Embedded Video in E-mail Slows to a Trickle as Brands Back Away

A recent report on videos used in e-mail campaigns included a striking fact. Out of more than 150,000 campaigns delivered by 57,000 brands in the Implix research, none of them involved embedded videos. Not one.

Even though most of those campaigns were delivered by SMBs, after a look around at what major brands are doing and what e-mail service providers and experts are saying, it has become clear that the sometimes controversial tactic of embedding video in e-mail has stuttered to a near halt.

The AdCouncil discontinued the practice of embedding PSA videos last year, after testing it successfully in 2006. Barbara Shimaitis, SVP of interactive services for the New York-based AdCouncil, described the move as opting for more “content about the campaign in the e-mails versus the actual spot.”

Shimaitis’ organization used U.K.-based Vismail’s system to deliver the embedded messages. Five years ago, Vismail announced an e-mail-in-video offer that would, according to a press release from the time, compress “video clips up to 5,500 times,” enabling marketers to send video messages via embedded e-mail to computers and mobile devices.

Today, the company’s flagship Web site doesn’t mention the word “video” on its homepage. That term has apparently been switched out for the more vague “rich media.”

“Whilst we still sell Vismail to deliver video in e-mail, the embedded bit has gotten rather complicated,” said Deb Geiger, a rep for Vismail America. “The only platform Vismail can actually embed the video is on a PC, with a POP3 e-mail client… In all other instances, Mac, Webmail, and Outlook 2007, the video links to and is played from a browser. So the ability to ’embed’ video is diminishing.”

Dan Rayburn, EVP for the Wilton, CT-based Streamingmedia.com, hinted the e-mail industry has been backpedaling on embedded videos. “When was the last time someone sent you a video in an e-mail?” he said. “Bigger question is: What’s the point? What advantage does video in an e-mail give the end user, experience-wise, over them clicking a link to a video embedded in a page?”

E-retailer Brighter Blooms has scaled back its usage of embedded video significantly this year compared to 2008, said Justin French, project manager for the Charlotte, NC-based flowers brand. French said that his marketing team plans to use more animated GIF files to replace the video aspect, while still using embedding on certain occasions when they think the clip will produce a conversion rate that justifies the likely lower deliverability rate.

“We have had some issues in the past with deliverability due to actual video being in the e-mails [and then] flagged as spam,” he explained. “We have also tested using a screenshot of a video with a link to an on-site product page where the video would auto-play. However, we found issues here with click-through rates. GIFs are easily embedded in e-mails and have no issues with being flagged as spam.”

Indeed, Brighter Blooms is not the only brand opting to use bundled GIF/JPEG presentations over actual video. The National Football League, Sears, and Red Bull, among others, are doing the same.

Sears and Red Bull have been doing their campaigns through Montreal-based VHD Technology. The e-mail service provider offers a system that takes video frames, cleans them one at a time for picture quality, and then compiles them in what the company calls “JPEG envelopes.” The so-called envelope essentially flips through the images at a speed that is akin to a video viewing experience; though, there’s no player in the e-mail body for the viewer to pause or restart.

According to VHD Technology, Red Bull’s click-through rates in an A/B test increased by 115 percent for people who received the JPEG envelope versus an HTML version of the campaign. And Sears recently doubled its open rates while raising $280,000 for families of U.S. troops with a single JPEG-employing campaign.

Those numbers bring us back to Implix’s report, which was conducted in November. The Wilmington, DE-based company’s cross-client study found that e-mails containing a video link received, on average, 5.6 percent higher open rates, and 96.38 percent higher CTRs than non-video mails. Again, none of the campaigns in the research embedded a video.

“The best way to send video e-mails without affecting deliverability rates are to link to videos that are hosted and published online — on Internet servers controlled by the account ‘owner’ or sender,” said Simon Grabowski, Implix CEO. “The link can be either a graphic representation of video linking to a Web site or just a simple URL.”

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