Poptent: Rethink Everything You Know About Ads

I got a demo the other day of an absolutely amazing service called Poptent. This is a service that has the potential to change the way that advertising – specifically video advertising – is conceived, created, and used. It certainly won’t make the amazingly brilliant and creative 30-second go away. But it absolutely will introduce a new approach to creating video assets to a new group of brands and agencies.

Here’s a quick version of what Poptent is (for a longer version, visit its site). Poptent is a crowdsource community for creating videos. The way that it works is that creative people sign up, for free. There are thousands of people on the site, along with a few small agencies, all with the ability to build a video, totally on their own.

Coupled with these creators are agencies and brands who give out assignments. For example, Southwest Airlines has recently posted an assignment asking creators to produce a video that will “grow awareness and understanding that Southwest Airlines is different than other airlines in its focus on doing what’s right for the customer.” Creators browse through dozens of these assignments, find one they like, and then, produce and post a video. The brand then chooses one or more of these videos to buy, outright, for a set fee (usually $7,500).

That’s right: the creators post full, complete, HD videos that are fully cleared on rights and usage. The brand can buy a video on Monday and have it run on TV on Tuesday. Creators don’t post concepts or write-ups or storyboards or animatics. They post up the full finished deal.

There’s a lot more to the model than I am describing here, including the incredible management that Poptent supplies. I’m not here to pitch Poptent (pun totally intended), but rather freak out with you over how amazing this service is and what it says about the jobs we do.

The End of Scarcity in Video

Twenty-four hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Streaming movies from Netflix is the single largest use of bandwidth in the U.S. The video site Hulu, with full episodes of “The Office,” “30 Rock,” and “The Daily Show” regularly smashes records for the amount of time spent on a site. An ever-increasing number of people are watching videos on mobile devices and on their home television. Coupled with that is the massive expansion of powerful, inexpensive (sometimes free) tools for creating videos.

This powerful new dynamic, driving the ability to create, distribute, and consume video content has dramatically changed the economic picture of all videos, from full-length films to 30-second commercials. Poptent is at the absolute razor edge of this revolution.

Consider the past experience of a brand that wanted to bring their product to life with what (really) remains the single most compelling storytelling format. Assuming we had in-house resources to concept, develop, shoot, and edit the film, we would (at best) be able to cook up three or four ideas. Even if we did get those pieces shot, costs would severely limit our ability to place those videos in any meaningful place.

With Poptent, we now can rely upon a very hungry crowd of creators who are ready to develop real content for us to consider. And, because the availability of the tools to create that content has become so inexpensive and widespread, we get an influx of new creative talent who are more willing to do something totally on spec because the cost of creating is so low. The gap between idea and execution is shrinking down to nearly nothing. Why do a sketch or a storyboard when you can (almost) as easily just make something?

The New Challenge

Of course, not all of the submissions to Poptent are good. In fact, an awful lot of them are awful. But that’s not really a problem. The more people participate and get feedback directly from brands by seeing what gets chosen and what doesn’t, the better the committed creators will get. And, right now, there are some absolutely astounding pieces of work in there.

But if the new challenge is not the creation of content (aside from the astounding, heroic spots that land on Super Bowls and Academy Awards), then what is? Clearly it is the reconsideration of what we do with video content. If we only had the time, money, talent, and materials to make one :30 spot, we would put that spot in the one place where it would do the most good and be seen by the most people.

If we can now (much less expensively) create many, many pieces of video content, what should we do with it? A few opportunities immediately arise:

  • Frequency of idea, not of spot. If we can only produce one spot, and want to achieve a frequency goal, we need to run that spot over and over, creating viewer burnout. But if we have many spots that all tie together and communicate a single idea, we can rotate them out and keep the campaign fresh through different creative.
  • Communicate socially, in video. One of the challenges we face as marketers in social media is that all we can do is post text and images. But if we are able to tap into a large storehouse of video that tells stories, we can traffic out what we normally would have reserved for broadcast in social channels. And because these are social, we can back off the hard sell on many of them and simply let the brand talk.
  • Place video ads for smaller brands. Even with the proliferation of video units, smaller brands are still challenged: they simply don’t have the budgets to create units to put in that inventory. But with a system like Poptent, video units are suddenly extremely cost effective. An increase in the amount of brands that can place ads will compel the creation of more inventory and further spur the creation of more opportunities.

As I’m sure you realize, I’m not getting any kickbacks from Poptent for this love letter. I’m simply an agency guy who saw a great service that I can not only use, but also can drive forward our business. I see Poptent as amazing not only in what it can do, but also how it stitches together two very powerful trends in video: creation and distribution.

It’s because we now can sit at that intersection, with an army of creators at our side, that I think it is time for all of us to reconsider how this world operates.

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