- Attention grabbers. Autoplay ads effectively capture user attention, contributing to their increased usage in marketing.
- Ad blocker surge. The rise in ad blocker usage suggests consumer dislike for autoplay ads but fails to deter advertisers.
- Strategy shifts. Autoplay ads persist due to the evolution of monetization strategies and control dynamics within media organizations.
Even though they are almost universally disliked, the use of autoplay videos and animated GIFs has been increasing steadily for years. Why? The reason is simple: They work.
“I would say marketers tend to follow the data,” said Jonathan Nelson, senior digital marketing manager of growth for the American Marketing Association. “If you’re worried about clicks to your website, [by using] flashy disruptive ads, you’re going to get people to see it, which is like 80% of the battle at this point.”
According to the Interatctive Advertsing Bureau’s (IAB’s) 2021 Internet Advertising Report, total digital video advertising revenues, including connected television and over-the-top online ads increased 50.8% since 2020, to $39.5 billion in 2021. Most of that increase was in mobile video ads, although desktop digital video increased from $7.7 billion in 2020 to $12.2 billion in 2021.
“The large increase in digital video advertising revenue is a reflection of the record levels of growth seen in mobile and desktop ad revenues, which is likely being partially driven by consumers spending more time with all forms of digital media,” the report said.
Although the spike in advertising revenues may have been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, during which people spent more time on their computers and smartphones, this does not detract from the persistence of the trend.
According to Statista, worldwide video advertising has been on a steady upward trajectory for years and will reach nearly $177 billion by the end of 2023. From 2023 to 2027, Statista predicts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8% with the vast majority of that spending going toward mobile, connected TV and Facebook.
Hundreds of Millions Using Ad Blockers
Even though hard numbers are hard to come by, the increased usage of ad block software on desktops could be used as a proxy for how consumers feel.
Desktop ad blockers are used by 290 million people, according to the 2022 PageFair Adblock Report. This is down slightly from its high of 295 million in 2018, but it has steadily risen since the first quarter of 2020 during the initial phases of the COVID lockdowns. Ad block usage on mobile devices is close to double that of desktop with 530 million users, PageFair said. For its part, Statista reports that 26.4% of US users and 763 million people worldwide employ ad blockers.
“Autoplay ads are absolutely universally disliked but, perhaps surprisingly, they continue to be effective,” said William Hogsett, CEO of Seota Digital Marketing. “People are twice as likely to watch if the video starts playing automatically, rather than having to click a button to start it. Plus, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have made it super easy for advertisers to use autoplay video ads, so it’s not surprising that they’re everywhere.”
Related Article: 7 Video Optimization Tips for Marketers to Consider
Questions About Effectiveness of Autoplay Ads Remain
According to a 2010 study, “The Effects of Animation and Format on the Perception and Memory of Online Advertising,” animation in online ads had no “substantial effect on attention.” What the study did find was animated skyscraper ads (those along the sides of webpages) increased attention while animated banners (those that run across the top and bottom of webpages) decreased attention. The best way to attract attention was to have an animated skyscraper ad and a static banner ad.
“Our results concerning spontaneous recall support prior studies in that online consumers are able to mention only very few ads, although they had been exposed to the same ad four times, in banner and skyscraper format presented in animated or static mode,” the study’s authors said.
It comes down to what your goals are, said Nelson. If it’s just attention and clicks, then animation isn’t a bad idea — it’s just not a good one.
“I’ve never seen any significant amount of conversions coming from [them],” he said. “They’re not fantastic at selling something. They are good at getting people to accidentally click on them, though. And sometimes you get lucky. It’s a throw-the-spaghetti-at-the-wall sort of thing.”
Animated GIFs that autoplay and are difficult to turn off may actually do more harm than good if they end up antagonizing a potential customer before they ever do business with you, he said.
Another issue is targeting. If you use an ad network like Google and are not willing to spend big dollars on high-value keywords, your video ad will likely be placed with an article or YouTube video that has little to do with the viewer’s interest in your product or service.
Related Article: The Real Future of Live Video
Autoplay Ads Increase Sales Over Time
A slightly more obscure issue driving the continued use of autoplay is who controls advertising, said Alessandro De Zanche, an independent media consultant.
Too many web properties are “made for advertising,” he said. Their sole purpose is to sell ads. The media they publish is simply there to attract a certain kind of visitor. This happens when the creatives and editors (who are rewarded for creating quantity content) cede control over how the site is monetized to ad executives.
“Autoplay is a function of the quality and/or business transformation levels of media owners, in the evolution of their monetization strategies from mono-channel to multi-channel,” De Zanche said.
Regardless of who is in control, the purpose of marketing is selling things and autoplay ads do increase sales over time, said Nelson.
“If all you care about is someone remembers your brand … you have to see a brand 14 times before you ever recognize them,” he said. “And then, three months later, you forget you saw this ad so much and you’re at Home Depot and you need bug spray, and there’s the bug spray [you saw in the ad] that’s sometimes all it takes to increase your sales.”