Video: Video stars on the net

Technology is still opening up marketing opportunities. Philip Buxton discovers video is playing to massive, sought-after crowds on the web.

As actor Colin Firth discusses his new thriller, the video cuts to a trailer of the movie and at the end you see a name carved in blood on a corpse's arm. And, it's your name. This is just one of the latest examples of video being used in advertising online and a signal that simply transferring your TV ad on to the web - or into a banner - is no longer enough.

The viral push for the film Trauma, which was released in September, developed by 20:20 London for Warner Bros, allows users to forward a link to this video clip, showing the name of the addressee carved into the arm. The campaign uses streaming technology, so it isn't necessary to have a media player or download software to view the film. Such technology is helping to transform the way marketers incorporate video.

Sarah Platt, account director at interactive agency Groovy Gecko, explains: "Five years ago, online video was seen much more as a gimmicky 'nice to have' rather than serious communications tool. I don't think many agencies had any idea of its potential. Encoding quality and available bandwidth were obviously an issue as well back then, but today we are seeing some amazingly well-crafted campaigns because the technology is there and agencies have more experience of using it."

Agency 20:20 London has also just launched a campaign for Audi - the brand's first use of video online - to push its A3 Sportback (Revolution, October 2004, p8). The work is part of Audi's efforts to expand its range of advertising media. Audi sent HTML emails with a link to a personalised Sportback video to a list of males, aged about 35, who had previously stated they would buy a new car in the next 12 months.

David George, brand communications manager at Audi, explains: "For some time, we've believed that we needed to do other things to support our 'classical' advertising, which probably isn't as effective as it used to be, due to the wide range of media now available. The viral video suited the demographic for the Sportback audience, which is a younger profile.

It exceeded my expectations and surprised quite a few people internally about what you can do with video online."

Video is now proving a common online currency for work in the automotive sector. While already among the most sophisticated sectors online, car firms have been quick to adopt new video technologies to spread the cost and enhance the reach of their expensive TV campaigns.

Nitzan Yaniv, of online ad technology provider Eyeblaster, says: "You're certainly missing a trick if you have video assets and you're not using them online, firstly because of the novelty - users still find video ads online interesting because they're relatively new. So, if you have good TV ads, they can do a job for you on the web."

James Turnbull, senior account manager at New Media Maze, which works for Universal Pictures among others, agrees: "If you look at TV ads, they have two major costs - the production and buying the media space. A lot of big advertisers are taking their big-budget TV ads and putting them online since it is a very cost-effective way of expanding your media presence and getting more for your money." But, Yaniv thinks firms should go further.

"Brands can build interactivity into ads - it's not a huge leap. Phase two will be creating films specifically for the web, which is happening more now. Phase three will be to introduce interactivity into the experience - we're starting to see that."

Interactivity in online video campaigns is still rare but, when it happens, innovation leads to exciting things online. "Brands are starting to get clever about their use of video and, rather than just stick their TV ad online, maybe they will run film competitions and create mock-documentaries or funny clips that go viral," says Platt.

Yaniv points to Burger King's 'subservient chicken' campaign, which used a video clip of a man dressed in a chicken suit and asked users to tell him what to do from a range of options. Meanwhile, video hotspots allow users to click on specific areas of the online clips.

Liz Mackenzie, marketing and sales manager at Forbidden Technologies, which offers its own video products and services, explains: "Today, videos can be populated with hotspots: clickthroughs embedded in the video that take users to another video, viral game or web site. For example, a car manufacturer can create a branding video featuring all the cars from their range - when users click on a car for more details, up it comes. This is a neat way of killing a number of birds with one click."

Mackenzie argues that the ultimate application would allow users to edit and personalise videos themselves, but this has yet to be exploited fully.

"Imagine the marketing and competition opportunities of being able to create your own ad, based on existing video footage. Consumers could, for example, delete Linda Barker from every Curry's advert," says Mackenzie.

"Muse launched its new CD and included the ability to edit one of the tracks using an integrated editing programme - if the music industry can do it, why not marketers?"

Forbidden has developed FORscene, which allows brands to embed editing tools into their videos, enabling users to affect what they see and personalise the content. The potential viral benefits of such personalised clips are enormous.

Mark Benmore, Liquid Communications interactive account director, thinks a key development has been the growing penetration of Flash-based technology.

"Increasingly, using Flash to play video seems to be the preferred option.

This is because, firstly, the video and Flash can sit seamlessly among other Flash-based elements on your web site.

"Also, the vast majority of your target audience is likely to have a Flash player and the video is clickable. Users can click different frames of the video and go through to different sections of a web site as appropriate for the content." For example, if a client ran an email campaign using a Flash-based video in the UK, some 40 per cent of recipients could be expected to be able to view the content, he adds.

