For Online Video, Think Beyond 30 Seconds

Firstborn's Tom Walker Says Spots Are Fine, as Long as They're Crafted for the Web

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NEW YORK ( -- Independent digital shop Firstborn has a new director of Los Angeles operations, Tom Walker, the former director of interactive at Venables Bell & Partners. With a staff of about 30 and offices in New York and Los Angeles, Firstborn has become a go-to agency for interactive video and motion graphics. Mr. Walker will focus on serving Firstborn's West Coast clients, such as Fox Broadcasting, Toyota and Honda.
Tom Walker
Tom Walker

At Venables, Mr. Walker oversaw the interactive strategy, user experience and production for marketers including HBO, Audi, Slim Jim and Orville Redenbacher. Prior to that, he worked at Williams-Sonoma as the director of internet creative for three Pottery Barn brands. He has also worked at AKQA, where he led the print, broadcast and interactive production teams for Palm and Visa, among others.

He talked to Ad Age about his career progression, his goals for 2008 and what makes an effective web video campaign.

Ad Age: Firstborn is known for its online video capabilities -- how do you think marketers do better with this medium?

Tom Walker: It's an enormous mistake when a marketer just takes a 30-second spot and throws it on the web. A 30-second spot has been crafted for TV, and a web experience is very different. Even if [consumers] are going on the web to watch "Lost," the experience is different. Video is an incredibly valuable tool on the web, but it has to be created and produced in a manner that is relevant to what's happening on the web. [It has to be] edited in a way that feels natural and not interruptive, that helps boost the experience and add to it.

Ad Age: Can you give an example of an effective use of web video?

Mr. Walker: There was a campaign done for Microsoft, "Clearification," by [production studio] Mekanism, where they shot video vignettes and had some animation. All of it was very complementary. Each piece was thought through in its context. There are a handful of interactive shops that are really at the top of their games -- Firstborn is one of them. [Mekanism also] really understands the space and how and when to use things like video and 3-D and how it will help the experience that you want to have.

There is another project we are working on, where a video experience is used to convey a new technology. We are editing it in a way that consumers can create their levels of experience. I can have a brand experience that is very high level or I can dive in deeper and have an immersive experience. In a way, the consumers are in control and the content is there as much as they want it.

Ad Age: You have a background on the client and agency side -- how does that help you? And what brought you to an interactive agency?

Mr. Walker: The career progression that I have made has been so natural and logical. I've always been the digital guy. ... At Venables Bell & Partners, they brought me in to build their digital capabilities. And [working for] the three Pottery Barn brands, I helped launch the PB teen brand. This [position at Firstborn] is a tremendous opportunity. ... I think because of my client-side experience, I really understand the challenges they face.

Ad Age: What are your goals for the new position?

Mr. Walker: The goal for L.A. is to engage in a much more strategic role. If we are working with an agency, we're partnering with an agency to really understand the strategy as well as working directly with the clients.

Ad Age: What some of the challenges you anticipate in 2008?

Mr. Walker: I definitely see more opportunities than challenges in '08. I am fascinated by what's going on with the use of graphics and motion video. With most of our targets now, bandwidth is no longer an issue, so we can serve video in a much crisper and clearer way. You are starting to be able to leverage some really interesting 3-D models. With a lot of these technologies that are happening, it's really having the experience to understand which are hyped and which are irrelevant. You don't want to try to force fit because it's the cool thing of the moment, like Second Life.
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