Commentary

What Buyers May Know - But Won't Admit -- About Online Video Budgets

  • by March 10, 2008
Despite the debate over the viability and sustainability of ad-sponsored online video networks and platforms, there's still a giant elephant in the room that I suspect many are missing.

No, it's not about pre-roll versus overlays versus in-banner video or the likes.

It's that increasingly, online video ad spend is being parked by agency buyers and their marketers as a line item back in the ol' TV budget -- not always within the digital spend.

But wait. Wasn't it the traditional media agencies that once kicked digital media to the curb as too fleeting and too complicated? These days, their acquisitions point to the fact that they're playing a very different tune -- struggling to catch up to the expertise of the digerati, and not only take back the digital spend but now purport to manage "all things video."

On the surface, moving an impression-based line item from one part of a media spreadsheet to another might not seem very significant. But in practice, it potentially takes responsibility for one of the most potent forms of online messaging from a brand's e-marketers, who are digitally fluent enough to leverage online video in new and innovative ways, and simply parks it as a separate component under TV spend for "short form allocation."

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For most sellers, that's probably a good thing. You can almost hear the online publishers salivating how they wish it were that easy -- that if they could only get their hands on a bigger slice of the TV pie, business would be booming more than it already is.

Yet, on the buy side, I say, it's the results from an agency grab-back that actually prevent the messaging and the medium from creatively moving forward.

My theory goes something like this. To our media buying colleagues, we're simply cutting down our :30 TV commercials into :15s and handing them over to buyers to place with online publishers and portals. Since these units are essentially TV creative that's also measured on impression-based metrics rather than a CTR, engagement or other online metric, why not just think of them as another CPM that gets factored into the "video-based impression" pool, right?

After all, the marketplace is already bundling linear television buys with online pre-rolls. Just forget the lines between online and on-air. It's all video, right?

Wrong. Here's where it falls apart from a creative perspective. Say you're sitting in a creative meeting with a brand team whose digital aptitude on a scale of 1 to 10 averages a 4. You propose a business case for creating contextual video pre-rolls with a call to action overlay that clicks through to a microsite with a big honking trial activation online coupon. Suddenly, the representative from the brand's interactive marketing team says, "Really nice idea, but that would have to come out of a different budget -- because according to our media partner, online video actually resides within our TV spend."

In desperate need of an econometric media modeler, I look around the table to discover blank stares. In turn, what commences is a whole variety of new hurdles to overcome -- thereby preventing activation of what should really be a very simple, holistic, consumer experience that drives from video to trial activation to brand business results.

After momentarily pondering what effect reallocating online video to TV budgets does to the overall accuracy of digital spending data, I figure that's better left to TNS, CMR and the other data hounds to sort out. But from a creative perspective, I can say with some certainty that it has massive effects on our ability to drive the real value of online video -- by forgoing video's role within the consumer's WHOLE brand experience, and settling for short-term awareness based on a path of least resistance, impression-based video bucket.

Whether you're a buyer or seller, when it comes to online video, when will we realize that the medium is the message? For those of us who are trying to lean forward to create for it, rather than just lean back and repurpose for it, sentencing the role of digital ecosystems to a 5-8% budget of banners and brandsites doesn't go nearly far enough towards the goal of leveraging the true potential of the digital channel to advance relationships and drive business results.

What's more disturbing is how this strategy actually prevents brand management teams from realizing that their digital spend can create much more impact than just a pretty brand site and some banners to drive you there. It's no wonder so many brand teams relegate the responsibility for it too far down the food chain of import.

From one creative director's perspective, we have loads of work to do educating brand teams on the role of digital in both the marketing and media mix. There are dozens of brand marketers who are eager and ready to go from "what is it?" to the "how do we do it?" phase of digital marketing. Yet, on the other hand, it's astounding how quickly we can prevent innovative ideas and programs from surfacing, particularly in video, simply by trying to make things easier and bigger for us.

Maybe it is all just video. Or maybe we're just lazy.

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