Where’s the Compelling Content?

Once upon a time, I was a film student. Back in the day, we manually cut and spliced film and audio tape with razor blades and cellophane tape. This, of course, was after we walked to school in our bare feet, uphill, through the snow.

Things are definitely easier now. Digital cameras and video cameras are everywhere. Heck, I can even capture video on my cell phone. Video editing software comes bundled with most PCs. And a proliferation of video sharing and social-networking services — YouTube, MySpace.com, TagWorld, Grouper, STICKAM, VideoEgg — make distribution remarkably easy.

Interestingly, many of these sites and services aim to make money from running ads in front of or alongside user-generated content. It sort of makes sense. Social networks and user-generated content are hot trends. Video, especially video advertising, is all the rage. Why not put the two together?

I can think of a number of reasons.

These Videos Stink

Do you really want your brand associated with endless footage of mediocre skateboard tricks, poorly choreographed dance numbers (with “costumes” featuring plenty of skin), and teenage stunts, such as jumping off a jungle gym? As an experiment, I uploaded footage of my baby hiccupping, which I’d captured with my phone cam. Yeah, that’s compelling. Maybe it’s a little too easy to create video content these days.

Sure, there are probably some budding Steven Spielbergs out there just waiting to be discovered, but they’ll account for a very small percentage of shared content. Despite the easy availability of technology, the human factor is what’s critical. You need talented writing, directing, and acting. You need compelling editing and scoring. You need the time and resources to produce something worth watching. And that’s not even considering rights issues, such as ensuring you’re authorized to use that romantic tune or dance number.

Copyright Issues

Now, I’m not saying all video available on these sites is terrible. Some of it is really great. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I saw a great piece showing a couple of “Saturday Night Live” (“SNL”) comedians rapping about Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and Google Maps. Then there was the one from “The Tonight Show” with a phony photo booth. Oh, we had some laughs over that one.

The catch, of course, is both of those videos, along with much of the most entertaining content being shared, is copyrighted material. Even if that “Lazy Sunday” piece from “SNL” was the greatest free marketing the show has ever had, NBC Universal still reportedly asked YouTube to cease and desist offering it. The “Tonight Show” piece also seems to have disappeared from the site, though of course it’s now available in plenty of other places.

Do you want your brand associated with content of questionable legality? Even if content owners decide they’re OK with having clips flung far and wide over the Net, would they still feel the same way if the site publisher was capitalizing on it through advertising revenue?

Sexual Predators and Porn

Chatter has raged the last couple of weeks about some questionable goings-on on Fox’s MySpace. It turns out, surprisingly enough, that where adolescents hang out, sexual predators will follow. In case you’re wondering how this relates to video, the popular site added video sharing features not too long ago. Though I’ve only heard about nudity in static images on MySpace, I wouldn’t be surprised if moving, talking pictures came next.

In investigating these sites for this column, I came across plenty of videos of scantily clad girls dancing suggestively for the camera. I also hear straightforward pornography flourishes, too.

Is that where you want your brand showcased?

Approaches That Work

There’s no question video wants to be free. It’s going to be created, uploaded, and shared. But how can advertisers piggyback on this phenomenon and still be certain no unintentional unfortunate juxtapositions occur?

First, be a content creator yourself. There’s no need to run a :30 pre-roll ad in front of content if your ad is the content. Needless to say, this requires a lot of creativity. Certain categories, such as entertainment, have a natural advantage here. If you’re an “SNL”-like company, foster, don’t squelch, clip viewing. I’m certainly not the first to say “Lazy Sunday” interested a whole new generation in “SNL,” and these folks are likely to tune in to the TV (or at least download ad-supported content if it’s made available).

The second method is to ensure your commercial is inextricably linked with content you know and trust. From what I understand, systems such as Brightcove’s are designed to attach advertising to video yet also make it easily shareable. Wherever it goes, the ad goes with it. This isn’t necessarily going to stop someone from making a parody or mash-up with your brand, but at least your high-production-values ad doesn’t run in front of content you’d be embarrassed to be seen with.

I don’t want to be a dour, humorless pessimist. I honestly love the idea of user-generated content and hope people tackle the video medium as vigorously as they’ve embraced user reviews and blogs. But advertisers should tread lightly as they venture into video sharing in these early days.

Meet Pamela at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 27-March 2.

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