Advertisers Are Still Missing the Mark With Online Video

Focus On Pre-Rolls and Branded Entertainment Is Counterproductive

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Online video advertising should be ushering in a new golden era for our industry. Except its not, because most of the ad business is focused on the wrong things.

There are essentially two areas of discussion that dominate the conversation when it comes to online video. Both are tethered to the Mad Men world of "things we've always done."

The first is pre-roll -- putting spots in front of content. We focus on this because it's what all the big agencies are set up to do and it's where the dollars are.

The second is the creation of branded content. Another page from the history books. We did it with soap operas. Red Bull seems to have made it work. Let's do it again. We focus on this because people who work in advertising all secretly wish we worked in Hollywood.

These are important opportunities for sure, but to limit our attention to them is myopic.

Advertising used to be about things like persuasion, perception, inspiration, desire. It was Bill Bernbach who said "It's not the numbers of ads you serve, it's the impression you make. "Today, the word "impression" has a whole new meaning, and advertising is about spreadsheets and quantifiable ROI.

It can be about both. It should be about both. Online video can bridge that gap.

Marketers should be thoughtful about considering every opportunity that digital video presents. Here are a few:

Discoverable content
Google is a zillion-dollar business because they stumbled upon something powerful in the marketing funnel -- intent. When people want something, they search for it.

Rapidly, video is becoming a more and more critical part of that search. This summer, I decided to put my BBQ skills to the test and figure out how to make a brisket. It didn't even occur to me to read a recipe. I went straight to YouTube to learn how. I went through dozens of crappy home videos before I finally found a good one.

Shame on Kingsford Charcoal for not making sure I discovered a quality, search engine optimized video they produced. That's a big missed opportunity.

What are your customers looking for? Make sure you help them discover it.

Owned media
Often, brands will put budget into high production value for spots, but treat video created for their own website like a Cinderella stepchild. The thinking is that less people will see it, so let's spend less producing it.

That's silly. Sure, the audience that will see them is smaller, but certainly they are not less important. These are the people raising their hands, clicking their mouses and saying, "Yes, I want a deeper relationship with your brand."

No one is saying you should run out and try to create the next Bud TV. You don't need to become a TV station.

I'm talking a great opportunity to tell a deeper story to the right audience. Why skimp there?

Native video
One big trend in that the VC community is buzzing about today is "Native Monetization." Sponsored Stories on Facebook is an example of an ad that is "native" to its platforms. Now, all manner of content providers are devising ways to integrate brand content—particularly video—into their actual content. This can be highly effective.

When Buzzfeed readers checked out a piece of content called "This is how you get on Santa's Naughty List" last Christmas, they got to see a cute video from FootLocker about a teenager holding a reindeer hostage to get Santa to get him new sneakers. Like most Buzzfeed content, it's designed to put a smirk on your face. And it does the job.

Experience integration
One of the most compelling opportunities open to brands today is to delight or create value for consumers through digital experiences. Video can be integrated into those experiences to make them more powerful, more compelling and yes, more engaging to your customers.

We created a campaign for Adobe called "Real or Fake?" that challenged players to guess whether a series of images were real or faked with Adobe tools. We used AfterEffects to create a video of a ballerina dancing on top of the Roosevelt Island Tram. After guessing if it was real or fake (it was fake), 50% of people who played the game and checked out a tutorial on how they could do it themselves.

Adam Kleinberg is CEO of Traction, an interactive agency in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter at @adamkleinberg.
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