How “Carmilla” Helped Kill Off the 30-Second Ad

The backstory of the Carmilla Movie is very interesting. Never heard of that film? You can say that the Carmilla phenomenon is part of the developments in the ad industry that have led to the final demise of the traditional 30-second TV ad.

Consider this: On the largest video platforms, like YouTube, viewers have to be able to skip or close an in-stream video advertisement after 5 – 10 seconds. (It’s that count-down indicator that you see on the side of the video screen.) Most advertising videos for TV have traditionally been 20 – 30 seconds long and for websites, 20 – 20 seconds long. What with the transitioning of users away from traditional TV with advertising breaks, to streaming programs on, for instance, Netflix, without advertising, and also the time limit on in-stream ads online – it is practically the death of traditional video advertisements.

“Is it time to start creating ads with the “skip” button in mind? [asked Think With Google in 2015] Today, all ads are skippable—whether it’s a function of the format or not. People have been honing their skipping skills for a while. Think about it: Viewers experimented with fast-forwarding on their VCRs, improved their skills with DVRs, and now are mastering ad choice on the web. Even if there’s no option to fast-forward or skip, consumers can always pick up a smartphone, switch tabs, or find other ways to hit a metaphoric skip button.”

(Source: The First 5 Seconds: Creating YouTube ads, on Think With Google)

Non-skippable in-stream ads on YouTube

What are in-stream ads? Non-skippable in-stream ads are video ads that may appear before, during or after the video content. They can be up to 15-20 seconds long and viewers must watch the ad before they’re able to watch the selected video. Therefore: non-skippable.

“In-stream ads are sold on a CPM basis [that is Cost Per Thousand impressions, an impression being a one-time view by a visitor, or one-time display on a web page]. [In-stream ads] may generate higher CPMs than other ad formats on YouTube. However, while non-skippable in-stream ads may generate higher revenue than other ad formats, they also have a higher abandonment rate. Enabling this ad format across videos can lead to lower video views and watch time. It’s up to the advertiser to determine the best balance between views/watch time and revenue for your channel, and you can use the Ad Performance and Views reports in YouTube Analytics to help you make that decision.

How are non-skippable in-stream ads different than TrueView in-stream ads?

If a non-skippable in-stream ad appears before a video, the viewer must watch the ad in full before the video will play. With TrueView in-stream ads, viewers have the option watch the ad in full or to skip the ad after viewing it for 5 seconds. Both in-stream ad formats may generate higher CPMs than other ad formats on YouTube, but non-skippable in-stream ads have higher video abandonment rates than skippable TrueView in-stream ads.” (Source: YouTube, rtrvd. 2018-01-02)

And the same goes for Google ads – and news websites

Google discovered in 2015 that the maximum time that people will tolerate an ad is five seconds – not ten, just five. It stands to reason that other video-based websites, like news sites, for instance, would take note of this fact. Some do, some don’t. I never watch the ones that don’t.

“[Think With Google] looked into thousands of [YouTube] TrueView ads across 16 countries and 11 verticals, categorizing them according to 170 creative attributes, including brand name mentions and featured celebrities. We used aggregated analytics from AdWords to see how long people watched without hitting the skip button. To measure brand awareness and ad recall, we took advantage of Google’s Brand Lift.”

So, basically, in future, you will no longer be able to run long ads, same as you will probably no longer be able to drive gas-guzzlers and most cars will be electric.

What can you do in five seconds? And how?

Research by Google and others delivered the following rules for 5-second ads:

  1. Integrate that product logo. The earlier in the ad the product placement, or the placement of the product logo or brand, like in the first five seconds, the higher the users’ brand recall and engagement, but the less likely it is that users will watch the whole thing. Gain on the roundabouts, lose on the swings. So what you do is, make sure your brand is TIED TO your product, not just appearing elsewhere on the screen like some arbitrary stuck-on logo. Stick the logo on a product, IN the ad. And then make the rest of the ad really interesting.
  2. Grab the emotions, set the tone. Make someone feel scared or intrigued, make them laugh, cry or say, Ooooh! That’s pretty! And to do that, you need to TELL A STORY – a narrative. Emotional engagement occurs when people connect with characters and the events in their lives, just like in a film or novel. Humour works best by a long shot, by the way. Take YouTube phenomenon Rhett and Link’s Good Mythical Morning – they do experiments and tell stories and are very funny. Do I watch them? Yes. Am I buying their book? Yup. Do I sit through the ads for the sake of seeing their daily madness? Sure do.

