NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's not a surprise, perhaps, that "John Hughes" and "Inglourious Basterds" were breakout search terms on Google in the past month or so.
What is surprising: While searches related to movies, games, music, TV and celebrities account for a big percentage of traffic to Google, the entertainment industry itself does relatively little search advertising.
Google is hoping to change that by sprucing up plain-text search ads with video. It has been offering what it calls a "video plus box" link below the standard keyword ad to a select group of entertainment advertisers including Miramax, Electronic Arts, Discovery and Travel Channel.
The intent is to give advertisers another way to get video sampled on the web, now considered by the studios to be a key predictor in the success of a film or TV show. EA bought video search to promote "Need for Speed," and Miramax tried video search ads to promote the trailer for its upcoming comedy with Jason Bateman, "Extract." Google registers a click (and gets paid) when a viewer watches at least 10 seconds of the video or clicks through to the site.
Google started listing videos in search results in 2007, so video ads in some categories would appear to be a natural extension of what Google users have come to expect. Additionally, the belief at Google is that video will help make search more appealing to entertainment, which has thus far not embraced it as a marketing channel, as other industries have.
Only 2.66% of traffic to entertainment-related sites in the past four weeks was the result of paid search links on Google, compared with 14.6% for gaming-related sites, according to analytics firm Hitwise.
"Generally the search-engine results page hasn't appealed much to the entertainment industry or any content producers, whether TV or film," said Kevin Lee, CEO of search-marketing firm Didit.
Intent, strategy to blame
Part of that has to do with intent: Just what is a person looking for when they search, say, "Jennifer Aniston"? Part of it is strategy: Entertainment companies are looking to get their product sampled by new audiences, while searchers generally know what they're looking for.
Still, Google would like to convince entertainment advertisers that they are under-spending in search, and that video ads will let them surface movie and video-game trailers and TV promos. Entertainment search traffic is growing. Searches for TV terms on Google -- for instance, networks or show names, such as "Lost" -- were up 30% in the first half of 2009.
"We want to match these users with what advertisers are wishing to communicate, and there are cases where video does this best," said Adam Stewart, Google's industry director for media and entertainment.
The film industry spends a lot to disseminate movie trailers on the web, both through video ad networks and on their own websites. Adding those videos to search could get users to watch a video without getting them to click through to a promotional site. "Given the primary goal, much of the time, is to get people to watch their videos, then just getting them to do that one step earlier," said David Berkowitz, director-emerging media at 360i.
For "Extract," Miramax placed the movie trailer against the term "extract," to reach those who had heard of the film but also against terms such as "funny movie," for those who might not have.
Travel Channel has tried using video search ads and has been pretty pleased with the results so far. The network has used them to promote a number of shows, including "Man vs. Food." Pete Dorogoff, Travel Channel's head of digital marketing, said click-through rates on search ads for "Man vs. Food" went from 2.18% using just text ads in January to 6.34% in August using both text and video ads.
"We buy search terms around the talent, food, locales and major tourist attractions," he said. "With search we're casting a wide net and seeing what shakes out."
Google declined to say how long the program will remain in beta or what criteria it will use to decide whether to expand it. "We're using the beta test to gauge the effectiveness of the feature, and offered a select and super-relevant set of advertisers the chance to participate in the beta first," Mr. Stewart said. "We can't guarantee that we will be expanding to all advertisers."