How to Build a Video-on-Demand Ad

Lean-Forward Medium Requires Creative Shift from Lean-Back TV

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NEW YORK ( -- Raj Amin wanted to launch a health- and wellness-focused video-on-demand channel but knew it couldn't look like anything already on the air. The content needed to be tailored to fit the VOD environment, building in interactivity in a way linear TV can't.
New York agency Words & Pictures cut its teeth on creative for Chase's Blink credit cards.
New York agency Words & Pictures cut its teeth on creative for Chase's Blink credit cards.

"You can't run from the fast-forward button -- you have to embrace it," said Mr. Amin, president of HealthiNation. "And if you explain the process and interaction style to producers and they're creative and good at what they do, they'll build features and functions right into what they do."

So when the doctor in a segment about skin disease asks viewers to look over their skin, he instructs them to "pause ... and take a few moments."

But while Mr. Amin and other video-on-demand programmers such as Havoc and Music Choice practice that philosophy, few advertisers and agencies are crafting specific creative for the on-demand environment.

VOD specialists
"It's very rare," said Mitch Oscar, exec VP at Carat Digital, who recalls working with a client that wanted to do long-form advertising on a DVR system but had difficulty finding an agency specializing in that particular type of creative. "Creative people need to be engaged in the whole process."

New York-based Words & Pictures is an agency formed around the idea that specialty expertise is needed to build better VOD advertising. Founders Kristi Faulkner and Sandy Sabean came from a traditional TV background but realized, said Ms. Faulkner, that "ultimately everything was going to be on demand" and saw that as an opportunity to change their focus.

"TV is interruptive, and so when you create TV campaigns, you're thinking about recall and intrusiveness," she said. "But VOD is 100% opt-in, and so you're thinking about relevance and engagement."

Different tactics
One early lesson came from some long-form creative work the shop did for Chase Bank's Blink credit card, which ran on Comcast's video-on-demand system. Brands advertising in the linear-TV system may try to create spots that have the same look and feel in order to boost recall, but that tactic in a VOD environment leads viewers to believe they've already seen a long-form ad -- even if it's different creative than the ad they previously saw.

"In TV you want to use the same actors, music and typeface, but we learned intuitively in VOD that your audience is at 100% attention, and if there's any similarity in the pieces you put out there, you're going to lose [viewers]," she said.

Recently, Brave New World, another agency dedicated to creating ads for the nonlinear space, filmed commercial footage for Splenda that spanned a wide body of video -- everything from 10- and 15-second spots for pre-roll broadband video to 30-minute long-form direct-response ads.

Marketers need different kinds of spots, said Alan Schulman, Brave New World's chief creative officer, because TV and on-demand viewing are two different animals-one is a lean-back environment, and the other asks viewers to lean in.

"[On VOD] you have to provide not just more contextual content but less generic information," he said. "And let's face it: People aren't just looking to generate awareness but sample and trial."

The biggest hindrance
He said the biggest hindrance to VOD-specific creative -- and broadband-specific creative for that matter -- is the wall that typically resides between the digital agencies and the video and production shops.

"[Johnson & Johnson Corporate VP-Corporate Affairs] Brian Perkins in Cannes basically said we need to evolve linear concepts for nonlinear platforms, and that doesn't mean we just repurpose," Mr. Schulman said. "Now the creative community needs to embrace it. Smaller shops -- the Crispins, Mullens, Martins and McKinneys of the world who don't have that wall -- are able to marry video and production with digital business more easily."

To help the cause, Comcast recently announced it will sponsor a Clio Award dedicated to advertising in the video-on-demand space. Cable operators that have been aggressively rolling out VOD programming and channels perhaps know best how to manipulate the medium.

Mr. Oscar said most marketers will continue to use traditional commercial spots in the medium, especially as more in-program VOD inventory is sold in the upfront by cable networks such as Fox's FX and Turner's TNT and TBS. But he suggests marketers might think about adding long-form ads at the end of the program or take the easier step of repurposing content crafted for the broadband space, since neither broadband nor VOD has specific length requirements.
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