The Digital Anthropologist: Rhythm New Media’s Ujjal Kohli the New Consumer Engagement

Ujjal Kohli was CEO of Rhythm New Media in 2014. This article originally appeared  The Advertising Technology Review in 2014.

Ujjal Kohli is CEO of Rhythm New Media, a leading mobile video advertising company with media partners such as NBC Universal, CBS, ABC, Fox, Warner Brothers and client brand advertisers such as P&G, Unilever, Disney, and McDonald’s. Ujjal has over 25 years of experience in management, engineering, marketing strategy, and venture capital. Ujjal sat down to discuss the future of mobile video advertising and his insights gleaned from his company’s more than 200 brand advertisers which ran campaigns with Rhythm.

Mobile Video has shown some astounding engagement rates- can you explain why and also why some brands have been late to choose video despite the numbers?

Mobile video in premium environments works double-time for brands. An experience similar to TV with kindred advertising benefits, mobile video features the added advantage of instant engagement on a remarkably personal device. High mobile video completion and engagement rates naturally follow— and these completion rates are real, full-screen, full-focus metrics. Unlike the screen switching of online or the multitasking so prevalent in TV, a completed view in mobile is more likely to be actively watched because mobile commands the full attention of the viewer. Whether watching clips or full-length shows, viewers like to kick up their heels and enjoy their content undisturbed. If viewers are presented with a brief, well-targeted ad before that content, first, they don’t mind because they perceive that ad as a fair trade for their free content, and second, the short full-screen ad is not easily ignorable because it takes up the entire viewing screen. Viewers are willing to click through because they are actually watching the ads in the first place. High completion rates lead to high engagement rates, and elegant interactive experiences that allow the consumer to get back to their chosen content in a single tap encourages users to click more frequently. Mobile video is scaling quickly with incredible metrics, but because mobile doesn’t yet have TV’s reach, some brands are slow to adopt it. Brands who are looking forward and planning for the future have invested in mobile video because they know it has quickly become an key ingredient in their digital strategy.

Despite the positives, some have said that video will eventually reach the point where consumers will experience “banner blindness” with the medium as they have with static ads. How will video advertisers evade the pitfalls of over-saturation?

Banner blindness will not happen to premium mobile video. We all know how annoying it can be to see the same ad over and over or be forced to sit through an ad every time you want to watch a video clip— it’s just not a winning strategy. To combat this, premium publishers encourage strict frequency caps for individual advertisers as well as within the app itself. This means that in any given day, a viewer will likely not see the same brand ad more than four times on any one application. This also means that viewers will only see one ad for every two or more videos viewed, rather than for every clip. While this is not a universal practice, it is widely used in premium environments and helps ads stand out. To avoid the pitfalls of over-saturation, advertisers can help themselves by advertising only in premium environments, rather than remnant or user-generated content, and by continuing to innovate creatively. Unlike easily ignorable static banners, video demands consumers’ attention, and with both entertaining and relevant content, video ads will never be ignored in the way banners are.

How does Big Data fit in to the rise of video? Will better targeting and more engaging ad formats- such as video- make the ecosystem better or will we possibly see a torrent of so-called “stalker ads” which will flood the Web and cause more anti-ad tech backlash from consumers?

Better targeting certainly has the ability to make the ecosystem better. As a general rule, a relevant ad is always better than an irrelevant one, and the more relevant the better. Video ads in particular are used for upper-funnel branding where the targeting is demographics-based and therefore pretty general. It thus avoids the phenomenon of the same ad for a pair of shoes following people from website to website with the use of big data ad tech, just because that consumer looked at that particular shoe one time on a shopping site. With video ads, the level of targeting is more general. This means ads targeted for young men get shown to young men, which is what branding is about.

Let’s talk about Rhythm’s value proposition. Your company is growing- please talk about what you’ve been doing and what you’ve learned from your clients.

Rhythm plays in the premium mobile video space, with an emphasis on premium. We choose our publishing partners because viewers recognize their content to be original and valuable, qualities for which viewers are willing to trade their time spent watching relevant ads in exchange for free, premium media. This fair value exchange results in consistently high completion rates— often 80% or higher— across the entire Rhythm platform. No one else is doing this. We are proud of the many industry firsts we have delivered in this space, including the first to stitch ads dynamically at the time of ad request in 2005, the first premium ad-supported video app for the IOS app store in 2008, the first interactive in-stream video ad in mobile also in 2008, and the first to provide 3rd-party tracking for mobile video ads in 2009.]]

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