Everyone has a defense against pre-roll ads, those video advertisements you are forced to watch before enjoying a YouTube video or online news report. Some mute their computers; others play a little Spider Solitaire until the ad is over; still others just force themselves to space out until the content actually begins, magically snapping back to reality once the pre-roll ad has finished.
Solve Media, a digital advertising firm, is trying to live up to its name, trotting out a new solution that aims to please both advertisers who want to get their message across as well as online video watchers who hate the ads that delay their chosen content.
Aol Ventures, whose parent company, Aol, also owns HuffPost, is an investor in Solve Media.
Solve Media's newest idea is simple: Users can skip pre-roll ads and get straight to their video by typing a few magic words into a box and pressing enter. Those magic words? The slogan, jingle, or "brand message" of the company whose advertisement they're currently watching.
In other words, if you're faced with (hypothetically) a 30-second GMC ad before a YouTube video, you can type in "We are professional grade" and be done with it.
If a Marshall's ad pops up before footage of last night's debate flub, type in "Never pay full price for fabulous" and get to the gaffes.
If Apple bombards you with a Siri ad when you're just trying to watch the slam dunk of the night, type in "Call me Rock God" and get to the dunk-age.
Solve Media's "pre-roll insurance technology" rolls out immediately with pilot partners AOL, Expedia, General Motors and more. Peter Kafka of AllThingsD points out that this is not Solve Media's first attempt at making web users input ad slogans: The company also launched an advertising product that replaced CAPTCHAs -- those random numbers or letters you occasionally have to type in to prove you're human when signing up for an account or leaving a comment on a website -- with branded messages.
Solve Media joins other high-profile advertisers searching for ways to improve advertising on online videos. Streaming behemoth Hulu rolled out its Ad Swap in October 2011, which allows users to choose which companies' advertisement they'd like to watch along with their web videos; advertising group AdoTube unveiled the "Polite Pre-Roll" in September 2010, which let users "minimize" the pre-roll ad and go straight to the video, with a pop-up reminding them to watch the advertisement later.
For advertisers, the stakes are high. A report from AccuStream Research found that advertisers spent about $1.56 billion in pre-roll advertising in 2011, a number expected to increase every year into 2014. Solve Media (who -- caveat! -- also has a stake in proving that ineffective pre-roll advertising is costing companies money) also estimates that companies are wasting up to $33 per second on "skipped or ignored" pre-roll ads in the United States; since YouTube began allowing its users to skip pre-roll ads, meanwhile, it has seen average skip rates of around 70 percent, and up to 80 percent, according to 2011 research by YouTube cited by Solve.
For consumers, meanwhile: Well, the stakes are low. We just want our video to start, right? To that end, web entrepreneurs have been waging a battle against online ads for years, recently setting their sights on video advertisements. Firefox add-on AdBlock Video, for example, was developed solely to block video ads and can stop pre-roll ads on YouTube, CNN, Fox News and the video players of the four major networks; the AdBlock Plus extension for Google Chrome added video ad blocking capabilities in September 2011. Hulu fought back against these extensions later that month, changing its site and rendering the ever-popular AdBlock ineffective at blocking its pre-roll ads.
That defensive change in Hulu's website is indicative of just how important these pre-roll ads are to both advertisers and the websites that depend on them for revenue. And with the war between advertisers (Watch our ads!) and web surfers (Just show us the video!) raging on, Solve Media is seeking a middle ground: We'll show you the video immediately, but you have to type in this advertising slogan first. If they are successful, you can practice typing "Call me Rock God" as quickly as you can starting right now.
You can try out this technology for yourself -- by which we mean, you can go watch an advertisement using type-to-skip -- at Solve Media's website here. And for an overview of the technology itself, and why it might be useful for both advertisers and consumers, check out this snazzy video that Solve Media put together below: