As brands get more creative with online video offerings, and more savvy in promoting them through social media and other outlets, a funny thing is happening: viewers are watching more ads. Take pre-roll and display ads out of the equation completely, and viewers have still watched 800 Million branded videos since 2011 began, according to a MediaPost article that pulls data from Visible Measures.
That's astounding. And it can all be traced back to the rise of social video.
Brands have realized, over the last couple years, that most of the viral action surrounding online video was driven by social media… people posting videos on their Twitter accounts & Facebook walls. That makes perfect sense… the only way a virus can spread is through contact between human beings.
Quite naturally, those advertisers then began to think about what they could do with their online video content to make it more shareable. The answer, as it turns out, was to make videos that feel less like advertising and more like entertainment. MediaPost specifically points to campaigns like the Old Spice Man or T-Mobile's awesome royal wedding spoof, the Royal Wedding Dance:
That video has over 22 million views racked up in the six weeks since it was launched. And like it or not… regardless of how fun and funny you find it to be… it's an ad for T-Mobile.
There are hundreds of examples of these forward-thinking brands that have tossed out the old video advertising rules in favor of more entertainment-minded content. So… how are the brands having wild success with online video doing it? What are some common attributes that the best non-commercial branded video content demonstrates… that the rest of us can learn from? Media Post was kind enough to identify and list some of them:
- The ads look more like content than ads. That's an obvious one, but too many brands still feel compelled to tack traditional advertising techniques onto their online video offerings, like phone numbers and a call-to-action. But the savvy viewer—which is most of them lately—can see right through that. And the second a video feels like an ad or a piece of persuasive marketing, they tune out quite a bit. The best social video ads from brands set out to entertain first and foremost… and sometimes even as the only real objective.
- The ads are more engaging. A video has a far greater chance of going viral if it creates an emotional response in a viewer, because an emotional response is about as engaged as a viewer can get. We are social creatures, and when something moves us—whether to tears or to laughter—we want to share that experience with others. New evolutions in video technology—like letting viewers choose which ad they want to see, or interactive videos that literally let the viewer control some portion of the experience—are also ways for brands to engage consumers more dramatically.
- The ads are short. This is the one portion of the MediaPost article I don't completely agree with. Their theory, which is backed by strong data, is that shorter branded videos perform better with viewers, specifically when they're under the magical 2-minute mark. And I don't disagree that this is currently the case… I just think we're rapidly moving toward a future where content-length isn't the roadblock we think it is for advertisers. Like the recent Mortal Kombat web series, in which every episode got a million views or more. I believe there were 10 in total, and each was somewhere between 7 and 10 minutes in length. While that still represents the exception to the rule, I think we're going to continue seeing audiences become more tolerant of longer branded content, at least when that content seeks to entertain above all else. But there's no reason to think we might not see a brand put out a feature film someday soon that actually gets tons of views.
- The ads are viewable. What MediaPost means here is that there is such an overwhelming amount of video being produced that our chances of one video being good are getting better. This is even more true when you consider the curators that help viewers find the best clips—which is causing brands to be more proactive in distribution planning on the front end (and that kind of pre-planning often leads to a more-refined concept).
Online Video Is Changing Advertising Forever
Brands need to start thinking of video as less of a point-of-sale tool, and more of an engagement vehicle. Don't think you're going to sell a cell phone just because some customer laughed at your wedding dance video… you probably won't. However, you have just engaged that customer far more deeply than a traditional ad would have, and you did it without the distribution costs of television advertising.
That engaged user, in theory, will now be more aware of your brand… more open to consuming the content that brand uploads in the future… and more likely to make a purchase-decision involving that brand down the road when they have a need that fits the company's product or service.
The most successful brands of tomorrow will be the ones that figure out social video today. Audiences just want great content, and they have a voracious appetite for it. When advertisers stop selling and start engaging with online video, they'll find an audience that is much more interested in engaging with them through conversation, content, and eventually purchases.