    Rhett and Link of Good Mythical Morning have been doing the short web video thing for ages.

  3. Music matters.  People prefer lively or funny sound tracks to slow or action-oriented music. Hearing any kind of good music or song may even make them feel they are not watching an ad and keep them from skipping it. Remember my comments about the horrible jingles in the ads for Freedom Mobile and Pepto-Bismol? That would make people skip right out.
  4. Consistent repetition over time. The habit of reading or accessing something daily makes people want their “dose” of the day. And they are willing to put up with some ads to get it. In Nov. 2017, marketing expert Seth Godin stated that he had just released his 7,000th post. 7,000 is a lot of writing, but he writes short posts – an impactful paragraph or two – which he publishes every day. It is true that the habit of writing a post every day, and the habit of reading it every day – both have positive effects over time. “Over time, the blog adds up. People remember a blog post a year after I wrote it. Or they begin a practice, take an action, make a connection, something that grows over time. The blog resonates with people in so many fields, it’s thrilling to see how it can provoke positive action.” – Seth Godin
  5. None of this matters if the artistic or aesthetic aspects of your ad sucks. If it’s not well done or beautiful, people are going to skip it. And who knows what the aesthetic is? It’s a matter of trial and error. But you do need an artistic vision, and an artist (or an auteur – a film maker with artistic control). Perfume companies learned this long ago – look at any perfume ad on TV.

As one perceptive psychologist put it:

“Biographical analysis can offer solid clues to the genesis of those things which concern the auteur, but it cannot specify how an artist will treat these concerns — which is, after all, the substance, the mystery, and the power of art. Despite many recent attempts to unify them, the biographical enterprise and the effort to analyze art from critical and moral perspectives remain irreducible enterprises, necessarily conducted separately and with different tools. Indeed, the ability to separate one’s personality from one’s creation may be the hallmark of the successful artist, the failure to do so the sign of artistic mediocrity.” (Perfectly expressed by psychologist Stanton Peel, on his website.)

To reiterate

So, considering these rules, and the prevalence of ad-skipping, some companies have invested in producing videos that have all the above attributes;

  1. shortness/brevity, 
  2. product integration,
  3. emotional engagement (particularly humour),
  4. a narrative,
  5. music,
  6. consistent repetition over time, and
  7. refined, specific aesthetic from the auteur(s)

Which brings us back to the Carmilla Movie. It started as a single-frame web video series, just called Carmilla, with instalments, produced by U by Kotex, a product line of Kimberly-Clark. “U” is tampons and menstrual pads, for the male readers. Kotex is the Executive Producer of the series. 

Episode 1 of Carmilla, the web video series

Carmilla the web video series

Carmilla is co-created by Jordan Hall, Stephanie Ouaknine and Jay Bennett from Smokebomb Entertainment, a Shaftesbury Company. The series, which has high-end production values, stars Elise Bauman and Natasha Negovanlis, and is loosely based on the 1872 (yes, 1872!) Gothic Horror novella of the same name by Sheridan Le Fanu. The series premiered on the Vervegirl/KindaTV YouTube channel on August 19, 2014. The series takes place at the fictional Silas University in Styria, Austria, and is told through vlogs recorded by “Laura”, a first-year student. When Laura begins investigating the disappearance of her roommate, she is assigned a new roommate named Carmilla, a vampire.

Basically it’s about the love affair between a centuries-old lesbian vampire and a young lesbian human. There is a lot of girl-on-girl kissing in it and the characters and issues are all for and about Millennials. You can see the product tie-ins; young women, menstruation, feelings of being outsiders, the positive depiction of queer and genderqueer characters that appeals to a specific fan base, lots of smooching, etc. The girls even talk in the typical croaky, drawly monotones of today’s young crowd. That would not be appealing to anyone over 30 years.

