Few Moorings for Marketers in a Sea of Amateur Clips

There’s a wealth of video coming online, both professionally produced content from offline media companies and user-generated video on sites like YouTube and MySpace. The challenge for marketers is how to get involved with both social media and video without being intrusive or disrupting the user’s experience.

“Consumption patterns are ticking upward, and not just in the U.S. We’ve hit on something that appeals to human nature. People are tuning in to this new type of behavior, which represents new opportunities for marketers,” Sarah Fay, president of agency group Isobar, said during a group keynote on online video at the Ad:tech New York conference last week.

The most successful companies to take advantage of those opportunities will be the ones that find a way to create ties between their brands and their consumers, and let their consumers tell the brand’s story, Fay said. While that entails giving up some control of a brand, Fay said that control is already illusory.

“Consumers already have a ton of control with brands, like it or not,” Fay said. That control leads to both fragmentation of media, which creates harder to reach niches of users, and tuning out of advertising messages. “The reason to put control back in their hands is to bring them back to you,” she said. “It’s a way to show consumers you trust them, that you’re willing to let them have a voice in your world.”

Suzie Reider, CMO of YouTube, said during the same keynote that sites like YouTube which combine social media and video need to be approached carefully by marketers. Preserving the integrity of the social network is one of the company’s top goals, she said. “I worry about how we take this environment at YouTube and give marketers an opportunity to get involved in a meaningful way, without messing it up,” she said.

MorganStanley analyst Mary Meeker, at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last week, highlighted Yahoo’s efforts to combine the two during her annual “State of the Internet” presentation. She commended Yahoo’s “The 9” service, a new daily broadcast on Yahoo TV which uses human editors to find the best user-generated content on Yahoo Video. The service helps users find online video and also protects exclusive advertiser Pepsi from having its brand associated with undesirable content.

The 9 also offers social tools like polls, online voting, solicitations for submissions and feedback, and integration with Yahoo 360. All those elements make it easier to monetize content that could otherwise be difficult to utilize, she said.

For marketers hoping to push their own content out on social media sites, there are often other challenges to face from within the organization. Marketers often face push-back from within their company when it comes time to put their content outside their own sites, according to Daniel Blackman, strategic partner for development at Google Video.

“It’s a big shift for established media companies, who’ve seen four years of declining TV ad revenue and increasing audience fragmentation,” said Blackman, speaking on the “TV 2.0” panel at ad:tech. “The challenge is, how do media companies embrace the idea that their content, and their ads, can exist beyond their own walls?”

Viacom’s MTV Networks did it successfully last summer, Blackman said, when it partnered with Google to distribute short-form video content through Google’s AdSense partner sites. That experiment, where the content was swapped out every two or three days, was well received by partner sites and their users. It also highlighted the potential problem for advertisers, since ads that did not change as often as the content caused many users to complain, he said.

Instead of trying to control what users see, or tell them what they should want, marketers should instead test to find out what users want and give it to them, said Karen Anderson, VP and director of media at Digitas’ Modem Media, during a “Digital Media Innovators” panel at ad:tech.

“More innovative marketers are willing to let consumer insight drive where they want to go,” she said. “In situations where you take the time to do the focus groups, and spend money to test and see what combination of creative and media distribution worked, it becomes a spiral of activity. Hypothesize, test and learn — you can’t just throw the ad out there and leave it.”

U.S. online video ad spending has grown 82.2 percent since 2005, to $410 million in 2006, making up 2.6 percent of total Internet ad spending, according to an eMarketer report released last week. And it’s expected to grow another 89.0 percent next year, reaching $775 million, or 4.2 percent of the total, and should reach $2.9 billion, or 11.5 percent of overall Internet ad spending, by 2010.

The continuing demand for quality online video ad inventory, and Google’s pending acquisition of YouTube will be two keys in making that growth happen sooner, rather than later, said David Hallerman, senior analyst at eMarketer and author of the online video report.

Google’s advertisers and YouTube’s audience and social network are a perfect match, he said, but the two will face challenges in making professional content producers comfortable putting their content on YouTube, and making it profitable for them, while keeping the site accessible to its current audience. Google needs to figure out how to deliver targeted and relevant video advertising without making it intrusive, he said.

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