Consumers' love of ads
If aliens descended on Madison Avenue in search of this thing called branded video, they would return to the mother ship with a single video in their tentacles: Dove Evolution. By Dove's impression, this video has been watched more times on YouTube than there are humans on the planet, or grains of sand on the beaches of Earth.
In the context of a landscape that is endlessly innovating, we need to look beyond a single viral-video-gone-wild as our guiding light. These days, branded video has no standard format, length or distribution strategy, which is why we call it "video" instead of "commercials," "film" or "trailers." And that's precisely the point, says Mark Naples, managing partner at WIT Strategy. "Video is so sexy because there are no rules about it, and everyone gets to write their own rules."
Below, a handful of industry experts explore five approaches to branded video beyond the Dove paradigm.
Commercials are not dead if consumers like them. "TV commercials need to have universal appeal," says Jared Kopf, co-founder of widget sensation Slide.com and CEO of AdRoll.com. "Once you have that universal appeal, then you should distribute it online and allow people to replay it, remix it and watch it how they want and when they want."
The Mac/PC ads
They're a long-running series of 30-second spots that were aired on TV and then posted on Apple.com.
Kopf explains that users uploaded them to YouTube, and they were widely spoofed.
Toyota's Truck Summoner
This is a 30-second spot in the popular machinima style where a "World of Warcraft" player attacks a dragon using a Toyota Tacoma as his weapon.
An unbranded version of the commercial was posted on YouTube two days before it aired on TV by a Saatchi & Saatchi employee who worked on the campaign. Here's why it works: The video piggybacked on a well-established viral phenomenon in the gamer world, a WoW player named Leeroy Jenkins. Saatchi & Saatchi PR representative Erin Poole maintains that they did nothing to promote the video or seed it in gamer forums -- they just uploaded it to YouTube. I'd be more dubious if the geek legend that preceded it didn't have such strong viral legs.
As Mark Naples describes, "The video came directly out of interaction with consumers online. Virals are nice and let's talk about how many millions of plays and all that stuff. But that ad has appeared on Monday Night Football, college football -- all over. People talk about convergence all the time. This thing has a life all of its own. That's genius for Toyota."
Commercial fan sites
Firebrand, Honeyshed, Droga5 and VeryFunnyAds are four websites devoted to celebrating TV commercials and explicitly branded entertainment. With different user interface executions, they should be respective indicators of the continued relevance of TV commercials online.
Author notes: Julie Ruvolo heads up advertising sales and strategy at DivX's Stage6. Read full bio.