The power of film

Online video is predicted to capture 32% of online display spend by 2015. Nicola Smith looks at the innovations brands are using to make their video content stand out and reach the right people

Sponsored by Collective, the audience engine


Google’s vice-president of content Robert Kyncl predicted in January that online video content is on the edge of exploding in popularity. More than 100,000 years’ worth of video have already been shared on Facebook alone. With consumer appetite for video growing, brands are using it as an integral part of online display to reach and engage consumers.

Car brand Kia has been using online video since mid-2009, with its first YouTube video – a ‘walk-around’ video for the Kia Sportage – clocking up 50,000 views in just two months. To date, the video has been seen over 224,600 times, but it isn’t just about big viewing figures. The popularity of the video coincided with Kia Motors (UK) enjoying its best sales year to date and increasing its market share to almost 2.8%.

“We were astounded by its popularity,” says Kia general manager of marketing communications Lawrence Hamilton. “It was in no way intended to be entertaining and we didn’t anticipate any more than three or four thousand views over the course of the year.”

This has led to the company re-examining its marketing approach, with online video now an integral part of its display strategy. It has commissioned production agency Content Is King to make more informational videos, which are generating similar viewer figures.

“This is clearly how people want their information theses days,” says Hamilton. “We have more people watching videos than ordering brochures from us.”

With video set to take 32% of the spending from online display by 2015, according to eMarketer, the opportunities look set to grow even further.

HarperCollins’ Language and Geo imprints are increasingly investing in online video to raise brand awareness. Between October and December 2011, the company ran a video campaign centred on its near 200-year heritage, an idea that came from a focus group.

“We discovered that people didn’t know much about the Collins brand but if you look at our competitor, Oxford, people have a sense of knowing what that brand is,” says Judith House, head of marketing at Collins Language and Geo. “I thought, ‘Our unique selling point at Collins is that we got there first. We’ve been here since 1819 and we have a good story, but no one really knows it’.”

Alpha Romeo: Saw a 49% surge in brand awareness following a location-based video display ad

House decided that the most effective way of telling that story and condensing the numerous and complex messages was to use video. “We formulated it in the form of a documentary, interviewing our publishing director who brought the story of William Collins to life,” she says.

To date, the Collins heritage video has achieved 24,453 views, and in the face of a declining print market, HarperCollins has also used online video to promote the inherent brand values of its new Collins English Dictionary. “We were really inspired by the recent John Lewis ads and essentially, we are targeting the same people, so we tried to put elements of it into ours,” says House.

“We tried to tell the story of a couple over 10 years and as everything changed around them, the dictionary on the book shelf was the one thing that stayed the same. It was very important to portray the message of the dictionary being a high-quality book and conveying its sensibility. It was a differentiation exercise [from the Collins online dictionary] as well as raising brand awareness and offering something aspirational and emotional.”

It is the emotional depth enabled by video that Land Rover considers vital. With customer content agency Redwood, the car marque has been using online video for several years, more recently in its online customer magazine OneLife.

“Video brings a story to life, literally,” says Dorian Leroy, brand communications manager at Land Rover. “If you write about a place or a journey, with great copy and images, film allows you to take that story further. Within the iPad version of OneLife, film is an obvious addition to enrich content.”

Behind the frenzied growth in online video is undoubtedly the explosion in social media, providing numerous platforms for seeding content and fertile ground for changing standard display advertising into shareable content.

Land Rover makes sure the videos it uses in OneLife can also be leveraged in other online destinations. “Before we make a piece for the magazine, we talk to the social media team to understand how they would see it being used,” says Leroy. “We then make it available within Facebook and on YouTube, for example.”

Videos from the past two issues of OneLife have received 100,000 hits on UK YouTube. Additional exposure within the US, China, Russia and the Netherlands, helped it exceed 200,000 hits in total.

British Gas also believes social media is playing a vital role in the success of its current campaign – a series of ‘how to’ videos designed to educate consumers about smart meters, and make the brand synonymous with smart technology. The videos are built from footage filmed with British Gas customers in their houses.

“Social media has been crucial in encouraging conversation and awareness of the smart meter programme,” says Jacqueline Epifanie, head of marketing for Smart Homes at British Gas. “The videos were used through British Gas’ own social media channels to ensure the content was integrated throughout the whole campaign. In addition to YouTube, this included the customer newsroom and Facebook, and as a tool for Twitter outreach, when conversations were established around smart meters.”

