Advertising in a Streaming World

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By Bob Wood, Senior Director, Marketing Solutions, Merkle

It is no longer a surprise to any of us that digital video is rapidly overtaking the more traditional forms of linear programming. In fact, according to eMarketer, the amount of video time spent by the average American adult has risen almost four-fold in the last five years, with the time spent on non-digital media going down steadily since 2012. This is a trend not likely to change as the interconnected power of the Web continues to roll on. 

Recent research conducted by Merkle identified several drivers behind this trend, including flexibility, reduced cost, and the ability of digital to deliver an “immersive” experience. When a consumer is engaged in an immersive video experience, they become fully engaged in an alternate world. For this to work right, all the pieces need to be firing on all cylinders – the acting must be convincing, the script realistic, the picture and sound must be clear, and the story must be engaging. Two evidences of the increasing popularity of this use of video are first, the increased popularity of binging; and second, the increasing intolerance of commercial interruptions. 

This second piece is a real problem for those of us who depend on the traditional 30 or 60-second spot to further our branding goals. Sure, we can continue to do product placement, but that can be fairly limiting. What does the next step of brand advertising look like? One way to think about this problem is to look at some of our industry’s greatest masterworks, and see if there is a pattern that we could somehow use in a more creative way. One classic of great brand work was the Get a Mac campaign by Apple (2006-2009). 

In the Get a Mac campaign, we see Justin Long as the Mac appearing alongside John Hodgman as the PC. The background is crisp and white. Over and over again, we see the formal and focused PC frustrated by the abilities of the cool and capable Mac.

In each ad we see the brand work proceed in three steps – but not necessarily in this order. First, we have a position being established. In this case, the position is one of being laidback, capable, and in control. Second, we see that position transformed so that it is desirable to the target audience. These ads were brilliant in their ability to execute on this point. Being business-like could be made very desirable, but in these vignettes, the formal PC ends up tripping on his own feet, stumbling through his own comedy of errors, or slyly trying to pull off something bordering on dishonest. Once the superiority of the position is established, then the third step comes – linking the brand name to the now wanted position. 

In the past, all three steps could be accomplished at the same time, but in the new world, that might not be as possible as it was in the past. What would this look like if we needed to remake Get a Mac in the new digital video world of no commercials? We, of course, could assume that we could still make commercials and post them to YouTube, and make them so good that consumers will seek them out, but this seems to be rare and hard to do. What if we restricted our attention back to riding along with compelling video content to broaden our message to everyone attracted to that content?

Imagine, if you would, a brilliant sitcom starring John Hodgman and Justin Long. As they make their way through their crazy lives, John’s character, a bit more formal, is always trying to cover for his ineptness, while Justin’s character is kind, deferential, capable, and easygoing. Of course in the show, every now and then, John’s character will be seen on his Windows machine, and Justin’s would occasionally be seen on his Mac, but sometimes that isn’t quite enough. The show is doing great at establishing the Mac position, and the superiority of that position, but there is limited ability to create the brand linkage like in an ad. 

At this point in our thought experiment, we actually have a great victory. We have a brand position, and we’re regularly supporting its superiority to our target audience, but we just need to strengthen the brand linkage to the position more than product placement can do on its own. We could just leverage existing web technologies, such as those supporting remarketing, to reach out to those watching the show as they peruse the web, and show ads that, in the short mental time they are given, clearly link the brand to Justin, and the brand cycle is once again complete and effective.

To sum up, we have a trend toward digital video usage that is putting a damper on the classical use of brand ads. There is product placement, but placement can only do so much. To keep effectively communicating to a broad audience, brand marketers need to realize that their work can be broken up into three steps, and that the steps might need to be executed separately and more creatively than they have been in the past. As we do this, it seems like we’ll once again be able to find good luck in navigating a brave new brand world