How Small Businesses Can Create Impactful Streaming TV Ads

Win over Generation Stream viewers with effective, standout ads by asking yourself 3 key questions.

As a small business, you may not consider yourself a brand. The word “brand” may evoke thoughts of large, household-name companies, with enormous advertising budgets. But that’s not the entire truth! As a small business, you are a brand—and when you think like a big brand, you can optimize your campaign for similar success.

Knowing that there is no one-size-fits-all creative strategy when building a standard video commercial, we recently partnered with Kantar to develop creative best practices for advertisers through getting a better understanding of what really makes a brand stand out amongst the coveted Generation Stream viewers.

Who is Generation Stream?

Before we jump into what we found, let’s set the stage and provide some insight into who these “Generation Stream” viewers are. Streaming TV has quickly become the home to a growing and actively engaged audience, and at Hulu, we refer to these viewers as “Generation Stream.” They’re a generation of viewers who pay a lot of attention to what they’re watching. In September of 2019, Statista reported that 6 out of 10 adults in the U.S. now stream—and they stream a lot—watching twice as many hours of content each day via a streaming service as they do via live television.

In our study with Kantar, they analyzed brand lift data and advertising creative from campaigns on Hulu over the past three years and those campaigns were then grouped together based on performance, vertical, brand awareness, and product consideration. Ads from all the campaigns were also evaluated based on variables related to branding, messaging, and specific creative elements. Though some of these findings are specific to big brands, like the Coca-Colas and GEICOs of the world, there is also much that can be learned and applied as a small business.

We know that many small businesses don’t have the ability to hire a whole team of advertisers to build campaigns—it takes both money and time to do this. Inevitably, they tend to roll up their sleeves and DIY it with a more “scrappy” approach, from developing the campaign concept through producing the ad itself. With this in mind, we wanted to share some creative best practices that businesses of all sizes can leverage when developing their ads for streaming TV.

Here’s a look at the three key questions advertisers should ask themselves:

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Established brands have the luxury of instant recognition. Oftentimes, viewers are able to recognize a brand from a familiar mascot, tune or color scheme – without even showing the brand’s name or logo (ex. brands like GEICO, Coca-Cola, or Starbucks). For these established brands, using subtle branding cues or product images can work just as well as a logo. In fact, we found that a high percentage of the top performing campaigns on Hulu use product images throughout the ad campaign. For example, visuals of families cooking with various spices drove strong recall for a seasoning company’s campaign.

This also means that well-known brands will need to work harder if they want to build or change current customer perceptions. With high-awareness brands, consumers tend to have a set opinion, and for these brands to breakthrough in competitive categories, they need to remind viewers what differentiates them from their competitors.

Conversely, emerging brands that are actively developing awareness in their market, such as new direct-to-consumer brands, need to focus on educating viewers about who they are. For this reason, the name or logo should be the first thing viewers see. The ad should serve as a constant reminder to viewers about what the brand is with visual and auditory cues (ex. including the brand name on-screen while also voicing it over).

Logos are a key differentiator for emerging brands, as they can’t rely on unfamiliar product images to drive recognition. For example, a makeup product offered by a newer brand is not enough for viewers to recognize the overarching brand that sells that product.

Emerging brands can also benefit from longer ad formats, since it gives viewers more time to learn about the brand and product offerings. Among the tested campaigns, two out of the three top performing ads were 30-seconds long. On the other hand, for established brands, ad length was not a major factor in performance.

Small business learning: Make sure you use your logo to start building awareness, and consider using longer ad formats to give yourself time to make a strong impression.

Impactful-Streaming-Graphic-4

Does your product require a longer decision-making process or higher investment from a consumer? Higher consideration brands typically involve a longer customer journey, such as finding an insurance policy, buying a car, or getting a loan.

These are big life moments for consumers, so making the advertising creative relatable is important. A strong tactic utilized by high-consideration brands is the use of humor, as the light-hearted tone makes these brands more approachable. It’s also important to take into account that viewers will have to do a bit of homework on these brands, researching what works best for them before committing to a major investment or decision. As a result, it’s critical for high-consideration brands to direct viewers toward the brand’s storefront or website. Showing these visually on-screen is equally as important.

Higher-priced products can also be intimidating for consumers (even when they’re on sale), and including a big dollar amount in an ad can deter potential customers.

In our analysis, we found that framing discounts and deals as a percentage as opposed to an actual dollar amount (i.e. 50% off vs. $80 off) will lead to higher consideration of your brand.

Minimizing the potential sticker shock of a big investment – such as a new car or mattress – will drive higher attribution.

On the other hand, if the advertising brand has a lower price tag, the ads do not need to be as subtle. For everyday brands, showing deals like “$1 tacos” can lead consumers right to the drive-thru window.

We also found that shorter purchase cycle brands face a different challenge. These are products viewers use on a regular basis and have developed brand loyalties (ex. a preferred deodorant or favorite alcohol brand). They fall in categories with a lot of choice in the marketplace. As a result, these ads need to put their brand at the center of the storyline and show off how and why consumers need their brand in their routine.

