Friday, 26 March 2010

Online video: it's going to be HUGE…

This post first appeared on:
Digital Minds from the CAM Foundation 

As Fairfax Cone, one of the founders of US advertising agency Foote, Cone and Belding (today Draftfcb) observed in 1940, “Advertising is what you do when you can’t be there in person”. Historically, posters and press ads ‘ambushed’ people while they were going about their daily business and offered them something attractive, useful and/or enjoyable – something to make their life better. This was called Advertising and, as we know, a whole industry grew up around it.

Then radio was invented and soon it became possible for companies to add commercial messages to radio broadcasts.  As usual the US was first (“It’s the top of the ninth and the bases are loaded here at the Yankee Stadium but now here’s a word from our Sponsor!”) and other markets including the UK followed later. Then came TV – what an advance! The golden age of creative ad agencies (the ‘Mad Men’ of 1960s New York and London) exploded as this exciting new medium took off. So what was so good about TV for brand owners? In a nutshell: moving colour pictures with sound; truly the next best thing to putting a salesman in front of each consumer, as Mr Cone observed.

But this medium was one-way: effectively the marketer was guessing where the target audience was and shouting at them. Today we have something even better: TV ads the user can interact with. Online video advertising, whether ‘in-stream’ (e.g. pre-, mid-, or post-roll – eg. around a YouTube video) or contained within banner ads (either standard display ads or rich media) combines the best of the old interruptive TV Commercials (e.g. “Beanz Meanz Heinz”, “Mild Green Fairy Liquid”, “Have a Break – Have a Kit-Kat”) with the interactivity of the internet. The user can ‘mouse over’ to expand the banner, click the button to add sound, play the video and click to go to the advertiser’s site. S/he can enter name and email to request a quote, browse a microsite or simply sit back and enjoy a video – immersed in the ‘brand experience’. Each user will be in a different stage of awareness of/ attitude to the brand and specifically in a different point in their web session and the advertiser wants them to have an appropriate brand experience without being irritated. More than ever before, well-planned and implemented online video advertising (OVA) makes this a realistic proposition. Even better, provided privacy concerns can be addressed, the emerging discipline of Behavioural Targeting offers the tantalising possibility of serving these powerful ads only to those most likely to be influenced positively by them; the media planner’s holy grail.

Instead of segmenting by ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’ marketing, we can consider ‘broadcast’ and ‘online’ as two types of video advertising. And we know the power of video. No wonder OVA is growing fast. As connection speeds increase and the ‘always-on mobile web’ becomes a reality (via mobile, tablet, laptop or PC), as static banners merge with the wallpaper and their click-through rates plunge, OVA offers advertisers the opportunity to combine the power of TV with the targeting and interactivity that Direct Marketers have been dreaming of for years; TV ads at your fingertips; instant response capability; the right message to the right person at the right time. OVA will keep growing as Marketing Departments appreciate how much it can do for their brands and their sales. If Paid Search is a direct response medium, OVA is a branding medium with the built-in option to start a dialogue with the brand; truly ‘brand response’ advertising.

So: while we still can’t be there in person, the new online video advertising might just be the (very) next best thing…

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

End of the Hippie Dream: did business break The Web?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a scientist and something of an idealist. Oh yes: and he invented The World Wide Web. I wonder what it says in his passport under ‘Occupation’…

In my book that's about as cool as having been in The Beatles. However I'm certain Sir Tim is worth less than Sir Paul (even without an expensive ex-wife). You see he has deliberately chosen not to exploit his invention for personal gain. Which (many would say) is also pretty cool.

When Mr B-L was working at CERN in 1989-90 he wrote a paper helpfully entitled ‘Information Management - a proposal’ which contained the breakthrough idea of combining the internet (a networked collection of computers scattered across the world) with the hypertext link; allowing one computer to directly (and simply) access information on another. He wrote his initial proposal in March 1989, and in 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau, produced a revision which was accepted by his then manager, Mike Sendall. The first 'Web Site' was built at CERN, was put on line on 6 August 1991 and the rest is history.

The vision embraced by TB-L, following the vision of earlier internet evangelists including John Perry Barlow, lyricist of The Grateful Dead (and if they weren't hippies then who was?) was of a great leveller; an empowering tool that allowed anyone to be a publisher, a record company or a bank. Almost at a stroke, the power to distribute information was taken out of the hands of the privileged few and handed to the many. This change has been described as the biggest transformation of society since the Gutenberg Bible, printed by Johannes Gutenberg circa 1455 and heralding the arrival of the Printing Press (btw why does no-one ever credit William Caxton these days?)

However in recent years, Sir Tim and other early web pioneers have expressed concerns about the way business has colonized the web and also about growing threats to our individual privacy posed by the sheer amount of personal information held by Google, Facebook, Amazon et al.

“We've noticed that people who browsed X..” highlights the very real issue of how people thoughtlessly give away too much personal information online - especially on social networks.

But this doesn’t mean the web's become 'evil'. Sure, bad things happen online but generally they are caused by bad people. To blame the web is tantamount to shooting the messenger.  Yes terrorist groups have used email to organise, but so have disaster relief agencies. For all its faults, there has never been anything that has so enabled, empowered and connected the global population; even though only c.25% of the world is currently online (remember that!). And it’s good that people are concerned. In most wired countries there is data protection legislation in place and healthy debates about privacy and 'the cost of free' .

So did business break the web? No: not yet. And we don't have to let it. The web will bring benefits to millions more people in the months, years and decades to come which should far outweigh the costs (cyber-crime, loss of privacy, internet addiction etc). Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, created a product which has made shopping a whole lot easier and more enjoyable for millions of people. Facebook has 300 million users which would make it the 'third largest country in the world' (ahead of the US). These people choose to 'talk' to each other and it's free. Mark Zuckerberg doesn't force people to connect (OK so maybe he encourages them just a bit...).

Throughout history, the founders of successful businesses have, generally speaking, made a lot of money. The web can be a force for good which includes good business and if people like Bill Gates of Microsoft make more money out of it than they need, they can always choose to give it to Charity. (But that's a whole 'nother Blog post...).

So Sir Tim: thanks for the wonderful gift you have given us; and please don't worry. We'll do our best to use it responsibly (won't we?)