Matt Williams: Engine deal and why Nail has nailed the problem of YouTube Preroll ads

It’s been a bit of a crazy week at Engine. And for good reason – we’re at a very exciting juncture with the proposed deal with Lake Capital just announced, hopefully signaling a new era for the company.

Naturally the news has thrown up a whole host of comments from journalists, media commentators and the wider industry. But internally the mood seems to be one of keen anticipation – there’s excitement to see where Engine will head next (both in the UK and overseas), there’s an eagerness to collaborate with our new partners at ORC International and Trailer Park (who have the coolest agency reel I’ve ever seen) and, most importantly of all, there’s a lot of people asking whether they can move to Hollywood anytime soon.

I wish there was more I could say at this stage, and hopefully I will be able to once the deal is signed and sealed – but the buzz around the building has been even greater than the time we got the Mr Whippy machine installed.

Yet despite Engine being at the heart of the biggest news of the past seven days, I certainly haven’t been short of other ammo for this week’s column.

That’s mainly because last week I clicked on an ad that had me smiling from ear to ear.

Not because there’s a dog threatening to be electrocuted – I love all animals, honest. But it’s frustrated me for a while now that we’ve all been getting YouTube Preroll ads very, very wrong.

I’m sure most of us have got to the point now where we know exactly where to hover our cursor when a YouTube film is preceded by an ad (far right hand side, about 5/6 of a way down). We all wait patiently for the timer to countdown, whilst on screen the first five seconds of a TV ad we’ve no doubt already seen plays out.

There’s no bespoke attempt to lure us in, no attempt to capture our attention before the timer runs out. Just a token effort to place a current brand ad in a spot dedicated for brand ads.

It all feels so very old school. OK, so advertisers are only charged for YouTube’s skippable ads when users actually watch them, but isn’t that defeating the object of why we’re all in this game? We don’t want to just make an ad as part of a box ticking exercise, we want to make something that people purposely want to watch, that they actually enjoy and that ultimately increases their sentiment towards said client.

And to do that we need to grab their attention. We need to create something they actively want to stick at. Nail Communications and the ASPCA have done that here, albeit in a surreptitious and unique way than can only be used to make a point, not as a long-term and viable technique to run with in the future.

But it still makes for an important debate . If a brand wants to continue using YouTube Preroll advertising, it needs to take the all-important first five seconds of its film seriously. It needs to make bespoke films in which the first five seconds is given unfair weighting in order to encourage people to watch on.

You don’t always have to threaten to electrocute a puppy. Or even bribe people to continue watching. But it does need to be far more than scene setting.

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