The Advertising Agency’s Five Stages of “Online Video” Grief

grief.jpgRemember how major advertising agencies handled the Internet? Let’s recap their 5 stages of grief:

  1. Denial: The web is not a big deal. It’s a fad. Let the little Internet agencies form. We’re not losing much in fees.
  2. Anger: Who’s coming to our monthly all agency day? The Internet agency? First the Public Relations agency, and now this? Well this much is true: they’re not sitting near the client at lunch.
  3. Bargaining: We have an Internet division too. It’s one guy, but he knows what RSS stands for.
  4. Depression: We need to reinvent ourselves. Fire someone. Anyone.
  5. Acceptance: Let’s buy an Internet agency.

But the Internet agencies did the same thing when it came to paid search. So it’s bad all over.

Now, dear Madison Avenue, I will predict your five stages of dealing with online video. Fortunately, you have some progressive chap that’s smart enough to read WillVideoForFood, so you might have the forethought to skip a stage or two.

  1. Denial: Online video is a fad. Big TV is still the key to awareness.
  2. Anger: What the heck happened to general awareness? Why is some of our work going to small online-video agencies and amateur producers? We must kill them.
  3. Bargaining: We have an online video guy. He has a MySpace and a YouTube account. We don’t let him out much.
  4. Depression: We need to change our model. Fire someone. Anyone.
  5. Acceptance: Let’s buy a small production house or partner with one.

I could see the look of disdain and fear in the eyes of the agency attendees when I spoke at AdTech last week about doing Mentos ads for $2-$5,000. Then I reminded them (partially to avoid getting booed off the stage) of some good news for agencies.

We consumers aren’t consuming less. We’re just breaking into content-consumption niches and online communities that shape our thinking and purchase decisions. That actually creates a need for more content, and that can make an agency fees actually grow.

popular youtubersI also cautioned that the model I used for Mentos isn’t scalable. As an amateur videographer I dealt directly with the product director. That’s not scalable. For a brand to develop creative content for a variety of different online audiences and channels, the product team needs to hire a variety of lower cost creators. Twelve amateurs instead of a giant “one size fits all” television ad with exotic models and expensive shoots in Hawaii? That creates more — not less — of a need for an agency.

So how can your big agency stay ahead of this and avoid the pain you felt when the Internet and paid search became important? It’s as simple as five different kinda steps:

  1. Pay attention to social media, industry changes and viral videos that help market. There’s a lot you can learn from positive and negative example. If you catch your agency staff watching online videos at work, don’t stop them (unless it’s porn). Find out what they’re watching and why.
  2. Hire someone who understands this medium. At first it might not feel like headcount you can justify, and you may want to find a subcontractor or consultant. But as a product director myself (yeah I’ve got a day job) I’m going to look elsewhere if I don’t believe your agency has a clue about the impact of online video. Nothing makes me giggle like an agency that boasts that they are pioneers because they made a brand page on MySpace or Friendster, or had a viral video that got viewed ten thousand times.
  3. Begin to experiment with lower cost and adaptive forms of video content. The next time you do that “big shoot,” get some footage you can use in other forms. It could be as simple as footage from a decent high definition camera, but be sure to arrange the rights with your models and the shoot’s director (who will probably grow quite irate at this prospect).
  4. Pitch your client on doing something experimental online — before they find someone else with a more robust and compelling story. Don’t stop with online-video ads — try creating entertaining content that subtly markets. There is no shortage of inventory for paid promotion, but that’s just one arrow in your online-video quiver.
  5. Partner with amateurs who have existing audiences and online “street cred,” and they’ll keep you from doing anything that will be repulsive to skeptical online viewers who have ADHD and love the power of stopping ads and lambasting blatant promotion. If you’re brave, approach some online-video “weblebrities,” (like top YouTubers or amateurs that have had success on other sites). This is a lot of work, so if you want a more turnkey approach hire a specialist to manage it (xlntads, for example, is brokering relationships between big brands and promising amateurs).

We’re approaching the tipping point for a fantastic time in the evolution of media consumption!

computer toiletConsumers are in control, but advertising is the currency because we consumers are too cheap to pay. Reality television and online video is exploding because we’re tired of perfection: scripted shows, polished ads, good looking models. We want to see people like us, and content that speaks to us individually. Advertisers can help pave the road, or wait until it’s built and buy billboards along the highway. What’s your agency going to do?

