Video à No-No

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. –Oscar Wilde

That quote has been in my head since I started thinking about all the hype surrounding online video and its effect on online advertising.

How about its effect on Internet users? What if every site you went to had one, two, or even three video ads playing? People would surely stop looking for the coolest things to send to their friends. Pretty soon, they’d be setting their privacy preferences to screen out unwanted video.

In the coming months, thanks to publishers and portals such as Yahoo and MSN, there will be more video for users to watch, customize, send, and, in general, consume. We’re facing some kind of strange Web/TV hybrid that, let’s face it, hasn’t worked so far. If marketers simply repurpose their TV ads or put their B-rolls (define) online, one thing is certain. Web users will coin a new term: video burnout.

And they’ll do it soon. Figuring out how to create interactive video that doesn’t have the same mind-numbing effect as TV will take time, research, and pragmatism. Unfortunately, the hype has served its purpose. Money is flowing to online video publishers. The rush by big guns, such as Procter & Gamble, General Motors, and Johnson & Johnson, to advertise on MSN Video only puts pressure on other brands to hurry up and “go video,” rather than to experiment with original forms of video or non-video content intentionally created for Web users.

Creating relevant online video will require a little more effort than repurposing that B-roll and claiming it’s the new growth trend. It’ll take real research: studying how people simultaneously use the Web and TV; how they do and don’t schedule the Web into their lives; how their kids are likely to use it knowing young people watch TV less and game more. How they’ll take the Web with them and pare it down to a simplified experience while traveling.

Here’s where I get really cynical. Web users are always a bit more sophisticated than mass-media publishers are willing to understand. I mean, where do you get information such as iPod’s Dirty Secret on a major TV network? Is a 120 x 90 pixel format video program as easy on the eyes as a 42 in. widescreen TV? Mass-media video content is more about shifting industry monetization than about what users want. People don’t go online everyday to wait for a video to stream, buffer, play, buffer, stream, and end too soon. Do you think a user scenario like this really motivates a viewer to buy something?

We can dally around with clickable video as marketers and try to come up with some way to make video delivery more interesting, but we must realize video is a one-way communication. Currently, it ignores the Internet’s two-way interactive nature, no matter what a portal tells you. Take a site such as Billy Harvey Music. See how music can be marketed to consumers? Directly, with the kind of personal, direct, and interactive approach that’s at the root of the Internet’s power of persuasion.

Be prepared. Formulate a marketing strategy for your own use, or non-use, of video — keeping in mind that in six months, after becoming accustomed to video online, Internet users may tune it out. By then, maybe someone will have figured out a framework for true interactivity within a video. Of course, the burden then falls back to us to actually craft content — not just repurpose it — in way that entertains, informs, and inspires.

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