Online Video Advertising’s Breakout Moment

This last week was the ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising conference, right here in lovely San Francisco. It was a great event, and it’s good to see this conference growing not only in size but in importance as well.

Clearly video has broken out as a topic in and of itself and deserves its own venue. The situation is reminiscent of what happened to search about six years ago. Back then, search was happily living in conferences, marketing journals, and the press as a simply one more way of advertising online. But the focus of energy, capital, and interest in the space propelled it past other tactics to give it its own world.

Much the same is now happening with video advertising. We know video isn’t just one more arrow in the quiver but an entirely different beast. The conference was great because it helped bring together a group of people who at least know the questions and how approach the answers. Here’s my list of the top five most critical online video issues. This week, I’ll also focus on each one on my blog, an issue a day.

What Exactly Are We Talking About?

Seems basic, right? But it’s not clear precisely what we mean by “online video.” There are several species in this environment. We need to be specific because each one’s different in terms of technology, abilities, pricing, and control. Online video can mean streaming video, downloadable video, rented video, video on your site, video on a social network, video in an ad, video before/during/after another video, Flash video, or plain, old television delivered over IP. I’m sure this isn’t even an exhaustive list.

So when the agency pitches a video strategy, stop them and ask precisely what they mean. If they answer “video over the Internet,” that just isn’t good enough. Each one means something different in terms of your goals and your budget, and you need to be tuned in.

Size Matters

I don’t mean what you think I mean (and I really don’t mean anything NSFW). In the not so distant past, the primary concern around video on the Web was file size. People were dialing up, paying by the minute, and looking at stuff on slow processors. That’s not the case anymore. You can comfortably put a full-length film online and know people will be able to see it. The size issue now is simply how long you should make a video ad. I’ve seen really long-form ads (as in 2:00 or more) down to the absolutely miniscule (:05). The challenge is to figure out what the best fit is. There’s no one answer. The ad should be long enough to get the job done.

Tread Lightly on Social Networks

There are certain norms that become attached to media channels. Social networks have them, although they seem a bit hard to discern amid all the noise that goes on in these spaces. Social networks represent a great opportunity for video because they’re a great opportunity for mass distribution, thanks to the viral technology components.

But think about YouTube: built directly into the interface is the chance for anyone — anyone — to post comments directly below a video. Anyone can post a response video, as well. That means putting your branded video up on a site like YouTube is an open invitation for people to tell the world what they think of you, your video, your category, and any other random bit of cultural flotsam they think should be connected to your brand. The viral promise comes with a risk that needs to be addressed and mitigated.

What’s So Interactive About Video?

Remember brochureware? The term was used in the early ’90s to disparage many first-generation commercial Web sites, which simply slapped content from a product online. Big deal, the digerati snorted. An interactive medium needs interactivity, so we got all sorts of things like product configurators.

Today, we’re staring down the barrel of “broadcastware,” a site that simply houses video that would have gone on television. Big deal. Video is sexy and exciting to create. I worry we won’t pay too close attention to the fact it isn’t very interactive. How do we go about placing video into the interactive mix while maintaining the basic tenets of this medium?

Strategic Use of Video

What sort of a product is video good for? JupiterResearch predicts only about 14 percent of online ads will include video in the next several years. This means the lion’s share of ads will remain video free. The question, then, is when to use video and for what goals. I’m hard pressed to think of a product where video wouldn’t be appropriate. Even high-end technology can benefit, and products that are totally offline (such as books and radio stations) have successfully run television ads in the past. So why not online video?

This is a core question, and perhaps the one that will help unlock the rest of the answers. The question, simply, of why use video is precisely the challenge we face. As marketers, we should be really happy the engineers of this world have given unto us Internet video. But it’s still on us to figure out what to do with it.

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