putting chills down spines this December. News emerged recently that both Hulu and AT&T are looking into the idea of the ‘pause ad’. The concept is simple enough, advertising that appears when a viewer pauses the video they’re watching. While the idea is good in theory, the execution, and how it will be received by viewers, may leave a lot to be desired.

The modern media consumer has a complicated relationship with advertising. While many viewers accept that ads are a part of digital life, and in many cases are okay with the concept (when done properly), surveys for the last few years have shown that people are acutely aware that ads are becoming more and more pervasive. A 2016 survey from Hubspot saw 91% of respondents say ads were more intrusive than 2-3 years prior and 87% say there were more ads in general than 2-3 years ago. That was two years ago, is anyone under the illusion that the problem of ads has gotten any better in the intervening years?

Similarly, another 2016 survey from Hubspot showed that 82% of people say that they closed a web page because of an autoplaying video ad, and 51% of people said they think less of brands that use autoplaying online video ads. This is a particular concern for AT&T when it comes to the pause ad, as the company (which, like all of the major US telcos, doesn’t have the best reputation for consumer sensitivity), is reportedly looking to deploy full-motion videos on screen whenever a viewer pauses their content. “We know you’re going to capture 100% viewability when they pause and unpause,” says Matt Van Houten, vice president of product at Xandr Media, AT&T’s advertising division. “There’s a lot of value in that experience.” The risk AT&T runs here is that while there may be a lot of value in capturing 100% viewability, there’s also a huge danger of capturing 100% irritation on the part of the viewer as well, leading to reduced engagement rates and much greater risk of churn.

As Goldilocks and the Three Bears taught us, there is a very fine line between not enough, too much and just right. With viewers across the spectrum already cognisant of the fact that there are too many ads being pushed at them, is the answer really to do that more, in the one moment of video viewing that they are free from any kind of screen stimulation? We feel there is a compelling case for the answer to that argument to be ‘no’ (though as we said up top, this is dependent on the execution). The short term value that might be realised by shoving intrusive ads into another area of a platform could very easily be offset by longer term damage that will see viewers leaving platforms for something that feels less like being they’re being gouged by even more advertising.

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Miles Weaver

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Miles Weaver Marketing Director
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