24 Replies to “The Advertising Agency’s Five Stages of “Online Video” Grief”

  1. I love the Five Griefs and I agree with everything up until you get to this part…
    “Consumers are in control, but advertising is the currency because we consumers are too cheap to pay”

    I think people will pay, though subscription, but it will be select at first. Paid subscriptions are money in the bank, any platform that can show hard steady $ubscriber numbers will do well with advertisers.

    Just imagine if youtube right now opened a section that was, Paid Subscribers Only where you could watch a full version of the Daily Show, Episodes of the Family Guy, Oprah uncut, or any original short creative content with a few ads in the beginning, AND it was all legal!

    There’s a nitch market there and a steady flow of cash. Figure: $30 a month net bill add $15 (about what you pay for netflex) a month for whatever programming youtube contracts with – that’s still cheaper than cable TV and you can decide what you want to watch and when.
    You don’t need tivo any more. btw: Joost is already doing this, (it’s just free right now). The only problem is bottlenecking and that will be solves soon, but if you can dl the content it won’t matter. Anyone try Internet2 yet? 10 min. and you have a whole movie

    I think Advertisers are waiting because, well the economy sucks right now and they are looking for the right formula before they invest a lot of money.

    I also think future ads will be between consumer created content, like Nalts, a shot in the dark guys like ArtieTSMITW and the digital wizards coming up with interesting and inspiring content for their clients.

    But your advice is good and it’s going to take someone in the market with vission and disposable cash to change the mindset, an internet ad agent Ted Turner.

    Bulls can be slow and stubborn, remeber IE?

  2. I think once ad agencies cotton on to online video these ‘glory days’ for amateur producers will begin to fade. At the moment hiring amateurs is just a stop gap. Eventually people like yourself will become the ‘professional’ online marketer/producer and new amateurs will struggle to get a look in.

    The future’s not in advertising for the amateur. Their niche is original content for micro audiences.

  3. I think TET is right! I’ll take it a step further – amateurs, being local talent, will flourish in local markets on internet TV. The industry is adjusting to the new source of income, Gen X’ers and the Y’ers. I’ve been watching a series of beer commercials, they have captured and understood this demographic like no one else in the industry: disposable-lifestyle-image-is-everything income (live for today), high tech, well, but scatterly (that a word?) dressed, sophisticated and humorous.

    Drink up mates!

  4. TET and jischinger: I don’t know that hiring amateurs is a stop gap, per se… I do think that if amateurs want to get hired, they have to become better producers/writers/developers.

    To be entertaining is important, yes. But to be entertaining AS IT PERTAINS TO THE PRODUCT is the key to making a successful ad, and the key to pleasing the client — in a company’s eyes, a viral video does no good if it doesn’t drive its audience to the product it’s promoting.

    While agencies may stop hiring “amateurs,” they’ll only do so in lieu of hiring someone who knows how to craft a more effective ad, and better promote the product in question. And I can’t say I blame ’em.

  5. Once an amateur starts to become a better producer/writer/developer they’re pretty much on the path to becoming a professional. Today’s amateurs are tomorrows professionals… which will eventually shut out all but the most talented amateurs.

    My observation is that ad agencies haven’t adjusted quick enough to the new medium but once they do it’ll add another dimension to their commanding role in other media. Something that your online video amateur just can’t offer – the complete campaign across all media.

    That’s why I think video amateurs are just a stop gap. It’s somebody who knows the new medium now while the agencies spend the time learning how to out perform those very same amateurs.

    Nalts says above that what he does for his advertisers isn’t scalable. It’s simply marketing to his own audience. That’s the drawback. Ad agencies are usually more adept at targeting multiple audiences through different media across a single ad campaign.

  6. Okay, let’s talk about solutions.

    I work in interactive at a large agency, and we’re guilty of struggling to adapt. I’m a strategist and I religiously read all the leading edge blogs related to online content/video, but I’m still am not sure what the answer is.

    Our problem is not that we’re unaware of the direction things are going as it relates to the decline of mass and huge uptake of all things online, it’s that we’re not quick enough or cheap enough to entice large clients to take a shot in the dark on an unproven model (specifically, serialized online video).

    We don’t trust amateur content and neither do our clients. No disrespect to any content producers reading this, but the quality of the majority of amateur productions sucks – in both concept and execution. Can we do better? Of course, we make TV glossy spots.

    However, the issue boils down to one simple point: great creative takes a lot of time spent by a lot of talented people to conceive and produce – a spend that, in all but the rarest of occasions can’t clearly be recouped (even though the value seems obvious).

    So what does and agency like mine do?

