Digital Transformation Brand

How to crack the code of awesome CTV ads

By Tim Farrer | Director of product design

August 12, 2022 | 6 min read

Designing high-performing ads for CTV is simpler than it might seem – marketers need only tap into consumers’ desire for entertainment while working within the bounds of the channel, argues Brightline’s director of product design Tim Farrer.

Neon sign of TV

Gamify your CTV to bring it to life

Streaming video ads are rolling out faster than pancakes at Waffle House. More than half of advertisers using connected television (CTV) or over-the-top (OTT) media will increase spending, with an average lift of 22%, according to a new study by Advertiser Perceptions and Premion.

As the market grows more crowded, marketers are under more pressure to stand out. Unfortunately, their default is often to go the old-school route with linear 30-second video spots. But this is like ordering toast for dinner at a Michelin restaurant when the whole menu offers a contemporary selection of interactive, personalized and shoppable add-ons.

Adopting powerful new formats need not be a heavy lift and is sure to prove effective – just by sticking to a handful of basic tenets:

1. Work with what you have

Your first impulse may be to create something totally new for the CTV space if you have the bandwidth, resources, time and commitment. However, most advertisers can and should leverage existing creative assets.

Doing so significantly cuts down launch timelines, which can range from two to four weeks, ensuring the ad ties in with promotions that may be running across other media channels.

As a rule of thumb for assets, if you can gather the basics – including logos, fonts and the brand’s style guide – along with relevant images, copy, web pages, banners and video to support your key performance indicators (KPIs), you’ll be in great shape to start creating the ad.

2. Keep it simple

Advertisers tend to adhere to the notion that, in CTV, more is more.

This could not be further from the truth. I’ve seen 15- and 30-second ads crammed with more than 10 products, blocks of dense product copy and testimonials and a QR code. It’s just too much to ask of a viewer to comprehend in such a short amount of time.

Instead, use the ad format that best suits your unique KPIs. For instance, in-stream units – formats that run for the duration of the commercial spot – are perfect for light, snackable engagement and games. Expandable galleries – formats that launch a full-screen unit – are suited for more robust content and videos in particular.

Put your most important content first to ensure maximum exposure, and don’t ask too much of a viewer. Scrolling through a few products and scanning a QR code is more than enough.

Also, be mindful of design. Keep text to a minimum – no one wants to read a novel on their TV screen. When possible, avoid big stretches of light color on a screen, as this can feel almost like headlights in a dark room. Remember to keep image resolution high; CTV ads are designed for a 1920 x 1080 screen at 72 dpi.

3. Gamify it

When in doubt, gamify it. Take the concept of your unit and make it more fun to interact with by leveraging common game concepts such as object-movers, reveals, polls and trivia.

I’ve seen an auto ad where viewers move a car across a simulated road while unlocking facts about the vehicle’s style, tech and safety; quick-service restaurant ads in which viewers reveal a new menu item by pressing a button on their remote; and spots wherein viewers must answer a trivia question to unlock an exclusive offer. These ads leverage the standard asset set, but by framing the interaction in a gamified way, the brand entices users to engage because they enjoy playing the game.

The easiest way to gamify an ad is via trivia, which requires minimal assets and can offer many simultaneous benefits: educating viewers about the brand, reinforcing a message, learning viewer preferences and, if media is purchased in a premium placement, potentially leveraging the intellectual property of top shows and movies to further entice interaction in an organic, co-branded experience. Trivia is also a great way of tying a brand to a tentpole calendar moment. Simply ask a generic football question during the time of the Super Bowl and, all of a sudden, the ad is relevant to the Big Game – no official sponsorship required.

4. Remember that CTV is still TV

For all its bells and whistles, CTV advertising should not be confused with digital advertising that might be found on desktop or mobile. Television is a visual, lean-back medium, as opposed to websites and mobile apps, which are lean-in and necessitate a different kind of user interface.

In general, CTV remotes are simplified to the bare basics: up, down, left, right, enter and back. Therefore, the interface of the ad has to be simple to accommodate the input method.

Put yourself in the shoes of the average viewer. You’ve had a long busy day at work and you’re relaxing at home in a darkened room watching TV. Do you want to read a dense block of copy, which is likely 10 feet away on the wall? Nope. Do you want to enjoy an ad experience that informs and entertains? You bet.

At the end of the day, TV informs consumers while offering entertainment and fun, so why not create an ad that does the same thing?

Tim Farrer is director of product design at Brightline.

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