Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Scanning the Horizon: New outlets for TV ads

Note: “Scanning the Horizon” articles are notes about trends that are happening in the web marketing world. It might not be possible for many small web businesses to take advantage of these ideas yet (due to financial or other challenges), but it’s vital to be aware of what’s happening around the world of net business.

“Viral Videos” have been around for a long time. Short, funny little clips that people share around the web. You might get one in your inbox, play it, and smile. Then you think of someone that would enjoy it, so you send it along to them, and a bunch of other people that you see in your address book. It’s likely that many of them will do the same, sharing it through their social network. Pretty soon, the clip has made the rounds, spreading across the ‘net like a virus, but not doing any damage.

Some of the early ones I saw were simple things, like the funny clips of someone riding their bike into a tree or falling off a boat. Pretty soon, anything funny, quirky, or attention grabbing was circulating all around the web. People started making their own fun clips and sharing them.

It was only a matter of time before people saw the potential for marketing. It’s easy enough to simply put a company name on the email that’s carrying the video attachment. It’s a little more difficult, but a little more effective, to put your company name and address directly in the video, at the beginning and/or the end.

But the best idea is to make the video itself an ad for your product. And that’s where all this has been going in the last few years.

A lot of companies put their TV ads up on their websites, for people to download and share. It’s easy to find, for example, all the superbowl ads for a given year. keeps a running archive of their often-controversial, frequently-censored ads.

But even more recently than that, companies have seen the potential for branding by creating ads for the sole purpose of releasing them virally on the web. These are never intended for Network or even Cable TV release in the first place. Companies put them out, and let the power of viral interconnectivity do the talking.

It has some real advantages and challenges:

First of all, the ads have to be good. They have to be funny, shocking, or attention grabbing. They can’t just announce your president’s day sale or a special discount. There has to be a story line, a punchline, and payoff. If it’s like 90% of the ads on TV today, it’ll never go anywhere on the web. The result? A company might end up paying a whopping lot more to produce an ad for the web than they do to produce a TV spot. They’ve got to have good creative people who can think innovatively, and deliver.

Second, once the ads are made, the delivery is much cheaper. Considering the millions of dollars spent getting their ad into the lineup at each TV network and station, it’s much easier to put it in a few key sites on the web, and let nature take its course.

Third, a company can get away with much more in web-based ads than they could ever do even on cable TV. Many viral web ads are racy, violent, shocking, and edgy. Why? Because they don’t have to deal with FCC regulations. They’re not being broadcast over airwaves, but rather made available for those that want them. As a result, they can push the envelope. In fact, many feel that in order to get any sort of impact on the information-glut that is the internet, they HAVE to be more daring.

Not everyone agrees. There are many ads that are simply clever, funny, and intriguing that are being circulated. Here are some good examples to begin an exploration of these kinds of ads:

How does all this impact a small business owner? Most are unlikely to have the budget required to create a high-end, professional ad, but if someone’s clever, and has access to a camera and some editing software, who knows what can be done? Adapt the ideas, be flexible. Taking advantage of the viral nature of the way information spreads on the ‘net is an excellent way of promoting a website.

Most of all, simply being aware of what’s happening better prepares you to participate as circumstances change.

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