Online Commercials: New Life for an Old Model?

It’s no secret: We just don’t watch TV commercials like we used to. We change channels, or, if we’re watching a DVR-recorded show, we skip over them entirely.

“With the invention of DVR, the effectiveness of TV ads has dropped significantly,” online marketing consultant Scott Markman told the E-Commerce Times.

Like everything else, commercials are migrating online. This brave new world of online commercials sometimes resembles the old TV model, but savvy marketers understand that the online marketing realm has its own set of challenges and possibilities.

TV-Like Online Commercials

One model for online commercials is that used by Hulu and Joost, companies that sell commercial space for ads to accompany the airing of a TV show or movie. This is the model that most resembles TV commercials, but with an important twist: These online commercials have a captive audience — you can’t hit the fast forward button.

“You can’t skip over these ads, and that’s their advantage,” said Markman. “But typically there’s just one commercial, so [viewers] don’t feel the need to click off.”

Another benefit of advertising on sites such as Hulu is that commercials can be targeted to specific shows and episodes that might be particularly relevant to the product being marketed.

“It’s a matter of targeting your consumer,” Markman said. “With TV, you can target in general. With the Internet, you can target more specifically.”

Online Video

Marketers wanting to go beyond the model of TV-like online commercials can turn to any number of genres of online videos. These run the gamut from productions in the traditional commercial vein to corporate videos, wannabe viral videos, webisodes and other formats. Online videos can be placed on a company’s site, and they can also be placed on video sharing sites like YouTube or social media sites like Facebook.

There is still a role for TV commercials to play, but that the marketplace is quickly changing, according to Jeffrey Markowitz, CEO of Markowitz Productions and JMP Spotlight.

“If you want a lot of people to see your ad, TV is still the answer,” Markowitz told the E-Commerce Times. “Trying to find a million viewers on the Web is quite hard.”

However, marketers who want to reach younger viewers — a demographic that tends to watch very little television — need to consider online video, he suggested.

“They don’t watch TV anymore,” noted Markowitz. “If I want to get a viewer like that, I need to try other ways.”

The key is to rethink the whole concept of a commercial.

“If it’s a video that people have to watch, it’s very much like a commercial,” observed Markowitz. “If it’s something they don’t have to watch, it has to be more cutting-edge.”

One such cutting-edge genre is the webisode. Webisodes are a series of online videos that tell a story and have characters, and they encourage viewers to return repeatedly to a site to see how the story progresses.

“A webisode is very much like a TV show,” Markowitz said. “You’re going back to a site more than once.”

Webisodes are most appealing to younger audiences, and they’re also good for creating an image or feeling about a product, rather than selling a product directly.

“I think the webisodes work if they don’t have too much of the product in them,” said Markowitz. “You’re getting people to your site.”

For marketers wanting to sell a product directly, corporate videos might be the answer. They can involve a sales pitch, a representation of the product, and client testimonials.

“Corporate videos are becoming bigger and bigger, because companies can put a video on their site and have fewer salespeople,” Markowitz pointed out. “People don’t want to read Web sites anymore. People want to watch a video about the company on the front page.”

DIY Video

Some companies might want to create their own online videos, and businesses like Jivox have sprung up to help them do just that. Jivox lets its clients create interactive video ads from scratch, using stock footage, images and sound, and then it helps them to distribute those videos across the Web.

“With our service, you can go beyond clicks to actual interaction,” Diaz Nesamoney, the founder and CEO of Jivox, told the E-Commerce Times. This interaction might involve downloading a coupon, for instance, or sending an email by clicking on an online ad. “It’s useful for advertisers since they can get the end-user engaged.”

This interactivity represents the primary advantage of online commercials over traditional TV commercials, said Nesamoney. “With TV there’s no interaction at all.”

The other benefit of the interactivity with online commercials is that it offers immediate and direct information about consumers in the form of analytics.

“We provide all of that data in the form of detailed analytics,” Nesamoney said. “It’s like a TV commercial, but with interaction and measurability.”

Going Viral

If you’re lucky, then your video might even go viral. Going viral is a marketing gold standard in the online video realm, though what makes something go viral is still elusive. Sometimes it’s a matter of sheer luck, but with careful planning and strategizing, marketers can at least create the right environment for a video to go viral.

The key is understanding the difference between the online world and the world of TV, according to Jessica Kizorek, owner of The Viral Pulse and TwoParrot.com.

“The viewing environment of the Internet is tremendously different from the viewing environment of the TV set in a living room,” Kizorek told the E-Commerce Times. “TV is a very passive, lean-back medium, but the Internet is a lean-forward environment. The hand is on the mouse almost 100 percent of the time. You are in control of your viewing experience on the Internet.”

As a result, marketers who hope to make a mark online have to engage viewers and make them want to watch their videos. If the videos are not immediately engaging, consumers will move on to the next thing.

“They have to provide advertising that the consumer wants to ingest,” Kizorek said. “You’ve got to figure out what would captivate them.”

And what captivates them, according to Kizorek? Humor.

“Humor is the top common factor amongst every single video that’s gone viral,” she noted. “People like to laugh.”

However engaging it is, though, one online video is not, in itself, enough. A campaign must be both broad and creative to succeed, emphasized Kizorek.

“To cause something to go viral, the creative campaign needs to be much bigger than the video itself,” she said. “It has to involve Twitter, Facebook, banner ads, blogs. There needs to be a huge integrated undercurrent.”

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