There's an old advertising joke that goes like this: "The answer is a 30-second spot. Now, what's the question?" It pokes fun at the fact that the television spot has become the automatic "correct answer" for brands looking to deliver a message to the masses.
Times have changed. It's no longer so clear that interrupting viewers as they watch TV is the best way to engage a marketplace. I'm not suggesting that television advertising is dead, but we are headed down a slippery slope. And at the bottom of that slope, we find the Internet. We are in the midst of a video revolution, yet advertisers still cling to the 30-second spot, in the form of pre-roll ads.
In fact, if online marketing has its version of that advertising joke, it probably goes something like this: "What's the right length for a pre-roll ad? You're asking the wrong question." Instead of debating the right length for an ad unit that isn't right for the medium, the industry should focus its efforts on finding new ways of engaging consumers through the power of sight, sound, and motion. We need innovative marketing approaches that are custom-made for the online on-demand world. If you're asking, "Then what's the right way for marketers to leverage online video?" the correct answer is, "Distributed brand content."
For decades, advertisers have been filling the cracks between pieces of someone else's content, but with DVRs and the promise of a million channels delivered over broadband, it has never been easier for consumers to skip over those cracks and jump directly to the content. To succeed, we need to stop standing between them and their content and actually be the content they want to see. When it comes to video, advertisers and agencies need to focus their energies on producing content that has sufficient appeal to attract, engage, and retain the consumers with whom they hope to build lasting relationships.
With some exceptions, consumers do not want to watch content about your brand. But consumers will watch original programming that supports your brand, if it entertains. This may be innovation, but we can look to the past for inspiration. When Procter & Gamble created soap operas, they weren't shows about soap. They were entertainment vehicles that appealed to a large audience of household-shopping decision makers and sold a lot of product.
Some progressive marketers have already experimented with Web content creation - Brawny, Audi, and BMW come to mind. To get Web video right, more of our energy needs to be focused here. But the creation of brand content takes us only partway down the path. Marketers can't simply present their video on their own sites. The Web is becoming less destination-oriented and more about broad, open source distribution.
Smart marketers will syndicate their brand content, putting their videos on the sites where the audience already is. Ford seems to understand this. Its "Bold Moves" video blog segments run not only on the vlog itself but have also been distributed on third-party broadband sites.
In the world of networked media, though, distribution is not limited to carefully orchestrated syndication deals. Consumer-to-consumer sharing of brand video assets turns our audience into our partners in brand storytelling.
One of the biggest online video successes was the short video "Evolution" for Dove. The two-minute clip garnered more than 2 million (unpaid) views, not at the Dove brand site but through video-sharing portals such as YouTube, fueled by chatter on thousands of independent blogs. The campaign succeeded almost entirely on the strength of social distribution.
So in the end, "Would you rather invest your money in creating traditional advertising that consumers skip, or invest that same money in producing and distributing engaging content that they will actually want to see?" What's your answer?
Greg Verdino is vice president/director of emerging channels at Digitas. (firstname.lastname@example.org) For more on Greg's perspectives on new media and marketing, visit his blog at gregverdino.typepad.com.