A key sector being targeted is the film industry, which, for use of online video, is undeniably leading the way. Film distributors have driven the use of video campaigns. Almost every new release is pre-launched on the web, usually with internet-only trailers of the film and often featuring interactive and personalised elements, as seen in the Trauma work. For movie companies, the thinking is simple - trailers sell movies.

Sue Jenvey, senior account manager at Haygarth, which runs online work for Columbia Tristar, says: "The film trailer is a film distributor's key asset. If people see the trailer, they will make a decision on whether to see the film. For film companies, getting the trailer in front of as many people as possible is the goal." Agency New Media Maze has developed Trailerplayer to support its work for Universal. The technology allows trailers to be streamed direct to viewers, without them needing their own film-player software. Turnbull explains: "Marketers have to guess what player and what speed of connection a user has, or make all this software available at the point of download each time. Trailerplayer allows trailers to be hosted on Universal's server, which means they pay the hosting fees. The major objections for media-owner sites not showing trailers are the technological hassles and hosting costs - we take care of those."

At agency glue London, which has created video campaigns for the likes of Pot Noodle and McDonald's among others, the rise and rise of video online has led to the launch of a dedicated unit, SuperGlue, focused exclusively on delivering interactive video. Pot Noodle chose to push its TV ads on the web after they were banned from television broadcast.

Mark Cridge, managing director of glue London, says the new division has emerged chiefly from the increased ability of users to view video.

"A number of things are coming together, the most important being significant broadband uptake, which means, if we do things with video, people can see it. But also, advertising money inevitably follows the audience and clients are prepared to invest budget into this kind of work."

Cridge reckons the rising amount of brand-building ads on the web is feeding this growth. "There's a growing realisation that online can deliver solid branding effects," he says. "Clients know it's not just about direct-response advertising or pay-per-click work. Online can do all of the above and more."

Evidence of this can be seen in glue London's work for McDonald's, which has included video-enabled banners to support the fast-food giant's recent 'I'm Lovin' It' rebrand. The campaign features a specially created clip running in a pop-up. Such campaigns are becoming more commonplace, particularly as technology providers such as Eyeblaster and Tangozebra are enabling banners to be streamed to users, without compromising download speeds. These technologies also negate the need for media player software, and takes the hosting costs and hassle away from media owners.

Currently, the apple of Eyeblaster's eye is VideoClip, a new service that the company hopes will revolutionise the way media owners offer video to users and how advertisers exploit TV-style executions on the web. VideoClip allows ads to be delivered within video content, such as a music video or the latest sporting highlights, in a very similar way to TV ads. The ads are served in the same way as other online campaigns. With the media player embedded on the media owner's web site, every time a clip is played by a user, it will call up the video ad inventory to be delivered before or after the film.

There is an opportunity here for portals to change the way they monetise their broadband video content and move away from the subscription-based packages that are currently perceived to put off users. Eyeblaster has already sealed a deal for ITV to use VideoClip for the new series of I'm a celebrity... get me out of here!. The deal will allow ads to be delivered in video content being shown on its web site.

Such moves confirm Benmore's feeling that: "Technological boundaries will increasingly become blurred: TV will develop more web-like functionality and the web will develop with the use of more video." The two are converging to an enormous degree and it is clear that, while interactive TV may still be in its infancy in terms of take-up, on the web, interactive video is playing to large and sought after crowds.

ZED'S MSN TAKEOVER PROMOTES SPIELBERG'S 'THE TERMINAL'

When movie studio UIP wanted to promote new film The Terminal to a massive online audience, it opted for a unique takeover of the MSN homepage; the central element of a wider online campaign, handled by digital and direct agency Zed.

For the first time, the MSN homepage displayed moving creative, overlaid with streamed video, of a brightly coloured airport-style information board, which flicked through different straplines based on The Terminal before dissolving into an official clip.

Zed also targeted several other key entertainment sites, including sections on Guardian Unlimited and The Times Online. The broad spectrum of sites reflected the wide appeal of the movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks.

Marco Bertozzi, commercial director at Zed, says: "The Terminal is from an acclaimed actor/director partnership, and already had a high profile in the media. By reaching such a huge audience with both the MSN takeover and activity on other sites, we could ensure clickthrough rates to the dedicated site were high, and that brand awareness was raised."

Two million unique users viewed the ad during its two-day duration online. A further four million full plays of the trailer were recorded over the entire campaign - 3.3 million on MSN alone.

The ads prompted 55 per cent of users to watch the full trailer. The weekend of the campaign saw more than six million impressions and clickthrough of 1.06 per cent.

Bertozzi adds: "It's encouraging to see major sites like MSN agreeing to push the boundaries."

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