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Streaming Services Often Trip Up when Advertising Their Own Wares

Tim Cross 06 June, 2022 

Streaming services put a lot of time and energy into their own ad strategies – whether to run ads at all, and if so, what sort of ad load to run, how to sell ads, whether to invest in interactive formats, etc.

But when it comes to actually advertising themselves to consumers, their output is often lacking. Kantar research shows that consumers often aren’t sure which streaming service is advertising to them – which is rather problematic for the bevvy of new services trying to shout about their expensively made content in order to sign up new consumers and retain existing ones.

Here Zoe Denny, senior client director at Kantar UK, outlines where streaming services are going wrong, and picks out what Kantar’s research suggests streaming services should be doing differently.

The pressure is on for video on demand (VOD) providers.  Already grappling with a drop off in demand as lockdown restrictions have eased, streaming services are now having to contend with the cost of living crisis.  Consumers are re-evaluating their monthly budgets and discretionary spending, and subscriptions have been one of the clearest ways to make savings. 

In fact, 1.5 million VOD accounts were cancelled in the first three months of 2022, with cancellations outnumbering new sign ups by 300,000.  Netflix made headlines in April when it announced that it had lost subscribers for the first time since 2011.  

It’s not all doom and gloom.  In Britain, 58 percent of households have at least one subscription service,  but now more than ever before, brands need to prove that they are the platform that consumers can’t do without.  

Advertising is an essential tool in their arsenal.  As providers invest more and more in content, advertising is the shop window that reveals the unmissable shows and films on their platform to consumers.  Entertainment brands were the largest advertising spenders last year in the UK.  And yet, our analysis tells us that this advertising isn’t working as hard as it could be.  So what should it be doing better? 

Who’s this ad for again? 

On the whole, our research has shown that VOD advertising ticks a lot of boxes for entertainment.  Subscription services are getting the mix right when it comes to engaging audiences, for example by including famous faces, making people feel something, and using music to create atmosphere.  But a critical piece of the puzzle is missing.  Consumers actually find it difficult to know what VOD brand they’ve just watched. 

We know that clear branding is the single most important predictor of whether an ad will translate into commercial success.  You could make the most entertaining and creative ad going – but if people can’t tie it to your brand, it’s not going to help you win or retain subscribers.  

Services need to make it as easy as possible for people to find shows they want to watch.  Right now, platforms are investing huge amounts in creating compelling content to draw people in – think season four of ‘Stranger Things’, which cost Netflix as much as $30 million an episode to make, or Prime Video’s ‘Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ series, which is costing £40 million an episode.  But without clear branding in advertising, streaming businesses aren’t getting maximum return on this investment.    

Clear, distinctive branding allows VOD services to demonstrate difference.  Ultimately this is a crowded market – it’s important that people can differentiate between subscription services and associate particular types of content with the brand.  Film franchises and longer running series can help with this: most people would associate shows like Squid Game or Bridgerton with Netflix, for example, and that connection in people’s minds keeps them returning to the platform.  

Brand now, reap rewards later

Branding in VOD advertising tends to rely on ‘bookending’ – the brand assets appear at the beginning and end of the advert – but this isn’t impactful enough.  For some, the logo is only in an outro or corner of the trailer.  Advertisers are often concerned about branding coming at the expense of catching the audience’s attention, but our research shows that current methods just aren’t cutting it for building strong brand associations.  It’s particularly problematic for longer trailers where the time the brand is on screen accounts for a very small proportion of the trailer and is competing against the highly engaging content of the rest of the ad.  

How can advertisers build brand associations in a way that doesn’t come at the detriment of the overall ad?  Distinctiveness is key – leveraging intellectual property like recognisable content and using a particular creative style which stands out.  It’s about linking yourself to things people can easily recognise as being part of you and your offer.  Sports broadcasters do this well – using the events they have access to plus famous commentators to help people identify and turn to their platform.  To maximise impact, brands should use their assets and creative style consistently over time to help build recognition.   

The storytelling inherent in trailers and streaming service ads can result in a reluctance to include too much branding because of concerns over breaking up the content flow.  Platforms can get around this by adapting branding to the content.  Disney+ has done this by blending the iconic lightsaber with its logo for the new Obi Wan Kenobi series.  It links the Star Wars franchise to Disney+, helping people to associate the two with each other.  Streaming services can also drive that recognition by having the brand present at emotional high points in the advert when engagement is especially high.  

Trailers are valuable, but VOD advertisers should use these in combination with ‘showreel’ ads which showcase a number of different types of content available on the platform.  These ads can be used as a way of demonstrating a clear creative style or unique selling point.  They also make it easier for people to find something they like on the platform and be engaged by it.   

The VOD market is saturated, and it’s getting harder and harder for consumers to differentiate between platforms.  As the cost of living crisis squeezes households further, providers need to clearly position themselves as the one ‘essential’ streaming service – offering unique content that can’t be found anywhere else.  Getting branding right in advertising is crucial if VOD services want to reap the rewards of the excellent programmes and films they are investing in.  Now is the time to be creative, making sure that advertisers are thinking first and foremost about brand, brand, brand.

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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