Commentary

Four Ways to Improve Your Online Video Ads

Online advertising has made enormous strides in recent years. Once marginalized, the Internet is now a vital and indispensable component of a successful media mix. As more and more advertisers continue to shift their focus online, it's a simple fact that from banners to e-mail to rich media and video, we've come a long way, baby.

In spite of this progress, few ads, especially in the video space, have kept up with the rapid developments in technology that separate the Internet from traditional media. For every truly innovative and interesting video ad on the Web, there are scores more that simply repurpose previously existing video without any interactive elements to enhance their content.

The thing to realize is, interactivity is not just the icing on the cake when you're dealing with the Web--it is the cake. People watch TV, but they use the Internet. TV ads show up asking to be watched rather than used, so they become easy to ignore. But on the Internet, passive viewing is just a delay to all the action at hand. I can't be bothered to listen to what you have to say, Mr. Brand. I've got things to do. So while ads can't be ignored, they can be closed or deleted. Our job is to make sure that doesn't happen.

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The fact is, the more people can interact with an online video ad, the longer they will watch it. Human beings are curious animals; they like to be able to poke around and discover and play. Here are just a few of the ways you can get them to do just that:

1. Expandable Video. As anyone who's recently gone shopping for the latest high-def, flat-screen, plasma TV set will tell you, when it comes to video, size matters. And while a tiny movie playing within a little square in the margin of a Web page might be intriguing enough to grab viewers' attention for a few seconds, it won't be long before their focus shifts to other matters. In such cases, just three little words can make all the difference: Rollover to Expand. The appeal of any online video increases exponentially once it spreads across the screen, and putting that extra bit of power in the user's hand can make all the difference.

2. Paneled Ads. So now that you've gotten people to view your video, how do you keep them around? Having multiple panels to your ad is a great way to further the branding experience. Panels can offer extras like downloads or music samples, turning the ad unit into a veritable miniature website in itself. With more individual pages and tabs within the ad, there is more to check out. Often, just having additional options is enough to drive interest.

3. Multiple/Original Video. Most people don't choose to use either a TV or the Internet; they have both. So it's safe to say that if you're running the same ad over both channels, people have seen it. It's best, then, to be able to follow the TV spot with something new online. Whether in the form of multiple videos that allow users to navigate from one to another, or even original content made specifically for the ad itself, more video is always better. Then there's the "Choose Your Own Adventure" concept, where the user is given the ability to choose the progression of scenes in an ongoing narrative.

4. Games. Games have been an inexorable part of the online experience ever since Al Gore first invented the Internet, and to this day, they remain one of its primary way to engages online audiences. It stands to reason, then, that a perfect way to make the most of the Internet's branding opportunities is to incorporate this world, which draws so many people online to begin with, into the client's message.

The obvious connection between all these concepts is user interactivity. It is not enough to create a passive experience where your branding message merely washes over a user's sense receptors. Internet users want to be involved, they want to explore, touch and experience everything on the screen. It's up to us, then, to provide opportunities for that interaction, rather than merely repeating the techniques used in television. After all, isn't that what the Internet's all about?

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