What marketers should know about Hulu’s new ‘pause’ ads

A few weeks ago, media platform Hulu unveiled a new “non-intrusive, viewer-initiated” ad unit that plays when viewers pause the show they’re watching.

Hulu is currently testing the ad with Coca-Cola and Charmin, and expects to make it generally available for select content by next quarter.

The availability of this type of ad is the clearest sign yet that advertisers are acknowledging the marked rise in streaming video viewing, and a shift in how people consume media.

But is there a place for subtle, static ads in the age of louder and bigger? Hulu certainly thinks so, and so do marketers.

Screenshot of the new 'pause' ad in action | Hulu

Screenshot of the new ‘pause’ ad in action | Hulu


Jeremy Helfand, vice president and head of advertising platforms for Hulu, said that its research showed that “consumers generally preferred ads that were subtle and non-intrusive, and that extensive audio and video when pausing was considered disruptive. These insights led us to take our current approach to pause ads, and the research so far has shown a positive response from viewers.”

“Just as consumers’ viewing habits have evolved, their expectations for advertising have also changed,” Helfand said. “Viewers no longer accept an irrelevant, intrusive ad experience and appreciate when brands tell their stories in authentic and integrated ways. To stand out and continue engaging their target audiences, brands must rise to the challenge and flex their creative muscles to go beyond the traditional commercial break.”

Going with the flow

These types of subtle ads can be a good thing for brands, according to Jackie Pecquex, digital media manager for ad agency KW2, who added that she would try Hulu’s new ads.

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“I like pause ads better than mid-roll in terms of not messing with the viewer’s content flow,” Pecquex said. “The industry as a whole is moving toward less-interruptive and more user-assistive ad experiences, and that’s a good thing for growing brand affinity. Thinking back even five years ago, things like desktop, rich-media screen takeovers and pushdowns were a lot more common than they are today.”

Dan Goman, CEO of video monetization platform OWNZONES, agreed.

“We can say from experience that two success factors stand above others,” Goman said. “Don’t be intrusive or annoying. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to cross that line and users will drop from your platform as soon as it’s crossed. Focus on tailoring the experience to the individual. Make the user feel understood.”

Goman acknowledged that marketers are anxious for the wealth of data that OTT marketing provides, but he warned service providers, content owners and marketers to center the user experience.

“The data is available, the users are hungry for content,” Goman said. “There’s no excuse not to offer them what they’re looking for.”

Fighting ad fatigue

“Publishers aren’t respecting frequency caps they claim are in place,” Pecquex said. “There are a lot of complaints from viewers about the same ads being served back to back, in every ad break, etc. Static ads help by adding another (less intrusive) ad unit for advertisers. People complain less about banner frequency than video.”

“There are a lot of ad frequency complaints with OTT, so introducing static placements is a smart move for building scale and mitigating those frequency concerns,” Pecquex said.

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The number of subscription OTT video service viewers was expected to hit 170.1 million in 2018, more than half (51.7 percent) of the U.S. population, according to eMarketer. As connected TV and OTT scale, advertisers will need to look for new ways to acknowledge viewer behavior and find ways to connect.

“I think non-intrusiveness and user-relevance are what people are looking for,” Pecquex said. “They want ads that provide solutions and value. Marketers need to make sure that’s at the core of their advertising.”

But Anne Frisbie, SVP, global brand & programmatic, North America at mobile ad platform InMobi, said we’ll have to wait and see if they catch on.

“It’s always great to see innovations from leaders in the industry,” Frisbie said. “Creation of new ad formats that are aimed at helping to increase the amount of premium video inventory that is available is a good step. With that said, it remains to be seen whether and how buyers will embrace these ads and at what price point.”

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About The Author

Robin Kurzer started her career as a daily newspaper reporter in Milford, Connecticut. She then made her mark on the advertising and marketing world in Chicago at agencies such as Tribal DDB and Razorfish, creating award-winning work for many major brands. For the past seven years, she’s worked as a freelance writer and communications professional across a variety of business sectors.

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