Working with social agency Outside Line, British Gas also used the videos to create a hub within British Gas’ BritMums blogger collective, inspiring targeted bloggers to share the content. This is a tack HarperCollins also took with its Collins English Dictionary video, working with Big Shot to target the ‘mummy blogger’ community.

Ensuring online video reaches influential people within social media is key to ensuring it goes viral. While display can put a piece of creative marketing in front of consumer eyes, social networks give advertisers the power to take this further.

It is a lesson Nick Gibbens, digital marketing manager at men’s grooming brand The Bluebeards Revenge, has learned. “[Brands] need to seed video effectively and come up with a PR plan around it,” he says. “A decent piece of online video is only the start; an effective seeding strategy must be put in place to ensure you get maximum results.”

YouTube has played a powerful role in online video’s rise, letting brands feel their way into the space with minimal risk, and many are reaping the rewards of having branded YouTube channels.

The Bluebeards Revenge has used its YouTube channel to trial content and identify what works well and why, with a view to moving into TV advertising. Gibbens says having this outlet is “massively” important: “You can make the odd mistake on YouTube and get away with it, you can’t on ITV.”

British Gas: Created ‘how to’ videos for its smart meters

However, consumers only have a limited attention span when it comes to consuming online video, adds House: “If we did [the Collins English Dictionary video] again, we would cut it down from three and a half minutes to one. With the Times Atlas app video [due for launch Spring 2012], we are aiming for it to be more succinct. We want people to reach the call to action.”

Kia’s Hamilton has had the same experience. “The drop-off rate of people watching video is massive after about two and a half minutes,” he says. “It means calls to action, if you have them at the end, don’t get seen after that. So we are pretty strict that two and a half minutes is about the maximum length.”

This approach is backed up by British Gas’ Epifanie. “We’re making the next batch of videos shorter – around one minute – and more engaging,” she says. “We have found that viewing figures are higher and people are more easily engaged with content that is shorter.”

Again, YouTube plays a valuable role in allowing brands to monitor the duration of its content. As The Bluebeards Revenge’s Gibbens says: “Using YouTube’s inbuilt stats we can see at which point a user abandons a video. We can then make changes.”

Brands are also learning to think ahead when it comes to creating video, allowing them to be flexible with content use and get value for money.

As Land Rover’s Leroy says, the most economical approach is to create content that can be edited to target different consumer groups. “It is about flexibility and being cost-effective and making sure the brief is written in such a way that different content can be evolved from it and, depending on the audience, we may want to edit it in a certain way,” he says.

As online video grows, brands’ sense of the increased importance of this medium is underlined by their budgetary activity. Leroy says Land Rover has added a small amount to its budget to fund its online video work, while House says HarperCollins’ Language and Geo departments have diverted marketing budget from other areas, such as more mainstream advertising. At Kia, Hamilton says the company has added online video production into its budget for the first time.

With video’s share set to rise to more than $7bn of a total online display market of $22bn in the next three years, judging by eMarketer’s research, those brands using only banner ads, sponsorships and more traditional display forms need to start moving.


Claudio Annicchiarico, head of digital, Alfa Romeo

Claudio Annicchiarico, head of digital, Alfa Romeo

Online video does offer an opportunity for brands when combined with other marketing elements. It is about making sure that a lot of the online assets you have work together, rather than just video on its own.

When we look at how to engage with consumers digitally, we look at various different things using ‘SoLoMo’ – engaging socially, in a localised way and within mobile. These are key ways of increasing the likelihood of people reacting to our communications.

We talk about understanding our customers, and truly doing that is knowing how they want to engage with you and digest your communications, then allowing them to do so.

At the end of last year, Alfa Romeo saw a 49% surge in brand awareness following a location-based video display ad. It was for the Giulietta model, in conjunction with Videology.

We targeted the communication to the user based on their IP address, so the content delivered to them was specific to their location and their local dealer. It made the video piece so much more engaging and relevant. That was the end game for us – relevant driven marketing for our customers.

When we talk about things at a local market level, it is important to ensure that users know that you understand them and their location. People need to understand that this isn’t just a generic piece of content that has gone out to everyone.

