Can Marketers Create Compelling Online Video Content?

Can marketers create great content? Can they bridge the gap between an appealing 30-second viral video and TV comedy? Because that’s the competition in the emerging Web landscape — where media companies and marketers are competing for the same eyeballs.

Company creation of original video content to promote its products and services isn’t new, but this week, I was intrigued to see Philips trying something different. It launched a new “online sitcom” — Nigel and Victoria — that follows a love-struck marketing manager (a bumbling twit and therefore, naturally, English) and an actress (playing an actress) who hosts a Web series about Philips products. It’s amiable, knowing, and reasonably amusing, and a presence across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter ticks those social media boxes. It’ll be interesting to see if it finds a larger audience than the other video content — some of which is actually decent — lurking unloved in the recesses of Philips' own Web site.

The notion of Web-specific video content, or Webisodes, as a new format for content — somewhere between lo-fi UGC and broadcast-quality TV — took a hit in the economic downturn. The budgetary gap between TV and the Web was a difficult one to straddle. The sums didn’t add up, and the likes of Kate Modern, though effective at generating buzz, hinted at a future that never quite happened.

Maybe now, the time is right for a new generation of high-quality Web video. Comedy is a good way to cut through the online clutter, if it’s well done. But the mockumentary style used by Philips — think The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm — raises certain expectations that brands may struggle with. At their best, those shows have an acidic edge, an earthy quality somehow accentuated in a Web context, which might conflict with a sales pitch. With its smart, interactive viral videos, Tipp-Ex has boldly gone with content that is definitely not safe for work (NSFW) — how did they pitch that one to the board? But how many marketers would push the envelope as far as the stars of the brilliant (and definitely NSFW) Web series What Trinny and Susannah Did Next have, for example?

To be fair, Philips is doing something different than Trinny and Susannah — it’s not reinventing its career, it’s selling a product. And despite the self-referential conceit of the setup — which it does pretty well, I like the look of that cushion speaker, for example — the idea of a Philips shill like Victoria, even as a fictional character in a metafiction, hits a bum note for me.

Of course, this is now part of a wider trend, where in marketers become content creators — something I wrote about last year in my report “We Are All Media Companies Now.” Or rather, marketers hire great content creators, having wisely realized that while it’s easy to create content, it’s much harder to create great content (as many marketers and agencies have painfully discovered). Today’s news that the UK editor of Esquire has left to join online retailer Mr Porter as its “editor-in-chief” won’t be the last example of content guys crossing the divide.

In the meantime, to help product strategists ensure that they are integrating best practice into their own Web sites, we’ve evaluated  how more than 100 consumer-facing sites have used online video. To do that, we’ve used a new tool, the Online Video Product Scorecard. Clients can read more about it, and our initial findings in this report, with others - focusing on best practice in specific industry verticals - to follow.


Branded Journalists becoming more Prevalent

It's true, the line between journalist and marketer is becoming ever more blurred. I recently came across an article that tosses around the idea of being a "branded journalist," which it seems the ex-Esquire editor now is. I fit neatly into that category, as I create content and maintain an editorial calendar for my company's branded e-newsletter and social media accounts. I have a feeling we'll see more of these cross-overs happening in the industry as print publications continue to dry up.

Moving into a new era

I think we're moving more and more into the realm of online video.

Something I've heard executive struggle with is letting go of the high-end, perfected video and allowing the rougher, not-100%-but-still-looks-good content go out into the wild.

But with so many videos popping up adding to the increase in online noise, it's getting more important for marketers to work quickly and ensure the right audience is targeted in the most appropriate social media venue.


Marketers creating content is nothing new

Marketers creating content is nothing. P&G Productions first started doing this over 70 years ago when they created Soap Operas and General Mills has been doing the same with their recipe book business for years. The key is that marketers need to realize that content is a different type of advertising / marketing vehicle. It is less about getting your tag line or new product out there and more about building equity and utility.

Thanks for your comments

Jennifer - totally agree that we'll see more journalists producing content for both traditional media outlets and brands. Not new, but we expect to see more money moving to the latter rather than the former.

Virginia - you make a great point about executives (especially marketers) being afraid to cede control. They are right to insist on high quality content, of course, but the definition of that needs to be flexible. And it's quite possible that a timely bit of lo-fi content will do a better job than one that's been rubber-stamped by a series of committees.

David - You're right to bring up these examples. I often reference P&G as a brand being the first to create a really valuable content format on a popular but commercially undeveloped new medium (radio, then TV). I strongly agree that marketers creating content require a new mindset and new skill-sets. Too many are failing in their efforts, because they haven't understood this.