Viacom's launch last week of a broadband video-infused Web site for CBS News underlines media companies' growing interest in online video advertising. With nearly 40 million Americans having broadband connections at home or work, a few advertisers are taking the first steps toward creating Web video ads with features that take advantage of the Internet's ability to engage consumers.
Take Honda. The automaker's Web video ads for its Ridgeline truck let users click on parts of the vehicle to see safety features while the Web video runs. "We found many people watched and interacted with it," said Meridee Alter, vp and media director at RPA, a Santa Monica, Calif., independent, which designed the Web ads. "That's something measurable that we can't get with other ways we can display the commercial."
Yet Honda is still in a distinct minority among Web video advertisers, many of whom are content to re-run their TV spots online. Despite what most agree is a promising future, broadband video advertising has too small of an audience for advertisers to invest heavily in creative development, said Jeff Marshall, svp at Publicis Groupe's Starcom IP. "It comes down to a cost vs. benefit," he said.
The end result has been that most Internet video spots are the same commercials designed for another medium, designed to increase the reach of TV campaigns. For most Web video content, 30-second TV-style ads are too long, admitted Kyoo Kim, vice president of sales at MSNBC.com, though they are 80 percent of MSNBC.com's video ads. "We've been forced to take the 30. As the inventory increases and as more clients adopt this, then we can try to enforce that 15-second standard a little better."
Some publishers are pushing advertisers to use shorter ads. Wal-mart, one of CBS' first video advertisers, is running sponsorship-style ads at the start of clips. AOL is experimenting with sponsorships similar to Chevrolet's support of in-studio music performances at AOL Music Sessions, and it will require most video spots only run 15 seconds. "I think the average 15-second spot could be edited down to 10 seconds," said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, an independent New York interactive agency that runs video campaigns for entertainment industry clients like HBO. "The only reason it's in a 15- or 30-second format is because it needs to be that way on television."
Other advertisers are using companion screens, part of Web video players on ESPN.com, AOL, MSN and other outlets, to add interactive components not available on TV. While the video ad runs, a companion screen shows an ad with further information and options. As a minimal step, AOL urges advertisers to add voice-overs that direct viewers to the companion screen. "[Advertisers] realize they need to take advantage of everything our marketplace has to offer," said Tom Bosco, director of broadband sales development at AOL.
Shorter ads and companion screens are first steps, noted interactive agency executives. Some advertisers are turning to branded entertainment. Levi Strauss & Co. is trying a new approach as part of its "Uncomplicate" campaign for its 501 jeans. Interpublic Group's McCann-Erickson unit Tag Ideation helped Levi create a two-minute video spoof of metrosexuality. Called "World Gone Pretty," the video ad features a Ken doll-type figure who reaches his breaking point after enduring all manner of affronts to his masculinity, from chest-hair removal to low-carb beer.
In a deal with ManiaTV!, a live-programming broadband site that is attempting to be the MTV of the iPod generation, Levi struck a wide-ranging integration deal that included ManiaTV!'s "cyber jockeys" wearing Levi clothing, while "World Gone Pretty" and another Levi short are used as content.
"We know that our audience for Levi's is online," said Jim Stone, Levi's interactive marketing manager. "It's a great way to reach them by extending your offline campaigns and creating unique [video] campaigns for the Web." ManiaTV! CEO Drew Massey said the broadband video site has similar integration deals with Coca-Cola and Citibank. "It's not just another banner, it's not just another pre-roll ad," he said.
General Motors has also taken this approach through a deal with Scripps Networks. Working with a production agency in Los Angeles, General Motors created a video series on Scripps' Living.com site. In one segment, a GMC Yukon is featured throughout a Scripps-produced video clip on how to install crown molding. "Our research has shown that it's not viewed as an ad, it's viewed as valuable content by consumers," said Jeff Meyer, svp of interactive sales at Scripps.
The next wave of video ads, according to agency executives, will not only include more original content and interactivity, but also allow for greater consumer control of the experience. HBO is weeks from rolling out a Web video spot for its "Rome" series that includes "hotspotting" technology to click in the video to get more information about different characters and choose which scenes they would like to see, said Schafer.
More events like AOL's broadcast of Live8, which was widely praised as being far superior to MTV's telecast by giving viewers control of what they watched, should draw advertiser attention to the Web's unique environment, said Jeff Lanctot, vp of media at aQuantive's Avenue A/Razorfish, resulting in more investment in Web video creative. "Things like that are going to make advertisers realize that the consumer is reacting differently when they're watching video online," he said. "It's going to be something that gets advertisers to sit up and take notice."