As Web Video Becomes More Low-Fi, Maybe Your Pre-Rolls Should, Too

  • by June 5, 2007

Did you ever notice how slick the pre-rolls are that precede today's "most popular" Web videos?  In most cases, they're actually :15 cutdowns of $300,000+ commercials made for television.  But what happens when your spot looks too slick for the content it's pre-rolling?  Does it hurt your brand more than help it?

From a creative standpoint, what we do know is that the tools and techniques being used to populate the Web with video have become readily available to the masses. From digital video and cellular camcorders to laptop editing systems, royalty-free music and man-on-the-street interviewers, we've seen with our own eyes what the mass distribution of the video desktop results in -- a kind of syntax and language that's, well, uniquely suited to the consumer as creator, right?  Consumer as creative?  Well, that's a different story.

There's even "make your own commercial" online video services like SpotRunner, which offers a few dozen backplates and generic situations that let you customize a local message for a local market. As long as it's contextually served in the right place at the right time, who cares if it's generic footage?  After all, the medium is the message... the message isn't the message. Right?



Contrast the low fidelity of video produced by the masses with the similar commoditization of desktop design and digital photographic tools that have also become ubiquitous, and what we get is well... a lot of what designers call "Bad Mass."  Aesthetics gone haywire.  America at its loudest and noisiest.  Welcome to MySpace.  Do your eyes hurt yet? 

Attention, creatives:  In the age of online video, low-fi is in.  Slick production values are definitely out.  That doesn't mean you have permission to do mediocre design or go out and shoot $40,000 video Webisodes.  What it does mean is that your content... should consider your context.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And while one person's "bling" is another's "bad," the question is, shouldn't we be creating for the environment that our brands appear in?  Or are we still sticking to that "everything has to look aspirational" speech?

Let's say you put a :15 cutdown of a :30 spot that cost $300,000 to produce in front of a $2,000 low-fi underground music video. You look slick, right?  Actually, you look too slick.  It's not just the relevancy of the content that matters, it's the common aesthetic, or lack thereof, of the context that matters.

There was a time not too long ago in advertising when slick meant everything -- when only the highest quality environment you placed your advertisement in mattered.  Whether taking a page in Vanity Fair, or placing your ad adjacent to a stone-gorgeous, full-page shot of a woman's shoe courtesy of Fabien Baron's amazing eye in Harper's Bazaar, you'd never concern yourself with LOWERING the quality of your ad for the magazine environment; you just needed to concern yourself that your ad would stand up to it.  Even the decades-long preciousness of The Wall Street Journal's "stipple-style" illustrations and Teutonic layout forced you to adapt your creative to the paper's editorial environment.

Here in the age of viral video, it's a commoditized world.  And there are more than just gross impressions that are spreading around.  There are way too many slick ones.  So next time you shoot a campaign, consider that you'll need different kinds of video pre-roll assets for different video contexts and different video environments. Some, not so slick, for the many.  And, yes, some very slick for the privileged few.

Then the challenge is simply finding the media planner that knows which one to place where.  As long as we continue to remain unbundled, our creative content is likely to get placed in the wrong context.

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