I think I'm going to write an e-book... call it "Drop Out Of College & Learn Video." I had this revelation after an email chain with ReelSEO writer, Chris Atkinson. See, Chris and I are not only co-workers, but we've been friends for more than a decade. And one of the things that defines our friendship is great conversation. Sometimes it's theoretical. Sometimes it's overly argumentative. But almost always… it's tons of fun.
When our friendship and our work lives intersect, we end up with really long email chain discussions about life and online video. And one recent chat led to a few ideas and concepts that I thought were worth sharing. I thought perhaps a few of you, perhaps those looking for any excuse at all to avoid doing real work, might enjoy seeing our train of thought. So now I present, with minimal editing only for length, two online video nerds speculating about how big video's future really could be:
A Rambling Email Discussion On The Future Of Video Ads
Jeremy: I'm thinking about that article you wrote today, about how BMW basically created the blueprint for branded web series way back before YouTube existed. And I'm thinking about Greg Jarboe's piece on Coke, and their liquid content strategy for the future of advertising/content... And it hits me... this is the future. All brands making entertainment content. What if advertising disappears completely?
Chris: In many ways, product placement and entertainment is becoming indistinguishable. I think of just last year, where we had ads for movies that seemed just like any other YouTube video, like "Ape With AK-47," which was an ad for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. What advertisers are realizing is that traditional commercials are losing their impact more than ever before. We're in the era of DVR, On Demand, and streaming, and we don't pay attention to commercials much anymore, and the ones that we do pay attention to are getting more and more ridiculous. Advertisers know now that they have to make compelling content, something that stands on its own as entertainment, and still advertises the product.
Jeremy: That's a good point about the traditional ads getting more ridiculous. Way beyond just Old Spice Guy... ads are getting weird. And the only explanation is they're desperate to get your attention. That trend of increasingly ridiculous ads... that can't last forever. There's a cap at some point where the weirdness will lose any and all effectiveness at creating a memorable viewing experience. And even with the weird stuff that works... it only works once, right? How many wanna-be Old Spice men have we seen in the last year? They're nowhere near as funny or memorable... because they're not original. The only thing that's original is... well, originality. Like original content.
Chris: Yeah, how are ads going to get our attention and sell the product anymore? They are clearly the most important thing funding entertainment, and we're rejecting traditional ads as viewers. So now there's only one solution. Force people to watch by enriching our lives with something compelling/amazing.
This is something I think GoPro has absolutely crushed recently. Their ads focus on dynamic, free-as-a-bird, risk-takers, and they shoot some of the most breathtaking video ever. And now, almost, they don't even have to make their own ads because the camera is so popular, people are using them in their own videos and they have a product that basically keeps selling itself.
Jeremy: So then aren't we moving toward a future where there aren't any more ads--not as as we know them at least? Plenty of brands, like Coke, have already moved beyond that thinking, embracing this era of new media and engagement. But even the stubborn brands will eventually find their traditional TV ad dollars wholly useless... right? Audiences are numb to that kind of message... hence things like BMW's series, or Dentyne's series last year.
Back when House of Cards was announced, I made a pretty big deal out of the fact that Netflix was going to start creating their own content instead of just distributing the content of others. I talked about how HBO had made the same transition and thrived at it, producing some of the finest television of the last 12 years. But you know what? That's nothing. Screw Netflix making their own content... soon enough, everyone will be. Every brand will be a studio, producing their own video content. Some will have more branding/product-placement than others, but isn't this what we're hurtling towards... an end to traditional ads... an end to traditional studios and production houses... and a new era where every brand creates content designed to entertain and engage first... sell second?
Chris: That idea isn't far-fetched at all: Somebody like Coke decides to create content like a network does or like Netflix is doing now. I can't help but think that's not only a possibility, but a certainty. We've seen so many fantastic TV shows over the years somehow fail in the ratings--Friday Night Lights and Arrested Development were critical darlings but the networks didn't know how to make them succeed, and there are whispers of Community, one of the best comedies on TV, possibly getting the ax at some point. Maybe some of these critically-acclaimed, audience-lacking shows get picked up by a company like Coke, retaining all the creative people involved, and they find a way to incorporate the product into the show, or at the very least, simply have people watch new episodes on The Coca-Cola Channel. Big huge Coke logo surrounds a media player of some sort, and they just let the show be. If picking up shows like that work, who's to stop them from making their own programs?
