ESPN is going to catch the brunt of my wrath on this topic today, by virtue of hitting me with three autoplay video ads that started upon the page load. But they're far from the only publisher to do this. Over the weekend, I had been hoping to read up on the upset Vanderbilt pulled over Kentucky in the SEC basketball tournament, so I went to this page, only to be blasted out by the loud and unexpected Subway commercial. There is only one reason websites do this sort of thing: because they hate you.
Nobody wins in this scenario except for ESPN, who takes the advertiser’s money and runs, while the reader and the advertiser get screwed. If ESPN was actually in the business of serving their readers and viewers, they’d have done the research to know that users actually hate autoplay video ads (or audio-only ads, for that matter). But like many businesses, they care more about making a buck than they do about their user experience.
I don’t care if whether you’re autoplaying an advertisement or your own content (the autoplay ad was followed by actual ESPN video content), it’s still the least user-friendly thing video is capable of doing online, and it’s time someone called it what it is: antisocial behavior.
Imagine walking into a store, sidling up to the customer service counter, and just as you start to ask a question the employee turns to you and screams their favorite heavy metal song in your face? Would you feel like shopping at that store anymore? Would you even still feel like finishing your question?
And don’t tell me these people are from another generation and are just out of touch. Surely most of the important decision makers at the top content websites these days are Internet users themselves (obviously), and they have to have encountered these autoplay video ads on their own before as a user. I flat out refuse to believe there’s anyone in the marketing world that genuinely thinks this kind of ad is a good thing except for the publisher pocketing the ad dollar.
So why do they persist? Laziness. It’s easier to stay lazy and stay in the status quo than it is to create and sell ad units that actually matter. ESPN just wants to show their advertisers a high number of impressions. And you can’t get nearly as many impressions when the ad requires the user to initiate the video. So they make it auto-play.
It’s the same shady crap publishers have been doing with image slideshows for years. Got a Top Ten list? Make it a slideshow—you’ll get 10 pageviews instead of one, and advertisers love pageviews!!!!!
Of course, the good news is that this will all end very soon—at least on the major content sites. Why? Because the brands are waking up. They've lost enough money buying online video ad clicks, thank you very much. They’re much more interested in user-generated video views, new advances in video ad units, and ads that engage and convert.
So if you care at all about long term success, don’t put auto-playing video ads on your website. And don’t buy ad placement for autoplay video ads on publishers’ sites. Unless, of course, your brand objectives are consumer aggravation and alienation.