Last year was the year of "engagement." Advertisers and agencies wanted to engage consumers. Publishers and networks touted their engaged audiences. Vendors publicized their engagement metrics, and even I myself, being wrapped up in '07's whirlwind of engagement frenzy, took some time at the graduation party of a family friend to say to the young man, "one word -- engagement."
The young man, being adroitly astute, looked back at me and asked…"just how do you mean that, sir? Particularly in the context of using online video for advertising and marketing."
I quickly elaborated.
Engaging video and its value to advertisers
Most human beings (also referred to as "users" and "consumers") are not interested in advertising. For the most part, they try to avoid ads, and we, as an industry, have spent decades figuring out where to put messages so that they are unavoidable.
We pride ourselves on interesting and innovative placement. Examples include airplane tray-tables when not in their upright-and-locked positions, the vertical parts of staircases and egg shells.
But the world is changing and people are dividing their time across three different screens (as well as those pesky moments when they're not in front of a screen at all). To reach people more effectively we now have to account for how they use each medium. While placing a message in front of someone on the web and begging for a direct response can be effective, few people are going to buy a car online, order a credit card without researching it or mail order ice cream to their friends in Arizona. The broadband medium isn't about barraging users with messages and fighting for their dollars -- it's about building relationships and fighting for their time.
As I'm sure Mitch Albom would tell you, "You can't have a deep connection or lasting beneficial relationship with Morrie if you don't spend every Tuesday with him." The same principle (basically) holds true for advertisers and their customers.
So what video engages the audience?
Rather than just stream the 30-second trailer to advertise their movie, "The Darjeeling Limited," Fox Searchlight and Wes Anderson created a completely separate-but-related short film, "The Hotel Chevalier." The film was then made available for free on iTunes.
The short film exposed the audience to two of the characters in the film and the type of world they live in. It also exposed users to the type of entertainment they could expect, which helped pre-sell the experience of Darjeeling. (The short also exposed users to an artsy butt shot of Natalie Portman, which research has shown helps sell anything.)
Another example of engaging video was Mini Cooper's "Hammer & Coop" series, which was made available on a microsite. The videos don't overtly sell the car or tell consumers to run to the showroom, but they paint the image of the car as a quirky, fun vehicle that can satisfy one's needs for speed and driving through narrow, hollow concrete pillars.
The videos are entertaining, and at 3-5 minutes, easily digestible. They kept their audience engaged and increased exposure for the brand. Personally, I would have liked to have seen these videos syndicated throughout the web as dozens of publishers come to mind whose 18-34-year-old dedicated audiences would have enjoyed these branded pieces of content.
It should be noted that "engagement" doesn't have to mean "entertainment." In promoting their OPEN Forum for Small Business Owners, American Express syndicated their video content throughout the web in order to get in front of people who weren't visiting the forum community page.
The videos were several minutes long and featured industry thought leaders such as Seth Grodin, Michael Graves, Kenneth Brown and Cecil Hayes talking about the importance of a good business plan, building a good reputation or driving business through innovative design. The players featured close to 10 minutes of branded content.
It's important to note that while none of the videos speak about why consumers should get an American Express OPEN card, they all present compelling content that is relevant to the advertiser's target market. Whereas a commercial would spend 30 seconds telling a potential customer that the card has benefits for them, these pieces of syndicated content actually help and advise the potential customer and exposed them to the brand for up to 5 times longer.
As I'm sure any anonymous Chinese proverb writer would tell you, "Sell a man a fishing rod and he'll fish. Teach a man to start a global seafood empire and he'll buy up all your inventory and acquire your enterprise so you can retire early to Boca."
But how do you place a value on being relevant and important to your users?
First, advertisers will need to do the research and start looking at the metrics that really spell success like brand awareness, brand favorability and intent to purchase.
Once we have some bona fide numbers as to how attracting user-attention for longer amounts of time with interesting, relevant content contributes to the bottom line, we'll be able to affix the proper value to this new avenue of messaging. Perhaps reach and frequency shouldn't be the standard by which we buy and sell inventory but rather the amount of time that an advertiser gets to spend with their users.
For the time being, some publishers will take the advertorial content for free and place traditional hard-sell ads against it. Others will require advertisers to pay for streaming their content at standard advertising rates, and still others will come up with hybrid models such as where advertisers pay to ensure the content is spotlighted for a certain amount of time.
So how did the graduation party end? "Engagement can mean holding someone's attention and winning their affection so that they are moved to think or involve themselves, not just click. While last year was the year of engagement, this year will be the year of syndication and experience. With TV's waning numbers and high price tag, plus the impending recession, advertisers are sure to turn towards the internet for its cost-effective relationship building capabilities and sponsor or produce relevant longer-form content that they can place where their target markets are," I concluded to the young graduate.
"Interesting," he replied, "but I think I'll go into 100 percent biodegradable plastics."
Bradley Werner is the VP, operations and communications for The Fifth Network. Read full bio.