Video Essentials

Online Video Advertising: What Works

Let’s face it, video advertising isn’t loved online. People hate when they have to view a 15-second spot before watching a free sitcom, and they raise a real stink if it’s a 30-second spot. Ads are seen as a nuisance that viewers have to endure to get to the good stuff.

But hold on: Ads can also go viral online, causing millions of people to watch them voluntarily. They can lead to headlines and become so legendary that people will seek them out years after the campaign is done.

Clearly, there’s a right way and a wrong way to create online video ads.

To help you discover what works in online video advertising, we spoke to three masters of the form from three different agencies. Read on, then create your own incredibly effective ads.

Create Original Work
Here’s what doesn’t work online: repurposed television commercials, says John Cecil, president of Innovate Media. Innovative combines a full-scale in-house production team with a backend video delivery system for clients like Napster, Canon, and USA Today. Original work is the way to go for a variety of reasons, Cecil says: the home TV screen is typically bigger and people are in a different mindset when they watch it. People in their living rooms will watch an ad that simply raises awareness of a brand, but online viewers want you to get to the point, he says. Remember, online viewers have famously short attention spans.

Be Entertaining
Getting straight to the point is good in the right situations, says David Murdico, chief creative officer and managing partner at Supercool Creative, a digital agency specializing in video, but the number one thing is to be entertaining. Murdico’s team has created entertaining video campaigns for IBM, THQ, and Sahara Hotels. If your work is especially fun to watch, it’ll go viral, and then the viewers will do the work for you. That’s the difference between earned media and bought media, Murdico says. You can purchase spots to show your ad, but if it really delights people they’ll pass it along themselves. Your campaign could even end up with its own Facebook fan page.

Be Educational
Not every spot needs to be a laugh riot, says Murdico. Sometimes providing valuable information is the way to go. His team worked with a California lawyer who looked stiff when trying to be funny on camera, but his spots offering tips for entrepreneurs were highly successful. Don’t go heavy on the branding if you want people to pass your videos along, Murdico says, because viewers like to feel they’ve discovered something on their own. Educational videos don’t need a strong sales push. Keep it light and viewers will keep your brand in mind when it’s time to make a purchase.

Get the Viewer’s Attention
Online video ads need to stand out to be successful, says Grant Reinero, senior art and video director for Geary Interactive, so look at what your competition is doing and find another approach. Geary Interactive is a full service digital marketing agency, and it’s been creating more video each quarter for clients like WD-40, Mobi TV, and American Apparel. For a WD-40 video, Reinero says, they used quirky, over-the-top heroes, making the spot different than the usual straightforward, infomercial-style ads in that category.

Be Brief
A longer ad means more people will drop off before getting to the end, says Cecil. Your goal should be to keep people watching to the last frame. Concise is better. Cecil’s company creates ads from 10 seconds to a minute in length, but never longer. If you need more time, break it into chapters, he says.

Brevity is important, agrees Reinero. Put yourself in your viewers’ shoes and try to imagine what they’ll think is important. People prefer short ads, so get to the point and try not to bore them.

Get a Delivery Partner
A lot of companies, both small and large, try to serve their videos themselves, but don’t have the tools to master all the encoding settings or video delivery. It doesn’t make sense, Cecil says, to create a stunning video, but then serve it over a weak, constantly-buffering stream. Look for a partner that has a track record in delivery, he advises.

Hold a Contest
Try launching a video that asks people to respond with their own videos, says Murdico, and offer a reward for the best submissions. “Getting people to interact with your video is the same as getting them to interact with your brand,” he says. Considering the rise of low-cost pocket video cameras and notebook webcams, creating video isn’t that difficult anymore. Plus, he says, young people especially are willing to send in video of themselves. “You’ve got a lot of people out there who want their 15 minutes of fame,” he says.

Stay On-brand
No matter how much you may love the look of the set you’ve created or the outdoor footage you’ve shot, says Reinero, if it doesn’t support your video’s business goals it’s just self-indulgent. During the editing process, make sure your finished work supports your brand and your message.

Keep all that in mind and you’ll create advertisements that people will not only sit through, but will recommend to their friends, as well.


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  1. Great tips! I would like to add that making and sticking with a “work plan” for your viral video production is very applicable. A good marketing strategy is vital when creating a promotional video production!

    Posted by Sonja | March 7, 2011, 3:17 pm
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