Impressions have been around as a measuring tool since the dawn of online advertising. For a long time, it was one of the only measures of an ad’s reach. Text ads, banner ads, display ads… all counted the raw video impressions, and charged the advertiser by that metric as well.
But there’s a fundamental flaw when counting impressions: it cannot measure audience engagement. Impressions count the number of times a video production ad is displayed; there is no information regarding whether the viewer even sees it, let alone if they have high engagement levels with it or share it with their friends. Just raw display numbers.
Video impressions are like highway billboards. You have some idea how many cars will drive by it, but no way of knowing how many–if any–looked at it, enjoyed it, or talked about it.
Then came clicks. Now video editing advertisers could see a little better data about their ad’s success by counting the clicks–typically these kinds of traditional display ads send viewers that click to a landing page or company home page. We’ll get into clicks a lot more next week, particularly as they compare to shares as a measure of online video ad success, but in general… they still leave the advertiser wondering an awful lot about their impact on audiences.
Online video production’s arrival didn’t kill the impression. In fact, most video ad networks still operate on an impression basis. You see these ads every day… they’re called pre-roll. A video editing ad impression occurs when a video plays without the viewer choosing to watch it (pre-roll viewers have made a choice to watch another video altogether, and are then subjected to a video ad they did not ask for). This includes pre-roll video ads, obviously, but also any other video ad on a page that plays without warning or permission.
It’s the same with traditional television commercials as well. Advertisers are charged by the number of viewers a particular show or time-slot gets. But you can’t click on a TV ad. Those brands will never know if audiences watched the ad, or went to the kitchen to make a snack. There’s zero measure of attention span or emotional reaction. Just raw “plays.”
And I’ve always argued that this is the fundamental flaw with pre-roll and auto-play video production ads: you have no idea how much engagement the spot achieves. None whatsoever. All you know is how many people were forced to watch it. Even if a user clicks away from the page while the pre-roll is playing, and completely ignores it, the advertiser gets charged. You don’t know if they laughed and enjoyed it, or if they hated it and made a personal vow never to buy your brand again. And that just seems silly to me. At best, it’s simply inefficient use of ad dollars, especially when there are much better ways to manage viewer engagement with video ads.
When a viewer chooses to watch a video–amateur or branded–they’re not surprised to then see that video editing play on their screen. After all… they chose to watch it. And what that does is lower guards. A viewer choosing to enter into a branded video experience is much more open to what it has to say. Pre-roll viewers–by comparison–are more likely to be annoyed or frustrated, putting them in less of a mood to be marketed to.
Impressions can tell you how many viewers watched an ad they didn’t ask for. But views can show you the number of viewers who asked for your video… chose it… requested to see it. That’s several rungs up the engagement-measurement ladder from raw video impressions. Which is why cost-per-view is becoming a preferred online video advertising method for brands: instead of paying for raw “plays,” they pay only for the times their message is watched by willing viewers.
If you want to back way out and really simplify the difference between impressions and views, then think about it this way: video impressions are a measure of you going to the viewers, but views are a measure of them coming to you. Impressions are about you “selling”… views are about them “buying in.” As a brand… which would you rather have?
(VIA Jeremy Scott @ReelSEO)
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