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).
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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.

  • Grant Crowell

    Not redefining at all, I'm clarifying. A social video is not about popularity. It's about building human relationships. In commercial online video, it's about building customer relationships. You can "seed" content that generates social reactions, and you can also participate in the conversations with others (including your customers and colleagues) with your video, and WITH video. Too many creative agencies and ad agencies forget the customer service/dialoging part. They're too bewitched with the mentality of sprinkling pixie dust and expecting the masses to talk about how great they think they are. 

    There's no truth to say that merely featuring your brand in a "cool" video is going to make someone have a better relationship with that video – whether it's brand loyalty or any other form of customer engagement. With the signal-to-noise ration increasing on YouTube and the online video universe, the brands and entrepreneurs who learn to embrace customer service and dialoging as part of their social video strategy will rise above the competition. 

    • Ronnie Bincer

      Grant, Since you referring to dialoging with video (at least that is how I read your comments), can you please give an example on how you would dialog with a video? Perhaps you just don't like the phrase "Social Video" ;-)

      • Grant Crowell

        I'd be glad to, Video SEO Doggy Dog... Check out and their Live Help Video Chatline. It's a great example of dialoguing with video. I should also mention I recently interviewed their VP of customer service for a future article. 

        I'm actually good with the label "social video." What I don't like is the common misconception that simply seeding content is what it's mostly or all about. Think of it as the difference between a performance (whether intended or accidental); versus, someone who gives you their actual attention and interest, and responds to your own content and feedback. 

  • Grant Crowell

    No redefinition – just a clarification. Social is definitely about conversation. It can be from conversations you start, and conversations you participate in, giving them your actual mental attention without so much distraction. Too much emphasis has been placed on the "seeding" rather than the "nurturing" of conversations. That's where Old Spice screwed up (like Gary Vayernchuk says), and where so many other ad agencies and creative agencies are blowing it as well. I recommend reading Gary's book "The Thank You Economy" to learn more about treating the social side more about customer service and less about vanity (i.e., just putting out "cool" video and expecting others to blab about how great you think you are.)

    So I disagree with you – a conversational video is absolutely a social video. It's a real human behind the conversation. A video in a social media space, even one that may get lots of views, may not be at all social; and if only the viewers are the ones participating in the conversation that follows from the video, the the content creators and brand owners are not being nearly as "social" as they would like they think they are.

    Popularity is not necessarily the same thing as being social.

  • Ronnie Bincer

    Re. Grant's comment: I think if a video is shared with others then it is "social". I've always thought that YouTube was a Social Media site, though it is not frequently labeled as such.

    Re. Advertising: The concept of entertaining video as an Ad (Branded video) seems to mainly involve "Branding" - getting your name out there in the public's mind. The idea of specific calls to action (what most of small/medium sized businesses want) don't seem to work as well with the entertainment model... they could with even more imagination.

    Any ideas out there on how branded entertainment vids can incorporate a specific call to action?

  • Casey Woolley

    The important thing to note here is that "social media" is here to stay.  Businesses can either choose to embrace it or stick to the outdated, heavy-handed advertising methods of the past.

    If you look at ads from 50 years ago you'll see the difference.  The audience has evolved and so must the advertising to be effective.  Today's viewers are more discerning was stated in the article.

    Media consumption is ever increasing and the best chance the modern advertiser has is to blur that line between what is advertising and what is entertainment.

    - CW

  • Grant Crowell

    There's an interesting question out of this: Is a video really a "social video" if it's still be referred to as an ad? In one camp you have those who can creating interesting videos that they'll "seed" to video sharing sites and social networks, and expect many others to want to share it and comment on it, and possibly be inspired to produce new content from it. In another area is what would constitute more of a "social" activity by the video creator/publisher/distributor – engaging with other humans as humans (and not just leave it up to the digital content, like video) to take care of all the conversational work for you. 

    Ads aren't social. Neither are entertaining videos. They elicit a social response, but they don't engage with us as human beings. That would take a human being on the other end conversing with you in a video. (Take a live video chat, where you could respond to others' questions, or even where Shaq does a farewell video addressing his crowd, and participates on his twitter feed.) That's what I mean by the human being behind the social activity. Even the most basic customer service can do social video. Creative content is inspiring, but for video to be truly social, it requires human conversations from the video creator to the consumer. 

    Truly, there are no "social videos;" there are only social humans. Maybe that will change with advances in AI, but that's where we're at for now. 

    • Mark Robertson

      So are you refining your definition of "social video?" then Grant.  You seem to be saying that social video is no longer about the video getting popular via social media but rather the video itself producing some sort of social interaction between the producer and the viewer regardless of the social popularity?  I think you're talking about conversational video.  If there was a video that was conversational in nature but not shared or enabled for social media, Id say it is NOT a social video.