VAST vs VPAID: Know the Difference

March 1, 2018
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The digital video advertising industry owes a lot to standard frameworks like those set out by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). In particular, the VAST and VPAID protocols have helped advertisers roll out campaigns of unprecedented scale, novelty, and impact while drastically reducing costs.

As similar as they might sound, though, these protocols present different opportunities for your advertising strategies. Whether you’re new to the game or an experienced hand, running successful video ads requires knowing your VAST from your VPAID.

But first, what do these acronyms even stand for?

What is VAST?

[image: VAST vs VPAID – 1]

VAST stands for Video Ad Serving Template, and it was introduced by the IAB in 2008. Since then, it’s gone through 4 major iterations, culminating in the current VAST 4.0 protocol.

Simply put, VAST supplies a standard language that lets ad servers work with different video players with minimal adjustment. Aside from allowing for seamless, multi-player compatibility, VAST also relays important information for playing each video ad. That includes details like:

  • The video ad’s running time
  • The destination URL for any audience clicks
  • The video ad’s location in the content stream
  • Which video ad to display for each viewer

What is VPAID?

[image: VAST vs VPAID – 2]

VPAID means Video Player Ad-Serving Interface Definition, and the IAB launched it in 2012 to answer the growing demand for more interactive ads. VPAID allows advertisers to incorporate software logic into their output, creating video ads that can accept and account for user interaction in real-time. Depending on your goals, that can mean anything from overlaid social media sharing buttons on video content to complex “choose your own adventure”-type controls for your ad materials.

Aside from more dynamic ads, VPAID paves the way for video players to collect more granular data regarding various aspects of viewer behavior and engagement during ad playback.

VAST vs VPAID

Is This Even the Right Question?

Many people, especially those new to digital video advertising, tend to ask about choosing between VAST or VPAID. Which one will work better for my advertising strategy? It’s a valid question, but one that tends to be founded on some common misconceptions about the relationship between VAST and VPAID.

To arrive at a useful answer, then, here are some points we need to keep in mind.

#1: VAST and VPAID are not mutually exclusive.

“VAST vs VPAID” makes it sound like you need to forego one in order to have the other. That’s not exactly the case.

Instead, think of VAST as your general mail delivery system. It can send a letter, a greeting card, a catalog — all kinds of mail that someone can simply receive. Likewise, VAST can serve up different kinds of ad formats that viewers simply need to watch. You can have “in-stream” ads that play before, after, or during video content, depending on your advertising strategy.

However, sometimes you want a special kind of transaction that needs more actions on the recipient’s part — say, signing for a package. That’s a special kind of mail, adding a new element to the basic template, but it’s not a different delivery system altogether. VPAID, likewise, creates new possibilities for viewer and ad interaction, but it doesn’t replace the whole VAST delivery system entirely.

[image: VAST and VPAID diagram]

What this means is that VPAID is a supplement rather than a direct competitor to VAST. So the question isn’t whether you should run a VAST ad or a VPAID ad. Rather, it’s a choice between using VAST by itself or using VAST with VPAID.

#2: Feature list shouldn’t be your only criterion.

Since it expands on VAST’s core features, VPAID is always the better choice, right? Not so fast. VPAID’s added functions entail some trade-offs that might not always be best for your overall advertising goals.

VPAID’s reliance on Flash and Javascript can result in longer page loading times and a less satisfactory viewing experience for target audiences. Flash also has problems working on mobile, which presents problems in an industry where audiences are spending more and more time on their phones.

While the IAB and other major entities have pushed for a complete shift to HTML5 and Javascript, majority of the market still uses Flash. In most regions, Flash usage still stood at 90-99% of the market as recently as the first quarter of 2016. Consequently, switching over to other standards can present compatibility issues in the short term.

The inclusion of interactive elements means more moving parts for your ad overall, raising the risks of playback failure. It might also make for more resource-intensive ad materials, again increasing the risk of unsatisfactory viewing experiences for your target audience.