It ran for 3 seasons, each consisting on 36 3-7 minute episodes per season, and a 12-episode prequel. (Bear in mind the 5-minute limit.) The final episode aired October 13, 2016. The series was phenomenally successful, generating over 70 million views and over 217,000 fans on YouTube as of August 2017. In 2016, the series won a Canadian Screen Award and a Rockie Award for Branded Content at the Banff World Media Festival. Which takes me back to the introduction: Carmilla the web series led to full-length Carmilla Movie, released in October 2017. The film seems to be not quite as appealing to the fans of the web series, for many reasons – but that’s not theissue I’m addressing here.

The Carmilla Movie teaser trailer

What did it get Kimberley-Clark?

After 72 episodes Carmilla had already generated 43 million views on YouTube, though the company had done zero paid advertising to promote it. That is just staggering. Jay Gottleib, president of adult and feminine care sector at Kimberly-Clark, said that episodes average about 150,000 unique viewers.

Producing a full season of Carmilla cost $500,000 to $1 million, or roughly a quarter of an average episode of a cable TV show (in other words, it’s cheap!), according to an estimate by Jay Bennett, senior vice president of creative and innovation at Smokebomb, the company that was commissioned to produce the show. Jay Gottleib, president of adult and feminine care sector at Kimberly-Clark, explained that producing Carmilla was, at that time, experimental for Kimberly-Clark, and it isn’t easy to prove its value—a common challenge for brands even as they spend more on original content. The company did commission the research firm Fresh Intelligence to survey 10,500 viewers in early 2015, which found that 31% claimed they bought U by Kotex because of the show and 93% knew that the brand was backing the series.

“It’s definitely increased purchase intent among viewers,” Bennett said. “I can’t say this has directly lead to 20,000 new sales, but the best we can say is that it generated positive ROI. Share and volume continues to grow. This little bit is a part of it.” The brand messaging is subtle. Many episodes don’t feature any mention of Kotex. In some cases, the product or labeling is seen in the background. In one episode, a character throws her ex-girlfriend’s Kotex tampons at her during a breakup argument.

“We set about making a show for a particular audience, which allowed us to have the creative freedom to protect the storytelling from becoming a commercial,” Mr. Bennett said. “After all, you are probably trying to reach the most sophisticated audience in history.”(Source: Mike Shields, Kimberly-Clark Scores Hit Video Series with ‘Carmilla’, in Wall Street Journal.com, Aug. 29, 2016)

How does this apply to professional firms?

Regardless of all the Return On Investment metrics – the bottom line is: millions watched Carmilla, so much so that it was turned into a movie. They watched each episode and did not click away. And that is the future of advertising.

Now, in answer to your question – how do you apply this info to the advertising for a professional engineering firm, or the promotion of the firm’s brand? – the answers are simple:

  1. Tell your story, using video,
  2. keep it short, 3-7 minutes,
  3. integrate your product or service brand, don’t just “wallpaper” it,
  4. use emotional engagement (particularly humour),
  5. add some really noticeable, enjoyable music,
  6. make it refined, beautiful, and interesting
  7. produce it professionally, or at least with a professional look
  8. release a new story on a regular basis over a long period,
  9. on social media and on your own website.

Tah-dah!! Watch out world.

1 Comment

  1. M.Bijman says:

    A rider on that: How does Kotex get more promotion out of this? Answer: After the film gets aired on TV, a session where the two stars participate in a fairly long Q&A session on the product also gets aired. They wear their normal clothes and sit and discuss, in some painful detail, stuff like periods, tampons and panty liners. They demonstrate with the usual innocuous fluid (nothing like the real thing) but it is obviously a Kotex product promotion. Oddly, it is not offensive, because they speak normally and what they say actually addresses real concerns of real people. It is not all rah-rah! and that manic “wait, there’s more!” that you get on TSC. So, OK, Kotex, you win. Despite the small, innocuous logo and the equally small little boxes, even I recognized the product on the shelves in the supermarket.

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