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Hulu’s top performing campaigns for shorter purchase cycle brands were 3x more likely to include branding in all frames than bottom performers in the category. The consistent reminder of your brand is a powerful tool in driving viewers through the purchase funnel.

Small business learning: For high consideration products and services, visually drive viewers to your website or storefront, avoid announcing big price tags, and frame discounts in percentages rather than actual dollar amounts. For more everyday products and services, make sure branding is front and center throughout the ad and highlight how and why your product or service is important in customers’ daily routines

Impactful-Streaming_6

There is no uniformed answer to the question “how long should my ad be?” On Hulu, advertisers are not constrained to the standard :15s or :30s ad; they can utilize whichever length best tells their story. Rather than focusing on the length of the ad, brands should focus on creating an ad that supports their objected ROI goals. While all ad lengths perform well on Hulu, there are particular tips that can help make each ad length the most effective.

Shorter ads have less time to capture a viewer’s attention, so a consistent reminder of the branding and brand cues is key. Top performing :15 second ads were 12x more likely to have branding in all frames compared to bottom performing ads. The most impactful :15s ads are also more likely to use humor as a tool for building memorability, rather than trying to cram in too much information.

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Thirty-second ads, on the other hand, have more time to weave branding moments into the story. The most successful :30s ads are informative and tell viewers about the brand’s advantages and benefits.

Small business learning: If you go with a shorter ad, lean toward using humor and make sure your brand is front and center the entire time. When you expand to a :30s ad, you have the time to take a more informative approach.

So what did we learn?

There is no universal answer to making the best streaming TV video creative. It all depends on what your brand—whether large or small—needs to accomplish to drive success, and which advertising tactics you leverage to have the biggest impact.

1) Knowing your brand’s awareness in the marketplace is a key starting point. Newer, emerging brands need to focus on creative attributes that will generate awareness, while established brands need to work a little harder to shift consumer opinions.

2) Understanding how viewers decide to consider your brand is critical. High consideration brands will benefit by making the consumer experience appear more approachable and relatable, while providing enough information for consumers to make their purchase decision. On the other hand, brands with a shorter purchase cycle should focus on promotions and consistent branding to remain top of mind in their competitive spaces.

3) Don’t focus on whether to make a :15 or :30, focus on how to make the most impactful :15 or :30. Thirty-second ads are great for storytelling, providing more information, and educating consumers, especially for newer brands. On the other hand, :15s ads have less time to impact a viewer, so focusing on constant branding and humorous themes can make these shorter ads more effective.

What Your Business Needs to Drive Success

Though there is no single answer as to what makes the best streaming TV video ad, understanding what your business needs to accomplish is the first huge step. Ask yourself:

  • How well known is my business?
  • What’s the purchase cycle for my product?
  • What ad length best fits with my goals?

With these answers you will be well on your way to streaming TV advertisement success. Learn more about our new self-service advertising solution and how you can apply to be part of our beta test.


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Q: Why do you ask for progressive?

A: The Hulu player, unlike traditional broadcast, does not play back interlace scan, so we require that all videos be delivered with their scan type set to progressive. If your video is natively interlaced, you must de-interlace it to progressive and you must employ a de-interlace filter that does not result in blending or ghosting artifacts. We recommend an auto-adaptive de-interlace if available.

Stress mark should be marked with [capitals] to indicate the primary stressed syllable, as in: news・pa・per [NOOZ-pey-per] in・for・ma・tion [in-fer-MEY-shuhn]

On living room, mobile, and tablet devices, the color gradient overlay is dynamic and will change based on the cover story art. It is not something we can control on our end.

If the tagline/date messaging doesn’t fit within the 11 syllables max, it can be included as text.

On living room, mobile, and tablet devices, the color gradient overlay is dynamic and will change based on the cover story art. It is not something we can control on our end.

  • No symbols such as registered marks, copyrights, etc.
  • If symbols are required, they will be presented in standard text such as" Brand (TM)".

Q: When is letterboxing allowed and not allowed?

A: When the native aspect ratio is 1.78:1 or 1.33:1 throughout the entire program, there should not be any letterboxing (black bars on top and bottom), nor should there be any pillarboxing (black bars on either side). We should should see an active picture take up the full frame. If the aspect ratio is wider than 1.78:1, such as 2.35:1, matting on the top and bottom is permissible. Additionally, if there is a creative choice to add matting or if there is a mix of native aspect ratios, this is usually waived, but please reach out to your Hulu representative to confirm.

Q: Should the bitrate be constant if delivering ProRes codec?
A: No, since ProRes codec is built to be variable, this is waived.

Q: Can you accept bitrate higher than 30 Mbps?
A: Yes, we can accept bitrate beyond the recommended range for H.264 and ProRes. In the case of ProRes, bitrate will often exceed 30 Mbps due to its variable setting.

Q: What does native frame rate mean?

A: Native frame rate refers to the frame rate the source footage was shot. Whenever possible, we require all videos to be delivered in their native frame rate. This means that no frame rate conversion should be performed, which includes adding 3:2 pulldown for broadcast.

