MediaVideoBack to the Future: Are Happy Days Here Again?

Back to the Future: Are Happy Days Here Again?

Two new ad types from Jerry Seinfeld for Acura with Sony/Crackle and Facebook demonstrate that bleeding-edge digital ad leaders are heading back to the basics. But who does it better?

2013-12-19-2243Isn’t it interesting that two new ad types debuted this past weekand both have hints of days gone by? Jerry Seinfeld debuts an Acura campaign using Sony/Crackle’s web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” as the marketing platform and Facebook’s video ads debut, with a video ad for the upcoming film Divergent. So what seems so familiar about these two launches?

According to eMarketer, digital video ad spending is expected to soar 39.5 percent to $5.79 billion in 2014. In an attempt to dip into this future ad revenue, it seems that the bleeding-edge digital ad leaders like Sony and Facebook are heading right back to the basics. Let’s take a look at who does it better and who makes the more noteworthy debut.

Tapping Into Iconic Ad Eras

Both Seinfeld on behalf of Sony and Facebook tap into iconic advertising periods. Acura’s sponsorship of Seinfeld’s series is reminiscent of 1950s TV sponsorships like the Colgate Comedy Hour. The Acura spots are even produced in 1960s “Mad Men” vintage style. Meanwhile, in a nod to the more recent past, Facebook’s long anticipated video ads (which were first announced in January) take a step back to the dawn of pre-roll video.

The irony lies in the fact that the online video innovation champ for the day is actually good ol’ Seinfeld, and not Silicon Valley’s spawn, Facebook, with its ballyhooed Facebook units.

Seinfeld has the advantage of working with a truly blank creative slate, by way of a single web show built by him for his audience and in partnership with Acura. He is even involved in producing and editing the Acura spots.

The spots are authentic, add value to the user experience and the audience opts in to watch them — much like the old days of tuning into a sponsored TV program. Hey, without the sponsors, we wouldn’t have even had the content. Just think, there never would have been soap operas without soap companies underwriting and driving the content. And aren’t we all the better for them (tongue firmly in cheek)?

Breaking Into Your Own Market

On the other hand, Facebook has the disadvantage of creating what it hopes will be a huge money maker on an already crowded newsfeed platform where users have already become accustomed to not being interrupted by video ads and have already sworn their allegiance to it-despite growing increasingly growing weary of the platform of late.

Surely the promise of Facebook video ads is enormous, and big brands are eager to increase the dollars they spend on the social network by deploying video ads. But these video ads have been touted for so long it is actually a surprise it is just now launching. And Facebook faces an uphill battle. Like Tumblr, Instagram, and many before it, Facebook is injecting more advertising (and now video) into an environment where consumer expectations are already firmly established.

More content, not of our own choosing, runs counter to the on-demand, Netflix mentality, where we are able to curate and control our environment rather than have it further dictated by the publisher.

It seems more like the mid-2000s when market leaders like Yahoo! and MySpace constantly sought the next ad opportunity at all costs-putting monetization ahead of the user experience. The end result often created more clutter and diminished user satisfaction. We know how those stories have turned out. Still, if more recent history is any guide, it seems that Facebook often makes changes that users initially hate and eventually come to accept and even embrace.

Will Tactics of Years Past Help Companies Innovate Today — and In Future?

But doesn’t anyone notice that Google has succeeded through innovation that empowers the users AND keeps things clean? We’ve all watched 7-year olds click past the YouTube pre-roll, they are conditioned to avoid or eliminate advertising from their experience from the get-go. If Facebook is truly worried about driving adoption by the under-18 crowd, adding an antiquated pre-roll to the newsfeed does not seem to be the answer. Perhaps they could have come up with something more Seinfeld-like that actually serves to enhance the consumer experience by bringing users an authentic experience they actually want to opt in to.

Facebook’s selection of the movie Divergent as the initial video ad was savvy, but arguably not representative of what is to come. Using a preview for a film that skews young and includes well respected (and beautiful) actresses was a smart move. This is content that people are likely to share anyway, so it doesn’t feel out of place. And it probably will be preceded with something that says something like, “Facebook member Jane Likeitalot likes Kate Winslet” with the video displayed beneath. That works for a one-video trial, but does it scale long term with a wide enough advertiser pool to displace cable TV dollars as Facebook hopes it will?

Estimates are that these new video ad units could fetch between $2 million and $2.5 million per day, which is nearly Super Bowl levels. Certainly, marketers are desperate to reach the social network’s entire audience, but again this leads to a question of scale. How many advertisers have budgets that allow for this type of investment?

Facebook is banking on this new video unit driving substantial revenue growth, but I am not convinced this initial iteration is enough. For this week, I nominate Seinfeld as the master of the online video innovation domain.

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