At the time, the idea sounded alien. I would launch into a presentation about how video, the most engaging and emotive tool one can use, could be placed within an ad, and auto-streamed to targeted users, only to be greeted by tilted heads and blank stares. At the time there were maybe two companies in the space.
Then, almost overnight, everyone was talking about video rich media. Every vendor was a specialist, every client knew the benefits, talk of deep metrics was music to everyone's ears and the product had gone mainstream.
For some time now, these columns have been focusing on the virtues of producing and distributing branded entertainment as a means of offering a deeper online experience for a targeted audiences.
At first there was confusion, tepid interest and a healthy amount of skepticism. Dozens of readers told me, "People don't want to watch content produced by a brand," and "It'll take a long, long time before increased exposure time is seen as a valuable payoff." But once again it looks like video is marching into the mainstream.
The good people at Google and YouTube recently found a monetizable hit with Seth McFarlane's "Cavalcade of Comedy," sponsored by Burger King, produced by MRC and distributed through Ad Sense.
Walmart is sponsoring a Pet Advice series and distributing it on niche pet sites.
"Gemini Division," the new (super-cool) Web series from NBC, has sponsorship from Microsoft, Cisco and Intel.
Motorola, XBOX, Dove and others are also joining in this wave of sponsoring and producing interesting and relevant content for their audiences.
What I've come to realize is that, as much as I might love to take credit for it, this boom in video use and the adoption of long-form video isn't anything new, alien or experimental, it's just an extension of what's been going on for years offline.
Toyota sponsored a 10-minute long prequel to Day 6 (season 6) of Fox's "24." The vignette featured Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) being sprung from jail, chased and driven around a prison camp in Toyotas, and then captured and returned to his cell. The whole piece was a brand extension of the "24" universe, but powerfully showed off product.
Kahlua, the coffee liqueur, created, produced and maintained full ownership of its own TV show, "Bring Home the Exotic," which ran on Oxygen. This piece of branded entertainment sprang from the philosophy of its brand but captivated audiences.
Truly, what's old is new again -- and those of us in the industry right now have the distinction and opportunity to be stewarding a proven technique into a new medium, and rediscovering its benefits. What has worked so well in television (see GM's brilliant integration into NBC's "My Own Worst Enemy" last week, giving Christian Slater's two different personalities relevant and complementary cars) is now transitioning to the Web, as more and more savvy markets realize that content, no matter what the distribution mechanism, is a way to achieve a longer brand exposure.
As Sam Wehr, media director at Starcom, told us, "Content is the currency we've got to address in online marketing. Banners are okay, but there's definitely more to it."