Betting on Branded Online Video

A European marketer friend has been taking bets that brand-owned online video channels will be the future of marketing. Being a high-energy TV documentary journalist-turned-marketer, she loves the way these new channels give brands the power to commission and curate high-quality content that is aligned with their brand, relevant to their customers, and available to everybody on demand through the Internet. For brands that are used to paying out megabucks to media owners to get fleeting exposure between TV shows, having their own 24/7 video channel is an enticing prospect.

I think my friend has a point, but only up to a point. Branded online video is certainly an exciting development that marketers can’t afford to ignore. Although it’s not exactly new, at least on Internet time scales, it has only recently become big and that’s mostly thanks to one brand. With all due respect to Vimeo and other online video platforms, the category pretty much belongs to YouTube, just as search pretty much belongs to Google. YouTube has gotten hundreds of millions of Internet users into the habit of watching video content online.

From YouTube to BrandTube

With a claimed audience of one billion unique visitors a month, YouTube dwarfs virtually every media brand on the planet in terms of name recognition and brand usage. It’s the place where the world (and adults) go to enjoy the antics of cats and dogs and babies. It’s the platform that turned Psy’s “Gangnam Style” into a massive global sensation with over 1.7 billion views and helped make K-pop big all over Asia and beyond. It’s the first stop for do-it-yourselvers who want to find out how to do pretty much anything, from cooking up Malaysian nasi lemak to practicing their dance moves. In the words of one contact who has single-handedly remodeled his home, “YouTube built my house.”

For brands that want an online video presence quickly and easily, deciding to set up on YouTube is a no-brainer. It promotes its branded channels as 24/7 broadcast centers “where your brand is the star.” Plenty of brands across a whole range of categories have made the move. Web surfers can flick between techie players such as Apple, LG, and Samsung, mainstream consumer brands like Walmart, Coca Cola, HSBC, Huawei Device, and Danone, all the way through to magazines such as Wired and Playboy, and iconic brands such as Rolex and Harley Davidson.

From BrandTube to Brand-Owned Channels

However, the ease and convenience of setting up a channel on YouTube has some serious downsides for the sorts of brands that are used to making big media investments. For one thing, they’re sharing a platform with millions of small-scale wannabes that run their business from a spare room with a webcam and no media budget. In branding terms, it’s a bit like having a generic email address from a free provider rather than having an owned email address – rather than, for example.

Even more galling is that unsophisticated, low-cost content posted by unknown wannabes can attract far more attention than big-budget polished content from massive global brands. The L’Oreal Paris U.K. channel has fewer than 10,000 subscribers and top viewing figures in the two million range for only a couple of featured videos. By contrast, back-room makeup amateur Lauren Luke’s Panacea81 channel has almost half a million subscribers, a top viewed video with 5.8 million views, and 25 videos with well over one million each. Gillette’s channel has a little over 13,000 subscribers and its top videos claim tens of thousands of views. Contrast that with one video from the upstart Dollar Shave Club (8,500 subscribers) that has generated almost 11 million views and massive media coverage.

YouTube is clearly a must-use platform in the media mix of any brand marketer, but for the most ambitious, it’s not enough. For the most ambitious, doing online branded video properly means setting up a brand-owned online video channel to ensure they can steer the brand’s online fortunes.

British retailer Marks and Spencer has had M&S TV since 2009, offering themed channels related to its product lines. Its competitor Waitrose joined the trend in 2012 with its own slightly more upscale Waitrose TV, where a range of household name personalities present content dedicated to food, drink, health, ethical sourcing, and seasonal events such as Christmas, all with a “buy ingredients” feature built in. Car makers by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Renault have also invested in building brand-owned channels. However, for masterful use of online video, it’s hard to top privately owned Austrian energy drink Red Bull. It has had its own content production company Red Bull Media House since 2007 and now offers adrenaline-fuelled action online through Red Bull TV and two other online channels.

Bets on Asia-Pacific Online Video?

The online video habit has been catching on massively in APAC, too. Recent figures from comScore indicate consistent growth in Southeast Asia, with YouTube topping the online entertainment destinations. Looking at the whole of APAC, Japan is the biggest consumer of online video with 242 videos per viewer, well ahead of Hong Kong (181), Singapore (158), Australia (151), New Zealand (140), and Vietnam (137), and way ahead of China (78) and India (77). What’s more, these figures account for PCs only, not hand-held devices.

So how are brands responding to APAC consumers’ growing appetite for online video? As far as I can see, so far they’ve been more cautious than my European marketer friend would like. For now, that makes good business sense. In many parts of the region, the ITC infrastructure is still not optimized for delivering bandwidth-hungry usage. If consumers have to wait too long for a brand’s video content to load and play, they are likely to avoid repeating the experience. However, in the longer term, as the region’s infrastructure matures, I’m sure my friend’s bets will pay off in APAC, too.

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