Instead, online publishers and advertisers alike have focused on lead generation and customer acquisition as their primary goals, and on click-through rate (CTR) as the preeminent measure of success.
There were good reasons for this behavior in the past. Until just a few years ago, web sites were limited to text and images, a reality that imposed real constraints on the overall visual impact of online advertising and its effectiveness for purposes of brand engagement.
In this regard, the internet couldn't touch television. Framing online advertising mainly as a call to action was the only realistic approach.
The old scenario has changed with the rapid spread in recent years of internet video. It is now possible to get the best of both worlds: not just the effectiveness of interactivity, but increasingly, effectiveness toward branding goals.
With internet video, advertising becomes far more visually impactful. It is also possible to engage consumers through the power of storytelling. Advertisers can build mind share with the large and highly attractive demographic base that internet users represent in most markets, including China.
The leap that internet video represents in China is especially large. Online advertising on the leading portals and popular vertical sites has traditionally been sold on a per-time basis, and not on a CPM basis.
The metrics provided by publishers have been notoriously unreliable, as advertisers and media agencies haven't held publishers to the same standards that they would in more developed internet markets.
Newer video-driven sites have helped move CPM forward in China. They are increasingly able to deliver good audience segmentation and are making rapid progress in their ability to profile users.
With these capabilities, China's internet video publishers are now moving ahead toward brand effectiveness. In other words, they are moving into terrain that has been dominated in China by television.
This does not, of course, mean that the benefits of interactivity fall by the wayside. Internet video sites still offer all the things that make the web such a powerful medium, such as the potential for viral behavior, the addressability, the ability to personalize and target content and messaging and so forth.
Besides traditional measures of interactive effectiveness like CTR, online video can provide measures of engagement like comments and off-site embedding of videos in blogs and in the bulletin board systems (BBS) so popular at least in China.
With a bit of creative thinking, advertisers can get better mileage out of traditional marketing campaigns beyond simply running different versions of 15" or 30" TV spots for online video pre-roll spots. An expensive TVC shoot generates valuable unused footage that needn't be wasted. Turn them into behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries, bloopers and outtakes--these are all things that traditional TV can't really accommodate easily, but which are right at home with internet video.
Brands can significantly amplify below-the-line investments, too. An offline event, for instance, that might only reach a few hundred or a few thousand individuals could be captured on video and uploaded to the internet, where it has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands or millions of viewers.
It's encouraging to see a growing number of mainstream brands using video sites in China, not just brands that are perceived as more cutting-edge, the sort that seem to make up the bulk of brands running campaigns on U.S.-based internet video sites. If anything, opportunities for brand advertising with online video are better than in other markets.
Unlike the U.S., where a more laissez-faire environment prevails, China's regulators require 24/7 content screening, and there are very strict rules governing pornography, something advertisers are understandably very uncomfortable with.
While many advertisers in China do recognize that video can go far beyond the action-oriented approach traditionally taken by online advertising, a shift in our approach to measurement and statistics is needed. The industry needs to move away from the focus on traffic and clicks towards metrics that are more meaningful from a brand-building standpoint, reflecting video views and especially time spent on web sites.
People all along the value chain, from advertisers to agencies to publishers to industry associations, need to define and jointly promote a new set of standards and measures that accurately reflect the effectiveness in branding, impact, and interactivity.
Victor Koo is the founder and CEO, Youku.com, a Chinese video sharing web site based in Beijing.
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