How to Make Online Video Interesting Enough for Advertisers to Actually Buy

It’s forever interesting to me to figure out what it takes to get advertisers committed to online video, and I start to wonder if it’s that online doesn’t make a very compelling case for only-ness.

It’s rare that any online publisher or digtal ad agency sells the idea that advertisers should be on online—only--or that online should be their principle buying concern. (And it is hard to make that point without breaking into a cold sweat: Television is an immensely powerful selling tool.) Online seems to be positioned like a side dish that completes the meal, not ever the main event. But except for McDonald’s french fries, there aren’t many foodstuffs that get a reputation for being next to the thing that really sells the show.  And Robin is no Batman, and opening acts at rock concerts are the people you talk over with the house lights still on. Even the Twitter gamble to investors is that someday, it just might be a really good selling place.  

A new survey from Strata, the Chicago-based media-buying and software outfit, discloses that while video advertising has remained the “main area of focus” for the second half of 2013—57% said that—within the video category it’s cable that interests them most. Strata’s data says 54% told the survey that cable was a more interesting selling medium this year than it was last year.  That’s a 35% image bump from the year before.

The idea of being “more interested” is intriguing. It speaks to something in the air that is compelling or just unavoidable. Maybe it’s just me, but online video seems to be everywhere in my life, for good and bad. The planet Earth is a just one big viral video incubator.

Strata is not that emphatic. But compared to cable’s 54%, its survey says 55% of agencies were more interested in online than a year ago, and of those, 67% said YouTube is a top choice, and Hulu, with 27%, in a very distant second place. (That’s telling. While the survey answers aren’t surprising given YouTube’s size, maybe it is worth pondering again if having an 800 pound gorilla tromping around the video jungle has a way of making the smaller animals totally insignificant.)  

Yet, Strata's survey says, for all the interest, half the agencies aren’t sure they’re getting everything they expect from online video. I kind of get that,too . More ad dollars shift to digital, attached to tens of thousands of videos each. Even with good analytics, what’s the takeaway? To advertisers, if not to agencies, online video must seem like a department store filled randomly with attractive goods, none of them displayed so they stick out in any remarkable way.  It’s not that special.

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