Marion Arathoon

As the name suggests, blocks of space for ads, information and text are overlaid, usually at the bottom of the screen, in a bid to overcome viewers’ tendency to zap ads—which is easy to do in the old, pre-, mid- or post-roll ad formats where ads are viewed before, between or after a programme. Overlays are getting creative to grab viewer attention. NBC Universal in the US could be test-running an L bar or L-shaped overlay on the borders of its popular Bravo programme next year. This may carry advertisers’ text messages, coupon offerings, discounts, information, etc. to encourage consumer interaction followed by activity during the ad break, with the advertiser logo in a column. That’s a smart way to incentivize ad viewing.

If the roll format is deemed an interruptive ad model that barges into the viewing experience, overlays are seen as intrusive and clutter-creating by some. To answer these concerns, Google, Inc. recently launched a new in-video ad format on its YouTube video-sharing website. Interestingly, the 10 second ads can be seen semi-transparently on the lower fifth of the screen, while the video runs. Control remains in the viewer’s hands, who can opt to close the ad, let it run and then disappear, or else click on it.

When users click on this ad overlay, the ad player starts and the video they were viewing pauses till the users click out of the ad. Users can choose the type of advertising they want to click into and offer to act on. YouTube executives have told the media how users click into overlay ads 5-10 times more than banner ads, and that 75% of users who clicked on the ads actually returned to watching the online video.

Ad agencies and their holding companies also have ad video networks which use overlays. For advertisers and ad men, the Holy Grail is ensuring that the right ads are seen by the right target at the right time, and placed in relevant programming ambience. Context is key here.

Call them in-stream, in- or over-video, or screen-in-screen ads, but creative ad overlays are here to proliferate. Competing with entertainment itself for viewer attention, they will, however, have to be engaging and noticeable, without being intrusive.

Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your feedback is welcome at