Going Green on Screen

Users have come to expect a one-on-one online experience. How? Videographers are able to key out the green background and impose their own images behind their subjects. The results are personal, relevant, and effective.

Green-screened videos give marketers more leeway to personify their brand while making their marketing message more applicable to their different users. Let’s say I’m marketing a hotel online. With the help of a green screen, I can customize my online ads using the same customer service rep in front a green screen. The green can be replaced with the lobbies of each hotel, as the rep explains each site’s amenities. The Internet’s targeting capabilities are invaluable, and green-screening techniques allow marketers to tailor their messages and, by extension, better target their consumers.

Green-screening is nothing new, but after quickly scanning some of the more popular video aggregator sites, I realized there’s a right and wrong way to go about producing online videos using green screens. Video clips with poor audio synchronization, bad lighting, and disastrous keying techniques are prime examples of what marketers should avoid. While there are times when a more amateurish video would support an online marketing campaign, in most cases advertisers would want to produce better-quality video pieces — if for no other reason than to separate their content from user-generated content (UGC).

Here’s how I recommend you do it.

When it comes to green-screening, you’re only as good as your sound and lighting quality. Investing in professional-grade cameras, sound, and lighting equipment is the easiest, albeit most expensive, way to ensure your marketing video content will look good online.

Another important aspect of producing online video is to make certain the end format is taken into account during production. Most computer and television screens are markedly different in how they display images, which can greatly affect how green-screened videos appear online. Most TV sets (especially older ones) use interlaced technology to display video. This means TV images are broken into odd and even sections, then displayed at different times because earlier broadcast bandwidths could not transmit the entire image at one time. Computer screens, however, use progressive displays that project the entire image at once; an interlaced video would flicker online. Since keying out backgrounds with sharp edges can already be challenging, marketers can do themselves a great service by capturing images for the Web using progressive-scanning equipment to make sure the images are as sharp as possible.

Online viewing forums are also much smaller than TV sets, so when video is compressed to accommodate computer video players or video aggregators, they only look worse. The fix is to record video footage at a higher resolution and only compress it once. Also know that aggregators like YouTube will compress the file again, so either upload it directly from your editing software or don’t compress it before adding it to these sites.

A great example of a green-screened commercial produced for TV that doesn’t translate well online is the Gillette ad featuring Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, and Thierry Henry. On a television set, the images and on-camera movements are crystal clear, but online they’re blurry and choppy. Since it’s impractical for a separate Web-friendly ad to be created, advertisers must make sure the proper steps are taken to record the images right the first time and not over-compress them when converting formats.

Additional production steps to key out the green background easier can be as simple as reducing the amount of sharp lines on camera, like flat hair or tailored clothes; not using clothing with thin stripes, which can magnify on-screen flickering; or using full-spectrum lighting to enhance on-camera coloring and eliminate shadows so the contrast between the green background and subject is sharp.

As users get savvier when creating their own content, the great divide between professionally created videos and those produced in basements will become smaller. Advertisers must continue to separate their messages from UCG; otherwise their online brand could be diluted. The Internet’s level playing field is a great asset, but advertisers shouldn’t let users essentially steal their signs. Using green screens well is one way online marketers can show they are the experts and keep others off their advertising turf.

Meet Andreas at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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