I think there's no doubt brands are going to be their own studios. They'll always have to remind themselves, though, that content comes first, which is what the Coke strategy in the videos Greg posted appears to lay out. What I think we might see is, long-form content (episodes) on a particular brand's website/channel, and short-form content (ads) on traditional TV directing people to the website/channel. That's nothing new, but I think we're going to see more of it. The short-form content will be the length of regular commercials, but there will be a cinematic quality, or story, that will make people want to see the longer version. The ultimate goal is to make it so that people don't think they are just getting a reminder to buy a product. The idea will always be to use the product in such a way that an emotional connection is made with the story.
The ideas we're talking about aren't that different from traditional product placement. The difference is that the advertiser/brand is in control of the content rather than a bunch of Hollywood producers. But I like to think back to the movie E.T. for a second because it is one of the most memorable uses of product placement in the history of film. Hershey's Reese's Pieces got into the movie after Mars decided that they didn't want M & M's to used. The Reese's Pieces are used to lure E.T. to Elliott. It's a plot device, never saying "Buy Reese's Pieces" or "Hey, look...Reese's Pieces!" which is what most product placement does. It's an emotional connection, of course with Steven Spielberg at the height of his legendary skill, showing how Elliott makes friends with a mysterious creature. Hershey, of course, saw ridiculous sales increases for the candy once the movie became a cultural icon. This is exactly what brands need to do with their product in content they make on their own. Feature the product in a way that makes sense in the plot, and don't insult the audience.
Jeremy: I still think my favorite product placement ever is Taco Bell and Demolition Man--a movie that is terrible but that I still love, where the fast food wars have ended and every restaurant in the future is a Taco Bell. That's the kind of clumsy product placement that simply isn't going to work moving forward in this new era of brands as studios.
Coke seems to really get it, and seems to know that what's required is an entirely new way to think about marketing... not just a slight adjustment. This is a pretty huge deal that Coke is going in this direction, because their American Idol sponsorships have long been one of the most obvious and easy product placement instances around. Now, however, it seems that the new philosophy would have them creating their own singing competition content, rather than looking for another entertainment property to slap their brand on top of. It's still product placement, but because the brand becomes the producer… the content itself is likely going to be largely messaging-free.
I'm also curious to know if this is a natural evolution or a forced one. Like... does the Internet require a new way of thinking with ads because it's a new technology with new uses? Or did the Internet--and online video--only help us see what was a problem with TV ads all along: that they're not very engaging? Maybe we didn't know a better, more engaging form of advertising was out there until the Internet showed us the possibilities? Maybe traditional TV ads have been losing effectiveness for decades but it took the online video boom to really show us what true consumer engagement really is?
Chris: Ads have lost effectiveness, I feel, simply through our ability to record. And now ads are made so that when you forward through them, weird or "amazing" stands out, like we talked about with Old Spice Guy. It's definitely evolution from the VCR to the DVR to On Demand that have made ads desperate. Even when you didn't have recording devices for shows, what was the metric that advertisers could use that said definitively anyone watched them? They're playing a percentages game, sure, but commercial breaks are bathroom breaks for so many people.
Now, if you make content that has buried advertisement into the plot, you know people are watching. View counters will equal actual engagement with the audience, and giving the audience calls-to-action. And if these brands really know what they're doing, like Coke lays out in those videos, they'll also respond back to the audience through comments and social media, and figure out how to keep them engaged with content, contests, and the like.
Advertisers, much like the amateurs who try to find success on YouTube, will have to follow The YouTube Creator Playbook model, whether they use YouTube or not (which is growing more and more unlikely if you do any kind of branded content).
Jeremy: And it's pretty clear that our televisions and our computers are all on a collision course, and in the future there probably won't be any differentiation between "internet" and "TV." Which is why the old advertising format is so much dying, as much as it's merging with new media advertising… evolving. Once my traditional network programming and my Internet are side by side on my one same device... it'll all just be "advertising," and it won't look like anything we've come to know it as.
