GE’s live video ads grab eyes

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GE last month became the first advertiser to present live streaming video within banner ads, using a new feature developed by rich media company EyeWonder.

GE used the technology, called LiveWonder, to deliver a live webcast of Chairman-CEO Jeff Immelt presenting the company's annual report to investors in a banner ad campaign that ran on about 10 Web sites.

"We wanted to take advantage of the live opportunity to talk directly to our investors through banner advertising," said Jen Walsh, digital media director at GE.

The campaign was a joint effort of GE, EyeWonder, interactive agency Stinson Partners, video distributor Akamai Technologies, and media properties such as Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, Forbes and MSN.

LiveWonder lets marketers deliver live streaming video in any of EyeWonder's online ad formats.

"It can be applied to any ad format, from banner ads to expandables," said Jason Scheidt, director of marketing at EyeWonder. "It's perfect for any kind of live event, such as a product launch, that allows you to get a big bang for the buck."

First foray into live banner ads

GE has used online video before, but this was its first foray into live video within banner ads. "We've been trying to do new things online for a while," Walsh said. "Video as a format has really been paying off for us in big ways."

Last year, GE partnered with Stinson Partners to develop "Stream GE," a streaming video platform it uses on its own Web site to tell stories about "Imagination at Work," its ongoing campaign, created by BBDO New York.

For the live campaign, GE wanted to provide a way to engage its investors with the release of its annual report.

"Using live video in banner ads was a way for us to start a conversation about our financial performance and company objectives for 2008," Walsh said.

For two days prior to the live webcast, GE ran banner ads on its media partners' sites, inviting viewers to tune in on March 13—either in banner ads on the media sites or on GE's own Web site—to watch Immelt present the annual report.

The banner ads also gave users a chance to submit questions to Immelt, some of which he answered during the webcast.

At the scheduled time, the banner ads switched to the live format, and the video was streamed to users, who could also type in questions during the webcast. GE received more than 6,000 questions from users, and a team of experts answered some of them by posting the results on the GE Web site the following day.

"The event went flawlessly," Walsh said. However, she added, "This is not an event for the faint of heart."

Working with partners Stinson, EyeWonder and Akamai, GE practiced for two weeks prior to the event, monitoring the quality of the video stream across different properties, testing events that could occur based on the number of viewers and putting contingency plans in place.

For example, if the live video stream went down, another would automatically come up, or users would be directed to a Windows Media feed on GE's site.

Dynamic text updated

The team also worked at dynamically updating the banner ads during the event, such as inserting text when the live event was coming to an end and notifying viewers that they could submit questions or go to the GE site for further information.

"It really took a large degree of coordination, from filming at the studio through bandwidth provisioning," said Michael Clark, principal at Stinson.

He cautioned that live video in banner ads is not for everyone.

"There really must be something worthwhile to broadcast," he said. "It has to be worthwhile for the client and fit well with what we are trying to do from a communications strategy. We need to ask, `Can we reach the right target? Is this the right message we want to send, and is this the right platform?' "

GE considers the event a success. More than 640,000 viewers tuned in for the 30-minute webcast, which exceeded the audience for Oprah's first live book club by 28%, according to Streaming Media.

Also, initiation rates (the percentage of viewers who initiated the videos) were 10% across all media properties, which is significantly higher than industry averages in the low single digits.

Walsh said GE would consider live video for other events, particularly around its media and entertainment businesses.

"On the industrial side, we could cater events for GE customers, introduce a new product or do a technology demonstration," she said. "The technology is there. It's a matter of how interesting the content is for the viewer."

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