The CTV Experience: Let’s Make Sure It Connects With Consumers

by | Aug 16, 2022

I’m a news junkie and regularly use a prominent network’s streaming app on my Apple TV to catch the latest headlines from the business and financial world. If that doesn’t make me queasy enough—I’m not even talking about my 401k—the ad experience is even worse. Not only do I see the same ads over and over, day after day, but the ads, running side by side in the same pods, are for financial brands that directly compete with one another (with remarkably similar messaging).

The problem isn’t unique to that particular network brand or those advertisers. Our recent research with Ipsos found that 73% of consumers say the ads they see are repetitive. But who hasn’t streamed ad-supported content and seen either the same repeated ads, jarring ad breaks or no ads at all? 

For members of the ad community, this isn’t just annoying, it’s downright disheartening, since we all preach that consumer attention has to be earned, not hijacked, and customer experience is everything.

Unfortunately, in this time of opportunity, with a growing number of ad-supported platforms (welcome to AVOD-land Netflix and Disney+), disruptive new technologies, and willing marketers allocating more and more ad spending to CTV (perhaps as much as $29.5 billion by 2024, says eMarketer), we continue to treat customers as a commodity by not respecting their time, attention—or their privacy.

That’s never a good thing, especially when the industry is under increasing scrutiny as digital ad marketing undergoes a reckoning, with consumers (and regulators) fixated on privacy and demanding change. It’s not as if we weren’t warned. More than a decade ago ad industry pioneer Wenda Harris Millard urged the fledgling programmatic ad sector to “not trade our advertising inventory like pork bellies.”

Yet that’s exactly what happened. And we’re seeing the intense backlash today, which is why we may end up repeating these same mistakes in CTV, where despite all the hype, the viewing experience feels far more careless than “connected.” But it’s not too late. We have time to resist the temptation of “cheap and easy” with CTV—and shift instead to attention and interaction.

So what are brands to do? Here’s where I’d start:

 

Understand Consumers’ Behaviors and Interests

 

As a consumer, I’m grateful when my CVS app helps me find stores when I’m bouncing around Manhattan or when Bank of America makes it easy for me to track my balance and pay bills. And I don’t know what I’d do without the Delta app, which helps me change flights on the fly and make the most of my rewards points. I’m willing to exchange information about me to them in return for valuable service—ease of transactions, relevant promos, etc. When the value exchange holds up throughout the consumer experience, my loyalty to the brand just grows. Marketing 101, right? Whenever I receive something from any of them—by email or even U.S. mail—my expectation is that the marketing is a service to me as their consumer. And, I trust that they will do everything they can to protect their integrity with me. Yet, when I see advertising in CTV, too often basic “marketing as a service” principles go by the wayside.

To remedy that, ad buyers need to push back when clients push for “cheaper and more.” Haven’t we moved past the days of “spots and dots” and “spray and pray”? Technology today enables more interactive experiences and authenticated human connections via CTV, offering ways for brands to learn about and respond to consumers’ needs. Let’s expand on this innovation instead of defaulting to our old and easy methods.  

Consider this, Forbes recently reported that viewer favorability towards advertising reached a low of 25 percent, driven mainly by concerns over consumer privacy, as well as ad intrusiveness and irrelevance, noting that for brands, “content that can hold a viewer’s attention…leads to greater engagement, enhanced brand recall and improved trust.” But we already know that, right? It’s time to act on it.

 

Get a Handle on the Complex Buying Process Before It’s Out of Hand

 

As consumer complaints rise over the CTV ad experience, there’s too much finger-pointing. Who’ll take the blame—and who’ll fix it? Brand marketers as budget owners have the upper hand and should hold all of us in the  complex ad-buying ecosystem accountable. Earlier in my career during my time as a chief marketing officer, I juggled several competing priorities (and often spent more time with our CFO than with our agencies). Keeping pace with the shifts in platforms, privacy regs, campaign optimization, etc. was overwhelming. But I did my best to be in a constant state of learning, asking a lot of questions until I felt confident making smart decisions. I encourage all marketers to ratchet up their curiosity so they can be well informed agents of change.    

 

Play the Long Game

 

Let’s not forget what all the exuberance is about: CTV promises to blend the branding power of TV and the targeting and precision of digital media—with the potential to create something superior to both. But getting there means that we can’t take any shortcuts. We need to assess what’s possible with the technology right now and clean up our execution. And long term, we need innovation in creative experiences, in ad delivery and, yes, in measurement. In the meantime, brands need to go back to the fundamentals of marketing and take back control of where and how often their ads are running, and most importantly, whether they’re respecting their consumers. As we’ve seen in digital media, respect pays off in the long term. If we stay on the path we’re on—well, in that case, all bets are off.

If I’ve learned anything from staying glued to the news and working in advertising and marketing for many years, I know things can change quickly. Good times in CTV are not a given. But good results are a lot more likely if we build this medium right from the start.