Chris: I do wonder what the branded content movement we're talking about will do for local businesses. But as we've seen through the Internet, even they can get in on the act. We've seen what happens when Rhett and Link get onto a project, their stuff is great, very humorous--the Chuck Testa ad is a great model. That video probably cost a roll of quarters.
Jeremy: I think Local businesses will become like local television--only with better content. They'll make original video content that is not traditional ad content... but it will be viewed by a lot fewer people than the Coke content will. But success for a local business video isn't defined the same way success is defined for Coke--a lot fewer viewers can still translate into a huge boost.
But they'll face the same thing big brands face with traditional TV ads… viewer apathy. If they viewers are turned off on traditional TV ads, then they're turned off on the concept... not the individual advertisers.
Think about how many local businesses still advertise on television. Sooner or later, they'll lose their power just like branded TV ads are. So even local businesses will begin to move into the creation of original content. And thankfully the technology is affordable now for them to do that.
Chris: What you're saying is, there's no excuse for not getting into this branded content form of advertisement. And that's exactly right. You can get cameras so cheap now. The aforementioned Go Pro shoots incredible HD video for $300. My iPhone has a camera on it, and most next-gen phones have them. You don't need to have all the bells and whistles. And this is what a lot of businesses are going to try to balk at when it comes to making this effort. They think it's going to cost them so much money, and it really doesn't have to. Also, you have this never-ending source of people who want to make videos and break into the business, which is something you were talking about in your Poptent/Dell article. You don't need to go out and get Steven Spielberg. You need to go out and get a guy who wants to be Steven Spielberg.
Jeremy: I think we're also going to see a sweeping change in the landscape of creative agencies too. Just stay with me here for a minute... Realizing that I'm exaggerating a little...
Video ads as we know them are going to die... replaced by original content from brands of all sizes... every brand and company becomes a studio or publisher... publishers have become brands... soon enough, everyone who wants to matter in the business world will be making original video content. That's a HUGE surge in the already-insane amount of video.
If suddenly there's 100X more work for creative agencies than they're used to... there won't be nearly enough of them. Even if "do it yourself" weren't a trend already, it would become a necessity simply because there aren't enough good ad agencies in the world to handle the tsunami of video projects that are coming down the pipeline.
So we might see a new breed of lean agencies... where it's just a couple guys shoe-stringing it. We might see fewer of the mega agencies, as demand for top talent pulls away their best people.
Think about this: We might see a day soon where having training, experience, and talent in video could be as important in finding a job as having a college degree has been for 50 years. That's mindblowing, and totally possible. If I'm a college student today, no matter what my field of study, I'm doing self-study like crazy on how to shoot, edit, and promote online video, because there's about to be a hell of a lot of demand for those folks with very little supply.
Chris: That thought seems mind-blowing to me. But yeah, how would businesses be able to keep up if they weren't self-sufficient? And when you learn this, you'll have to learn it well because there will be millions of videos vying for attention.
The idea is that a lot of these businesses need to start now. They need to figure out the mistakes, learn from those who have succeeded, because in, I don't know...5 years? online video and its ads are going to be exploding at levels we haven't seen yet, and those who have done the hard work, to figure out what works and what doesn't, will come out ahead. You don't want to start figuring it out after it becomes a necessity. There are all sorts of ways to learn how to shoot and edit video, the best is to just try it out, mess around, show it to your closest friends, and then start improving, working towards a goal of something that's going to be potentially seen by millions. And you have handy shows like Film Riot on Revision3 that tell you how to do the fun stuff on the cheap.
That's what great about 2012...there is still room to learn and grow and be prepared for when online video advertising is nearly as important as traditional, professionally-produced, TV ads.
A Video Gold Rush?
And yesterday, as I was putting these emails together for this article, YouTube announced they believe that soon 90% of all web traffic will be video, and that 75% of the new content channels created in the next decade will be born online. Which only seems to bolster some of the points made in the discussion above. There's a video gold rush coming... a stampede. And I think it's going to change... everything.
So there you have it, two guys with plenty of theories and zero crystal balls, guessing at exactly how big online video could get. Could it become such an important marketing tool that we're in for a real shortage of professionally-trained consultants and service people? Will that lead to more DIY video marketing or more young people studying video? Could video skills become as important as a college degree? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.
All I really know for sure is this: if I were in college, I would definitely drop out and learn video... unless it was a film school of course. :)