Google Uses San Diego Comic-Con “Star Trek Beyond” Premiere To Test Instant Video Ads

DoubleClick and Paramount aim to boldy go where no programmatic ads have gone before.

Live events have always been a popular advertising proposition, but their value has skyrocketed as culture and technology have made entertainment a largely on-demand world. So brands and marketers are always looking for better, more engaging ways to tap into events tied to a specific time and place. Ever since a certain tweet in the dark, social media has been the platform of choice–from tweets and Instagram posts, to Facebook Live and Snapchat video–all aiming to foster a connection with people looking to feel a part of the big event.


But at the Star Trek Beyond premiere, which opened up San Diego Comic-Con on July 20, Paramount Pictures and Google teamed up to try and bring the immediacy of social to the scale of programmatic advertising. The film’s cast and crew used phones pre-loaded with experimental technology from Google DoubleClick to shoot video on the red carpet during the premiere, which Paramount then edited in real time, often cutting with pre-produced elements like trailer clips, and were then served to fans as programmatic ads.

According to Anish Kattukaran, Google’s head of marketing, programmatic video, and brand measurement, the idea came about recently and the experimental tech was built within a couple of weeks. They contacted Paramount Pictures about testing it out just three weeks ago.

“We work with a lot of programmatic video and see a lot of great creative but all that stuff is pre-produced,” says Kattukaran. “It takes marketers months to make it and then they use programmatic to find its right audience. What we wanted to test is a better way to create video ads at things like Comic-Con, the Oscars, and big sports events.”

The hypothesis was that using live video at big events would create ads that people would find more engaging, and therefore be more receptive. Google’s DoubleClick team and Paramount digital marketing designed it as an experiment and were running A/B testing between traditional pre-produced video ads, and the new, in-the-moment instant video ads, to compare view through rates, skip rates, awareness, and purchase intent. Kattukaran says the early results are promising. “The instant creative is performing better than pre-produced in view through rates, and while it is very early, those are the kind of metrics the Paramount and DoubleClick teams are thinking about,” he says. “We thought these would perform better but that was just based on more of a gut feeling, so the biggest thing was when we started to see the first numbers coming in, to see that it was pacing towards our hypothesis, that people were actually engaging with this creative more, it was a pretty huge moment.”

Paramount Pictures’ senior vice-president of digital marketing Shannon Petranoff says that a movie premiere at Comic-Con offers a unique opportunity to create unique content, while the new Google tech allows them to mix the immediacy of social with a bit more polish.

“There are a number of great platforms we can use, but most of those opportunities are unedited,” says Petranoff. “You’ve got Facebook Live and Snapchat, what this brought to the table was a very powerful platform in YouTube, and the ability to actually edit on the fly, capture these amazing moments in real time, and also be able to edit and package them very quickly. It’s new and something we haven’t seen in the space, which is amazing as we test, and we do need to surround these events we put on in a meaningful way digitally.”


As this is the first major experiment using the technology, Kattukaran says there are still plenty of questions to be answered. Among them are how the value of the instant ads’ immediacy performs over time. But beyond that immediacy, it’s the quick, social-like nature of the ads that may be their best asset. “As people are bombarded with so much messaging it’s critical to find a way to break out a bit,” says Kattukaran. “We’ve seen it on YouTube time and time again, one of the things people love about YouTubers is that it feels so authentic and real, so I think that was the challenge for Paramount here was creating that same feel.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.