Sometimes people who have seen a particular type of creative more than once become almost blind to it. Location is one tool that enables brands to cut through some of that blindness in the digital space. We saw that effect with the Giulietta response rates.

Personalisation is also a key area, as is the social element. Addressing these areas will help brands stand out.

Sponsored viewpoint


Steve Filler, managing director, Collective

Steve Filler, managing director, Collective

It doesn’t surprise me that brands are investing more money in online video because when executed correctly, it’s the most impactful way of delivering a brand message in the digital space.

Marketers need to think about how they can personalise the advertising experience so that customers are more likely to connect with their product or service – whether that’s getting viewers to feel or think in a certain way, engage with a particular brand or click through to make a purchase.

We’ve seen a big shift in how marketers are thinking about online video. While brands are starting to produce more tailored versions of their pre-roll ads for the web, the big opportunity is for clients to supplement this activity by enhancing generic messaging with personalised overlays.

This is the approach Microsoft took when it ran a pre-roll ad last year highlighting a number of its products. We worked with the brand to create overlays to accentuate those products that were most relevant to the audience.

Social activation is another way in which marketers can make the most of online video. We’re doing more work with brands to integrate video with social media. Even something as simple as running a Facebook icon with a video can work well if, for example, companies are trying drive users to their branded page. Marketers can also encourage videos to go viral by running a YouTube icon over a pre-roll advert.

Marketers generally use online video as a means of delivering a brand message, so it’s encouraging that our latest research shows that there’s a move toward measuring view-through rates – which measure how much of the advert is viewed as a core metric rather than focusing on click-through rates.

The research also indicates that there’s interest in trialing real-time bidding (RTB) for pre-roll activity. Any brand that has quite distinct audience segments could benefit from using RTB as they can make sure they’re reaching the right people. Some advertisers are also looking at video as a direct response mechanic, which is another area where RTB could play a role.

One of the most important things to consider is that higher quality sites attract higher quality audiences, who are more likely to be engaged with a brand. Marketers should never underestimate the importance of placing a relevant ad in a relevant environment.


National Grid

Damien O’Brien: Illusionist (second from right) featured in a series of videos for National Grid

For the third year in a row, National Grid wanted to highlight the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and the importance of gas safety for students moving into private rented accommodation at the start of the university year.

The aim was to build on the successful campaigns it had run with Alan Fletcher (aka Neighbours’ Dr Karl Kennedy) in 2009 and with comedian Greg Davies in 2010. For 2011, in conjunction with Markettiers4dc, National Grid teamed up with professional illusionist Damien O’Brien, filming a series of videos featuring magic tricks and tips on how to survive university life.

The campaign centred around the National Grid’s Student Union Facebook page. Videos were uploaded throughout October 2011 to maintain momentum, user engagement and interaction with the campaign.

Students were encouraged to keep visiting the page with each new content post and video upload, which they were able to comment on and share with their friends. A bespoke video-sharing application was also deployed through Facebook, engaging over 30,000 new users.

On launch day, O’Brien joined National Grid’s Sarah Harris for a series of interviews with radio stations across the country. He also fronted a competition on the organisation’s Facebook page to help make one student’s rent disappear for a year.

The competition winner took part in the campaign finale three weeks after the initial launch – a multi-camera live programme featuring O’Brien performing a series of tricks, including an interactive trick with the online viewing audience via Skype.

More than 200,000 students have so far viewed the videos from the campaigns with O’Brien, Greg Davies and Alan Fletcher. In the immediate post-project research of students in rented accommodation, 98% rated the campaign with O’Brien as effective, 43% said they’d gained a better awareness of CO poisoning during the campaign period, 27% had checked their boiler for signs of CO poisoning and 21% had bought an audible CO alarm.

nma explains: online video


The online video market continues to flourish, increasingly included in brands’ marketing mixes, with the real opportunities lying in the moves made by non-broadcaster platforms, such as magazines and YouTube, to create premium-quality video.

As much attention must be paid to the distribution of videos as to their production. There are still too many cases of brands commissioning a traditional production house to create a TV-quality video, only to not seed it properly online. If an advertiser spends precious budget creating a beautiful video that is never seen, it won’t benefit from the medium’s true value.

Jessica Davies, new media age





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