How are we humans holding up under the strain of extreme video stimulation?
People spend a lot of time looking at the things, so it's sometimes a wonder if they actually have any brain function left. Their faces assume a long, blank stare, mouth agape; their posture takes on a slouch that resembles the few moments after a heart attack.
Is this what being entertained is about? Many studies have examined brain activity and TV watching. And some recent behavioral studies indicate the brain shuts off after prolonged Web viewing. Why did I think I knew that? I must have forgot.
With gaming, studies show brain activity increases and the hypothalamus gives off CRH, a stress hormone. It floods the body with adrenalin. Located here is the more reptilian part of the brain, the one that takes on the fight-or-flight reaction to any stimulus. Given the right circumstances, we have the potential to regress to our primal selves.
It's funny how a moving picture can make a big difference to human physiology. If you think about it, what we're doing nowadays is a lot more alien to our bodies than anything we've done before. Video watching isn't some equivalent to staring into a fire in a Neanderthal hut village where the longer you stare, the deeper your transcendental nirvana. Nor do I consider scenes like these, featuring close-ups of sizzling sausage patties, to be spiritually enlightening in any way. No matter how long you look at them.
If one thinks long enough, provided the aptitude is still available, one might come to believe that moving pictures are a mind-numbing exploit with some other design than to keep us laughing. I'm not a conspiracy theorist and don't believe subliminal messages are being inserted in anything on the Web. If they are, they aren't working.
A year ago, video was going to be the next big thing. Now it's here and there's too much of it. And a lot of it isn't particularly interesting.
The masses have hijacked video production and chaos has flooded our video world. Opinions and videos are as rampant as a biblical swarm of locusts, and society may be suffering in a greater way than we know.
Still, there should be some middle ground for creating a rich experience online.
Let's look at the extremes. Watching an online video ad is fairly passive; playing a branded online video game probably damages your brain after a few days. Not that anybody wants that to happen, but in a few decades we may have a nation of zombies walking the earth, twitching their game controller thumbs and scuffing their feet outside of every convenience store.
Yet, video can be engaging and put us somewhere between self-induced narcolepsy and a nervous breakdown. Consider video sites like Volkswagen's Golf GT Sport (click the "Seite Öffnen" link) that do the job of bringing a story line and a product demo together with enough options for the user to stay engaged. This is what we should aim for.
Whether large or small scale, video can be compelling. Knowing how to blend the ingredients of content, interaction, and difficulty properly can make or break your online video dollar's effectiveness.
Humans will evolve. Marketing professionals should to their best to focus on that sweet spot so online viewers don't evolve away from the online medium altogether. Or before our brains all shut off.
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Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.
March 19, 2014