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The rise and rise of online video—and how brands can benefit from it

Given YouTube's current pervasiveness, it's hard to believe it didn't exist until February 2005. And back then, the expensive tools of the trade meant high-quality video was largely inaccessible to the hoi polloi. Now, recording technology is cheap and ubiquitous and broadband means consumption is rising rapidly. The seemingly insatiable desire for online video means it is a huge area of focus for brands and marketers and how to tap into some of the possibilities this exciting realm affords was the topic of discussion at the Marketing Association's Brainy Breakfast last week.

Matt Zwartz, creative director at Skull & Bones, took some time out from working on his agency's own fashion label and delivered an entertaining presentation combining clips of successful viral videos, a few amazing stats about online video consumption (48 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute and there was 75 percent growth in the number of playbacks in the US over 2010 last year) and some common sensical advice.

He likens online video—and particularly marketers' attempts at creating viral videos—to the cargo cults of the Pacific during and after WW2. The locals became accustomed to gifts dropping from the sky, so when they stopped coming, they tried to imitate the conditions they felt were necessary to make them return, without understanding how it all worked.

The same goes for viral videos, he says. Making a video is a necessary condition, but it needs to work and people actually need to watch it and, as the two cringe-worthy attempts from KFC and Coles prove, there are certain rules that apply if you want your content to be shared.

Youtube Video

Youtube Video

"Every successful campaign I've seen has been original, brave or relevant," he says. And, quoting Shakespeare, he says "sometimes you have to screw your courage to the sticking place".

YouTube can give traditional TVCs another life, of course, and making a great ad and letting it spread on the internet is a common strategy, as evidenced by Canal+ 'Bear Rug' or Guinness' 'Round up your mates' ads. Youtube VideoYoutube Video

The oft-mentioned Old Spice campaign used online video to brilliant effect, as did BMW films, he says. But on the other, smaller, lower-budget side of the coin, a simple and interesting proposition like Blendtec's Will it Blend, "one of the most effective campaigns in history", can also bring amazing results.

In any burgeoning field, there will be snake-oil salesmen trying to make hay while the sun shines. So how do you know who to believe? Scwartz offers this advice: disregard anyone who says they guarantee something will go viral; if they're doing their job they should come up with ideas that make you afraid; and always apply the 'so what?' test.

APN Digital's media research analyst Eric Rowe was next up and, as it was his first time giving one of these presentations, he was "as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs". It's always difficult to speak directly after the guy who shows all the entertaining viral videos, but he talked fairly honestly about the journey the company has been on in terms of online video, particularly with regard to the nzherald.co.nz.

Like most major media organisations, he says video views at the Herald have been climbing very swiftly, but part of the issue is letting readers–or, in this case, viewers—know the new media landscape means the website isn't just creating words and pictures any more. Its journalists are increasingly being given camera equipment and it has now created a dedicated video button on the homepage. Video is also an integral part of APN's social media strategy (share, discuss and trust). But it's tough to compete with YouTube and he doubts many thought to go straight to the Herald website to look at the footage of the Telecom Christmas tree chopper crash.

At present, he says about 98 percent of the ads playing before the Herald's video content on pre-roll are converted TVCs. But new technology is giving smart brands more opportunities and it is soon to roll out a new video platform that lets users interact more with advertising material (he gives the example of the Land Rover Evoque launch, which featured a choice of three TVCs, allowed users to find dealer locations and also provided image galleries).

Next up was Tan Desai, vice president of visual media at Optimizer HQ, who took a fairly long time to explain a simple point: showing is better than telling.

Youtube Video

Youtube VideoIn an age of short attention spans and data overload, he says images, infographics and animations like how much space money takes up, Bill Maher's Irritable Bowl Syndrome or Google's Chromebook (I'd add in Z Energy's impressive animation) are becoming increasingly popular as a way to simplify and condense information that consumers probably can't be bothered reading. And, in terms of advertising, animation also removes the need for often-expensive, weather dependent shoots.

One glaring oversight of the seminar, however, was the lack of focus on seeding, something .99 has done very effectively with Air New Zealand's online videos over the past few years. Zwarz touched on it briefly, but it's very rare that an ad or online video is so good it gets shared organically. So if you want to focus on earned media and bump up your viral chances, then it not only requires good content, it often requires some expertise in the dark digital, promotional arts.

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