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In This Together

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The new guidelines for online video ads published by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) are an important foundation that those of us in the online video and advertising industries can build upon as we seek to turn the viral video phenomena into a powerful marketing vehicle. But these standards are only a first (and relatively small) step in the right direction. 
 
Our shared success will come by shifting loyalty from the traditional standard bearer of brand advertising, television, to the new kids on the block, online video and social media. It will depend on our mutual ability to create content and campaigns designed for the short-form video environment and an interactive medium. In order to realize this opportunity, marketers must first embrace the power of online video; and second, we need to get serious about creating and implementing best practices for maximizing advertising effectiveness.
 
The world of online video is one in which consumers are in control of their entertainment experiences and have limitless choices. The media consumption habits of today's consumers have changed dramatically as a result. To get in sync with these new habits, marketers must recognize and embrace the major differences in all parts of this emerging content industry:

1. Viewers enjoy "snacking" on entertainment bites, and punchy short-form videos are the leading example of this behavior. TV programmers no longer control entertainment pathways; consumers find their own way, and the discovery process is an integral part of the overall experience. 
2. Content creators develop content economically, reach consumers through a variety of distribution channels and connect directly with viewers who provide immediate feedback.
3.  Advertisers reach audiences who no longer watch much TV on the TV (and watch even fewer TV commercials) and do so in a more targeted way, with more accountable metrics and often more economically. 
 
Advertisers are learning to take advantage of social media and are creating value for consumers by providing them with information and entertainment that is relevant to their interests and presented in a way that is contextually appropriate to the short-form video environment. In recognizing the imperative to get into online video, marketers, even those who have not yet spent significant money in this arena, are actively working to better understand it. 
 
In that spirit, those of us leading the online video industry have begun to develop best practices for marketing in the short-form video environment, which we'll collectively continue to refine:

Design for the medium. Online video is all about the content. There is a ton of video out there, and viewers can click away at any moment. Develop creative that is specifically made for the interactive medium and will capture viewers' attention immediately. Lead with the punch line. Make it "authentic," not slick. Commission a user-created ad that lends some street cred to Madison Avenue. Think bursts of infotainment -- the lines are blurring more every day.   

Keep it short. Advertising on a short-form video entertainment site means that your ad will live beside, before or after videos that may be only a few seconds in length and likely won't be any longer than 5 minutes. In this context, a 10- or 15-second video advertisement can be powerful. A 30-second ad is less likely to be successful. Be among the first to master the art of the 10- or 15-second spot. It will give you an edge over the others clamoring for consumers' attention. 

Embrace entertainment. The power of persuasion in online video is all about blending in. The campaigns that perform best don't actually look like ads at all. Branded entertainment experiences, such as dedicated channels showcasing branded content or Web series that tightly integrate a product pertinent to the story line, prove popular with consumers, who are open to receiving contextually relevant marketing messages in the course of being entertained. Create entertainment events that serve as a launch pad for your product; the Internet eliminates the constraints of time and place, opening up a new world of opportunity for marketers.

Engage the consumer. Interactivity is essential in maximizing the opportunity to turn consumers into ambassadors by enlisting their help in shaping and evangelizing your brand values. And it should be a dialogue. Listen to what they have to say and put that feedback to good use. Online video sites are well equipped to help, especially those in which the community plays an active role by submitting, creating, reviewing, rating, programming and sharing content. Video contests, video mash-ups and other programs that invite consumers to interact in a hands-on way get them thinking and talking about your brand.

Measure the right things. As an industry, online video has made great strides in creating new opportunities for marketers and helping them evaluate the impact of campaigns. For the first time, we're actually able to measure the impact of "word of mouth." That's huge. Marketers need to be asking good questions about and getting good answers for issues such as how many times a video was embedded or shared, what kinds of comments it elicited, how to promote content in a viral video world and how to effectively create branded entertainment experiences that can be tightly integrated into the short-form video environment. 
 
Erick Hachenburg is CEO of Metacafe.