Advertising in the New New Media, Part 2

You can’t avoid the buzz about social networks, online video, virtual worlds, and podcasts.

Last time, I examined virtual worlds and podcasting. Today, I’ll outline questions you should ask before allocating resources to advertising on social networks and online video.

Social networks are probably the most-hyped thing online since push media. And it’s not just hype that these sites have attracted: consider Microsoft’s $240 million investment in Facebook for a 1.6 percent equity stake.

Like social networking, online video has taken off this year. Millions of dollars are being spent by advertisers eager to get a piece of the action, though the effectiveness of this medium is still up for debate.

Social Networks

“Social media” is loosely defined as sites where people can post profiles, post messages to each other, and generally hang out. Why are these sites such a big deal? Traffic. Facebook and MySpace serve up more eyeballs than almost any other site. Shouldn’t all those eyeballs mean big advertising opportunities?

Not exactly. While lots of people use Facebook, they apparently don’t like to click on ads. According to one report about ad response rates, Facebook is “consistently the worst performing site” for click-throughs.

Of course, most ad hipsters favor Facebook widgets, little branded chunks of code that do nifty stuff like allow people to share movies or news on Facebook pages. Advertisers have rushed to this new platform, and branded widgets are popping up faster than the zits on a freshman’s face.

Should you jump on the bandwagon? If you want to test the waters, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you comfortable with your brand being associated with content you have no control over? People can put widgets anywhere, and you can’t control the content.
  • What metrics will you use to measure success? If it’s click-throughs and you want to do banner advertising on a social networking site, consider a highly targeted publication to reach a specific demographic.
  • What will your audience think about your ads showing up in their personal space? For affinity brands, the answer might be a resounding “Cool!” For others, think about what could happen when you intrude into someone’s MySpace page.
  • Online Video

    Advertisers are spending millions to get a piece of the video action. However, this medium’s effectiveness is still up for debate. Most video ads take the form of pre- or post-roll ads (:15 spots that run before or after the video content), though there are hybrid forms, such as clickable links inside the video, branded wrappers around the video, and custom channels on sites like YouTube.

    If you’re an old-school ad type, you may be tempted to jump into online video because it looks like the kind of advertising you’re used to on TV. Remember, there are crucial differences.

    First, online video is short; the average length of an online video clip is 2.7 minutes. Because the content is so short, your :15 spot looks intrusive and obnoxious. Also, online video is extremely interrupt-driven: because content’s so short, heavy users tend to click around a lot while watching content. Typically, online video is low-quality and low-resolution. Your expensive spot shot in HD isn’t going to look as pretty when squeezed into a 256 x 256 pixel box. Finally, consumers find pre-roll ads pretty annoying.

    Does this mean advertising in online video is bad? Not necessarily. But before you jump into it, ask:

  • Where will your ads run? Can you control the content your ads come before or after? Not knowing could result in some funny (or tragic) juxtapositions.
  • What kind of measurement can you expect? When is a view counted? When a video request is sent to the server? Halfway through viewing? Once the video is over? This can make a major difference in knowing whether people are actually seeing your spot.
  • What kind of branding effectiveness are you shooting for? Face it: you can’t do much in 15 seconds of low-quality video.
  • Are there opportunities to add direct-response functions to the video, such as clickable links? If there are, is your target audience savvy enough to know how to use them?
  • All this new technology offers many new opportunities. But just because something’s new doesn’t make it good. Don’t get hornswoggled by hype. Keep your wits about you, trust your gut, rely on common sense, and demand accountability from your media. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Related reading

    Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.