Is online video advertising finally primed to break away from its uninspiring big brother, TV advertising? Three recent campaigns show how online video advertising is moving beyond the predictable template of pre-, mid-, and post-roll ads.
Consider the campaign for Electronic Arts' football video game "Madden NFL 10." Planning for online video segments featuring professional athletes took place from the get-go. Video originally shot for the television ads was not recycled to create online ads.
Then there's an initiative now underway at real estate firm Coldwell Banker, which involves rallying hundreds, if not thousands, of independent real estate agents to create video tours starring themselves and the homes they represent.
And there's "Peter Mehlman's Narrow World of Sports." It's a hybrid of branded advertising and sponsorship on behalf of a smartphone manufacturer accompanied by a dose of humor.
Let's look more closely at each.
Madden NFL 10: Going the Extra Yard -- and Mile
Online video was not an afterthought when Freestyle Interactive, a digital agency, worked with Heat, a full-service agency, for an integrated ad campaign for "Madden NFL 10."
To promote the game's theme, "fight for every yard," Heat and Freestyle brought together players from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, rivals in Super Bowl XLIII, for a video shoot for both TV and online ads. The Steelers' Troy Polamalu and the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald are both featured on the cover of "Madden NFL 10."
For the TV spot, Fitzgerald collides with Polamalu at the 50-yard line. "The two are joined by a sea of teammates and fans in a fight for yards gained/loss," writes Mike Denzler, VP of operations and business development at Freestyle, in an e-mail interview after I met with him at the agency's San Francisco office last month.
"For online, we shot custom video of Pittsburgh RB Willie Parker against a green screen fighting a blocking dummy trying to gain yardage. As he struggles, he is joined by fellow teammates to push through the block," Denzler continues. This action scene became part of a custom home page masthead ad for ESPN and YouTube that shows Parker and his teammates "crushing" other images in the masthead.
This year, Freestyle and Heat have worked with other professional athletes, including Tiger Woods, for online and TV advertising to promote other EA Sports titles and have taken a similar approach to the "Madden NFL 10" campaign. "We developed the creative ideas for all channels together, based on a single strategy, and had a coherent and unified vision for what we wanted the campaigns to deliver," Denzler says.
Coldwell Banker: Taking It to the Streets
"Come on in; let me show you around," beckons Jen Maxwell, a Coldwell Banker sales associate, in a YouTube video promoting a five-bedroom, two-bath home in Salem, MA, on Boston's North Shore, on the market for $340,000. "Two -- count them -- two new hot water tanks so your large family will never run out of hot water again," she cheerfully says in a video that runs 2:55. "When you enter 12 Wilson Street, one of the first things you'll notice is the gleaning hardwood floors."
Maxell is among the first Coldwell Banker salespeople who are bringing life to online real estate ads. Other real estate firms, such as Weichert Realtors are also looking to expand their use of online videos, working with vendors such as TurnHere to help agents do video home tours.
Coldwell Banker has worked with YouTube to create a branded channel called On Location that launched in May. To date, more than 3,300 videos feature tours of homes for sale, representing a little more than 1 percent of the 275,000 properties listed on the Coldwell Banker site.
One challenge: Coldwell Banker must inspire a sales force made up of independent contractors to buy into its vision. Michael Fischer, SVP of marketing at Coldwell Banker, said the firm recognized that some real estate agents need to overcome a fear of speaking in front of a camera. So a how-to video on the company's intranet provides agents with tips on what to wear and other best practices, according to Fischer. He is spreading the word by attending sales events for agents and managers around the country. Agents are finding inspiration from colleagues who've already done a video tour or two, he says.
Another challenge is ensuring that the video ads are deactivated once a property is sold. Problem solved: the company ties each YouTube video listing to a real estate listing on its corporate Web site, so both listings are automatically taken down when appropriate.
Discussing Coldwell Banker's work at ClickZ's Social Media and Video Strategies forum sponsored by Google and YouTube, Fischer was asked if there was a control mechanism to ensure that each video maintains the brand's image. "We to have to let go of that [control]. We have to trust our professionals," he said at the time.
So what is his goal for the initiative? "If we could get to 100,000 listings, we'd be hugely happy. And that's a long time away," he says.
Because this initiative involves emerging technology, Fischer says it will take time to determine the return on investment. "We're trying to catch up to what consumers are doing," he says. If that means bringing more homes to the attention of more buyers, Coldwell Banker will be halfway home.
Palm Pre Phone: A Ring Side Seat
In "Narrow World of Sports," sponsored by Palm Pre on YouTube, Peter Mehlman interviews sports celebrities, such as boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard, basketball star Kobe Bryant, and gymnast Shawn Johnson.
These aren't conventional sports interviews. It's Howard Cosell meets Jerry Seinfeld. (Mehlman worked for both.) In each "Narrow World" episode, Mehlman peppers the sports celebrity with Seinfeld-like questions: "If you were starting your career today, do you think you would update your name? Would you call yourself maybe Blue Ray Leonard?...Splenda Ray Leonard?" Mehlman asks Leonard with a straight face. Leonard replies with a smile that could melt a glacier: "I think my present ring name suits me fine...Why would you ask me that...is it sugar, that fake sugar? What are you trying to say?"
At the start of each video, before he introduces the sports celebrity, Mehlman whips out a Palm Pre and uses one of its applications, such as finding an address on Google Maps, checking the time, or reviewing an appointment. Each video features a close-up shot of an application but quickly moves on to what brought viewers here in the first place: the sports celebrity.
Is this series a success? Don't look to Mehlman for a clue. "About 650,000 people have watched me interview athletes on YouTube since Aug. 9. Is that a high number of people? A low number of people? No idea," he wrote last week as a guest blogger on The Wrap, a business news site that covers Hollywood. "Is anyone making money on this project? No idea."
Describing one of his meetings with Google, YouTube, digital agency Modernista, and others, Mehlman said he had other matters on his mind: "I just wanted to ask Kobe Bryant how much he tips the referees."
Online video is the fastest-growing medium in history and is becoming an increasingly important weapon in the best marketers' arsenals. How are savvy marketers making online video work for them? Join us on Monday, September 28, 2009, at 2 p.m. EDT, for a free Webinar to learn how to make video an effective part of your next campaign.
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Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.
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