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MEDIA VOICES: The Wall Street Journal Shares Best Practices for Video Ads



Trevor Fellows
Global Head, Advertising Sales
The Wall Street Journal

Trevor Fellows, global head of advertising sales for The Wall Street Journal, spoke with eMarketer’s Danielle Drolet about best practices in digital video advertising.

eMarketer: What have you learned over the years about video advertising that you have developed into a best practice?

Trevor Fellows: The user experience has to be paramount. Interestingly, at the moment, there is significantly more demand for video space than there is inventory.

Everybody’s interests are best served by putting the user experience first. We get better quality impressions. Users trust the video experience that they watch with us, and hopefully they enjoy and trust the video content, too.

Consequently, we ensure that our pre-rolls are relatively short. We’ll run 10- or 15-second pre-rolls. And in some cases there’s video where we won’t place any advertising at all—in very important news stories, for example.

eMarketer: How should advertisers determine video length?

Fellows: It depends on the type of content and the length of the content. There’s a world of difference between long-form and short-form online video. We publish both, but the overwhelming majority of our content is relatively short form, and consequently, we make sure our advertisers know that.

The people willing to sit through 30 minutes are much more likely to watch a 30-second commercial beforehand or to sit through a break at some stage in between. But because most of our video views are coming from clips that are anywhere between 90-seconds and two-and-a-half or 3 minutes, we’re looking at a 10- or 15-second pre-roll.

eMarketer: What creative works well there?

Fellows: What makes good content is hugely subjective. The one thing that we would ask is, “Is this an interruptive experience?” This is classic advertising. We would strongly advise two things: One, the content should be of a very high production quality and interesting; second, the advertisers should provide a significant amount of variety around their commercial messages. When looking at online storytelling, it’s a best practice to look at the propensity of the audiences to watch two, three, four videos in a row. There are some advertisers that make just one creative and expect to repeat that. That’s not good for the advertiser, and it’s not good for the viewer either.

eMarketer: What type of video ads are most effective?

Fellows: Pre-roll is the most effective. There’s an enormous amount of deliberate confusion as to what constitutes a video ad. Some publishers are trying to have videos in-banner and claiming that’s video. To me, that’s not really a video ad. A video ad is when a user has chosen to watch a video on our platforms.

“When looking at online storytelling, it’s a best practice to look at the propensity of the audiences to watch two, three, four videos in a row.”

I see in-banner, video overlays or interstitials pushing video on a user who doesn’t necessarily want to watch it. And he or she may be in a place where video is inappropriate—they may have limited bandwidth, or they may be in a busy work situation where sound is embarrassing. [We define video as] the video has been deliberately chosen by the user of our site or mobile device. Then put advertising around that.

eMarketer: Do your ad partners give you ad content that’s customized for desktop and mobile device?

Fellows: Not yet, but that’s coming. As you can imagine, we’ve got a hugely disparate bunch of advertisers. Some have been using video for years. Others are experimenting with it now.

eMarketer: How should advertisers decide whether to develop new content or use repurposed TV creative?

Fellows: Online video is still somewhat of a lean-forward experience as opposed to a lean-back experience. And much of it depends on how good that advert is. There’s no simple answer.

eMarketer: Where have you found success in placing video ads?

Fellows: We are very lucky in that we have established a paid-for website. Our subscribers are loyal but pay very respectable sums of money each month to get access to our content. The way that we look at it could be very different from the way that a free website would look at it.

“Online video is still somewhat of a lean-forward experience as opposed to a lean-back experience.”

For us, it’s about the user experience. There is going to be editorial judgment in paid, too. Heaven forbid there’s terribly tragic news about the South China ferry sinking, for example. We have to think about: Is that the right place for the ad to be next to?

eMarketer: What are your cost and pricing models?

Fellows: We sell everything on a CPM basis. Those CPMs are high. We don’t sell anything through exchanges or real-time bidding. There’s no programmatic because we’re fortunate.

eMarketer: Would you look to those models in the future?

Fellows: No. Every advertiser we talk to, quite rightly, is hugely interested in video. It’s not because it performs really well, but because it allows them to tell a story in a very compelling way. If you’re a premium brand like ours, we can best sell our clients by having direct conversations and understanding their objectives really well. Having an intermediary do so via an exchange or a network makes no sense whatsoever for us.

It’s very different when looking at low-quality video, which is becoming commoditized. Advertisers are always very savvy, and they realize that there’s an enormous difference between watching a user-generated content ad, with low production quality, which may get some views, or click-bait video, such as the eight fattest people in America or the cheapest man in England-type videos.

The market is moving to two different places. There’s premium video, which advertisers are very happy to pay premium rates for, and then there’s what I call commoditized video.

eMarketer: Is there ever a situation where you would advise for a brand to stay digital-only or print-only?

Fellows: Yes, absolutely, there are times. A client with a small budget, for example, is quite different from a client that’s highly targeted or a client that is looking for a significant share of voice—all the things that will change that media selection.

But it does depend. If you get creative ads it depends on the size of their budgets, whether they’re looking for a long duration. But, yes, absolutely, there are certainly circumstances when we would advise that. But for the majority of places, we think multiplatform is the right way to do this.

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