Q: Why do you prefer PCM codec?

A: PCM codec is lossless audio quality, so whenever possible, please deliver PCM audio.

The use of Graphik is acceptable in cases where the Client cannot supply their own typeface.

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Q&A With
Gadi Amit

Founder, New Deal Design

Gadi: The development of serendipity in recommendations is very important. An analogy I use is that of a restaurant. If you go to a good restaurant, you don’t always want to see what you’re looking for. You’re looking for surprises. It’s not the expected, it’s the unexpected. You trust in the restaurant’s atmosphere. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you trust their creativity and that you’ll enjoy whatever they serve you.

Do you think it is possible for a streaming service to become that “restaurant” - a trusted source of serendipitous recommendations?

Gadi: I absolutely do. But it is difficult. It’s a long game. It requires them to build trustworthiness with audiences through genuine content recommendations over the years.

Q&A With
Gandi Amit

Found New Deal Design

Gandi: The development of serendipity in recommendations is very important. An analogy I use is that of a restaurant. If you go to a good restaurant, you don’t always want to see what you’re looking for. You’re looking for surprises. It’s not the expected, it’s the unexpected. You trust in the restaurant’s atmosphere. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you trust their creativity and that you’ll enjoy whatever they serve you.

Do you think it is possible for a streaming service to become that “restaurant” -- a trusted source of serendipitous recommendations?

Gandi: I absolutely do. But it is difficult. It’s a long game. It requires them to build trustworthiness with audiences through genuine content recommendations over the years.

Q&A With
Jonathan Miranda

Emerging Strategy Principal, Salesforce

Another expectation among younger generations seems to be personalization. How are you seeing this play out in media?

Jonathan: If you go into the world of advertising and marketing, customized, personalized advertising is more important than ever before. There’s a realization that eight years of funny commercials that we’ve showed everybody probably for the fourth time, doesn’t work anymore. So there’s a lot of companies moving towards specialized advertising.

How does this type of personalization translate to personalizing content beyond advertising? Who’s going to predict what people will want to watch, and do it first?

Jonathan: It’s not about being the first to predict what people want to watch. It's different. It’s about getting viewers to browse. You want to show them the value of all of the money Hulu has spent and the great range of TV and film for them to choose from.

Q&A With
Julie DeTragila

Head of Research & Insights, Hulu

Julie: There are vast differences between the way under 35-year-olds watch TV and over 35-year-olds watch TV. I grew up in a world where there were maybe 10 channels, and my viewing changed as technology and options changed. Younger viewers started from a really different place. Everything has always been on-demand. Anything they ever wanted to see was available to them, and they therefore have different expectations for TV.

How so?

Julie: One of the things we found with Gen Z is that they really want to be immersed in something for a long time. They want to have content that they can live with for a while; it’s like this long, seamless storytelling. They’ll knock off a couple episodes a night and it will last a couple of months. And then they’ll re-watch it a million times over.

What other shifts have you seen happen-with Gen Z but also more broadly-with the rise of streaming?

Julie: For years, television had to deliver a specific rating. Shows had to appeal broadly or else they wouldn’t survive. And those days are long gone because, with streaming services, shows can reach hundreds of thousands of people or tens of thousands of people and still be considered successful. There’s more experimentation with the types of content; we’re not locked into an hour, a half hour, a comedy, etc. The industry can create really niche shows to appeal to niche audiences, but also simultaneously create big, broad experiences that are shared by millions.

Q&A With
Larissa May

Founder, #HalftheStory

Your work focuses a lot on Gen Zs who, for better or worse, are dubbed “digital natives.” How do you think a generation of digitally native audiences view digital content differently than older generations?

Larissa: I think for young people digital content is a way they’re able to explore their own identities through the story... They want to see themselves and their stories in the content that they’re engaging with.

Tell us a little more about this digital content as Gen Z’s form of self-reflection.

Larissa: Digital content is sort of like a currency. I find that young people want to watch things that their friends are watching so that they can have conversations about it. For example, with Euphoria, young people were just kind of in love with the characters. It was very timely and a bit provocative, and then there was a way that they could see themselves in these stories and connect with their friends about the topics and ideas in the show.

And then also they could almost embody these characters in their own life. I really do think that the TV shows that young people are buying into are actually influencing their culture and their trends and even their language that they’re using.

Q&A With
Richard Frankel​

Global Creative Director, Spotify

What does the future of personalization look like?

Richard: I think it’s all down to trust. We're going to see more opportunity on platforms like Hulu and Spotify where the user trusts us.

That’s really interesting. Another area we wanted to explore is podcasts, and their relationship to video. For example, the show Homecoming is an adaptation of a podcast; the podcast Office Ladies is a spin-off from a TV show. Why do you think the two formats work so well together?

Richard: Anything at all that drives conversation in pop culture, and TV does a lot of that, is worthy of consideration in a podcast environment. Any of these conversations can become multiple audio streams that evolve with experts, interviews, and all kinds of narrative threads that can flesh out characters, or narrative development, or whatever's happening in those shows.