#3: Consider the metrics you want to measure.

VPAID boasts of the ability to track granular user interactions and collect data for advanced verification measures like viewability. However, some critics of the format point out that there is no standard viewability-tracking tool in VPAID. Advertisers have to bundle in their own tools, so performance is tracked solely against internal benchmarks.

VAST, by contrast, doesn’t dig into as many details about viewer interaction during video playback out of the box. However, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with rudimentary numbers. From version 1.0 to the current 4.0 standard, VAST has evolved to cover increasingly sophisticated measurement tools. The latest standard, VAST 4.0, includes designated spaces for your chosen ad verification APIs, secondary impression elements for viewability tracking, and other features that can simplify ad metrics as well. However, adoption of VAST 4.0 has been slow across the industry.

Ultimately, whichever VAST standard you might have to work with, you still lose out on the measurement granularity that you get with VPAID.

#4: Consider your target devices.

[image: VAST vs VPAID – 3]

Not all platforms can execute VPAID’s interactive APIs, and the resulting playback or display errors can quickly cost you revenue. Granted, VAST 4.0 now lets you designate a fallback linear file in case the interactive ad fails, but that’s a new feature – you’ll have to hope that all the platforms you’re reaching have adopted the latest VAST protocol. In situations like these, then, it might be more effective to craft a winning, VAST-only ad.

Another situation to consider: whether or not you’d like to use server-side ad insertion, also known as ad stitching. This technique involves combining video content and your ads into a single stream, the better to dodge ad blockers and deliver smoother playback to viewers. However, due to the very nature of the method, it’s incompatible with VPAID and its interactive formats.

#5: Consider your target audience.

This one follows from Point #4, and it’s probably the biggest factor when it comes to the VAST vs VPAID decision. Here, VPAID wins handily: interactive ads have gained tons of traction over the years, and they’re certifiably more effective than standard ads.

[image: VAST vs VPAID – 4]

In fact, as far back as 2014, the IAB released statistics showing that interactive ads post almost 3 to 4 times the audience interaction rate compared to standard ads. More importantly, the same study found an 8% lift in purchase intent from audiences that encountered interactive ads, compared to those who didn’t.

Today’s world of touchscreens, accelerometers, and the Internet of Things primes audiences to expect richer interactive possibilities from their technology—and, by extension, from the content that they encounter on their devices. Interactive ads cater better to that expectation, and as numerous studies over the years have demonstrated, the heightened engagement from such ads forges stronger affinities and brand investment from audiences.

That means VPAID, and the unique opportunities it presents, has a significant edge when it comes to making an impact on your target viewers—especially if you’re aiming for younger or more tech-savvy demographics in particular.

VAST vs VPAID: The Bottom Line

In the end, the VAST vs VPAID question depends entirely on your goals for each ad.

Recent market research points to the rapid growth of interactive ad usage, and viewers seem to be responding accordingly: overall engagement for interactive video ads sits at six times the results of standard ads, and the latter lagged behind interactive ads across all key metrics in 2016. In an endless sea of content, the varied formats, styles, and engagement opportunities offered by interactive ads have proven increasingly attractive. Consequently, VPAID’s value can’t be overstated.

However, the uneven and ever-shifting landscape of digital video technology means that the many moving parts of interactive ads don’t always work as intended. The unavoidable risk of playback errors, compatibility issues, and so on, especially for interactive ads that tend to be more complex in execution, can threaten significant revenue losses.

On a related note, the added effort of developing effective interactive ads can lead to additional costs, too. VAST-only ads operate on generally firmer foundations, with less risks in terms of playback success, platform compatibility, and ultimately, viewer reach. However, as noted above, you probably won’t register the same impact or elicit the same interest from your target audiences.

Both VAST-only and VAST+VPAID ads present advantages and disadvantages. We’ve gone over the key points here, but it’s up to you to decide which ones apply best to your particular situation and strategy.

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