    One model we’ve considered is developing a roster of content producers to work with the agency. These independents would create unique web video entertainment concepts and pitch them (much like a TV show or movie) to our brands. If the brand likes it, the idea gets funded.

    With a solid concept (to be executed by a passionate creator with a track record of audience gathering ability), the production and distribution support of the agency, and a healthy media buy, this might have legs to create a viable and successful model, no? Well, sort of, cost against an uncertain return will still be an issue. But this could be smoothed out in time, as I think the fundamental idea is sound.

    Of course, this model will still be a hard sell in the agency and to clients alike. The truth is, it will be tough to find creative concepts that are on par with what we and our clients are used to for that elusive fraction of the cost.

    So that’s what I’ve got for ideas. Anyone else? Thoughts?

  7. I think you are referring to the word amateur pre web2.0. Nalts, I think, would be considered an amateur meaning; no dedicated formal training or degree in the field of acting or lengthy experience in the entertainment field. Someone who decides one day, out of the blue, to pick up a camera and make a commercial video is considered a “culprit” or rather a Developing Online Recording Kulprite (DORK) I would estimate 99% of the people on youtube are Kulprites. Web 2.0 with the help of You Tube just upped the bar on amateurs. The lexicons are changing fast!

  8. I think you’re right. I fully agree that there are some very good amateurs out there.

    But my question remains: Can the best kind of web 2.0 video dude make a reliably entertaining series of content that carries enough of a brand message that it sticks (but the video doesn’t suck), or drives some type of measurable audience buy or intent to buy on a tight budget?

  9. the above was for Slater btw with a ๐Ÿ™‚

    Chris – “great creative takes a lot of time spent by a lot of talented people to conceive and produce”

    I couldn’t help but think of Daren Stevens on Bewitched when I read that ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I like new in thought, old in theory – want me to watch your ad it has to be something I’m either interested in OR clever and entertaining and that’s all pretty subjective. Advertising’s first real battle with me was when I got into the habit of using the mute button, and now on the web the only real way for you guys to know what I’m interested in is to track my surfing habits or credit card statements; both which are being catalogued by my ISP and Bank; and what a jack pot of information that is, eh? But thereโ€™s that whole privacy issue thing and agencies have to rely on polls, surveys and what the vendor and their marketers tell them is their demographic; for now anyway.

    So how do you get my attention and eventually, the bottom line, my $? And remember I fall into the category of a well educated sophisticated net user (as are the GEN X&Y’ers) I know what you are trying to do to get my attention; who didn’t see the Merchants of Cool in high school? So, what are you willing to give in trade for my eyeballs? And when it comes to calculating the numbers on the net how sure can you be they are my eyeballs and not the dead eyeballs of a bot behind a proxy?

    I personally think the future of advertising will be 1. word of mouth, (as always) 2. people going out to look for product commercials on you tube; and you tube has cornered the market there. I’m seeing more and more product channels uploading to youtube. Soon I’ll be tubing like I google for products, and if by chance I do a search and find that a particular product has Nalts or anyone else I watch on you tube in it, my lizard brain will kick in over time.

    You see it’s all rather personal now, because we are all special and unique and why corporations are spending billions just to figure out how to make me happy. It’s quality of life ๐Ÿ™‚

    Now excuse me while I go pat myself on the back and pick up my trophy for writing such a long post ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Chris – “But my question remains: Can the best kind of web 2.0 video dude make a reliably entertaining series of content that carries enough of a brand message that it sticks (but the video doesnโ€™t suck), or drives some type of measurable audience buy or intent to buy on a tight budget?”

    No, but what you guys, and I mean the industry in general not you personally, need to do is grab those people, like Nalts and like Geico did with Artie and make them look better. Soften those hard edges and use professional equiptment. What you are seeing on youtube with all the wanna bees are their screen tests. Find the product that fits thier personality and audience and then if they deliver for you, give them their 15 minutes and pay them well ๐Ÿ™‚

    There are so many studies going on now in regards to the familiar, I don’t know how the industry could miss this one…

  11. Let’s not confuse quality of camera equipment with quality of content or originality. I see PUHlenty of ‘professional’ TV commercials that suck eggs, puhlenty of ‘professional’ stuff that is boring, lackluster and out of touch with anyone outside the beltway of Hollywood elitism. Puuuuuuhlenty! We wouldn’t be having this discussion if television was as cool as it thinks it is.

  12. I don’t think there is any confusion between proper camera equipment and content here. I think the question is how do you get the commercial industry to pay attention to people on Youtube and make the transition.

    There’s a lot that sucks on TV and on Youtube and there are some things on TV and Youtube that don’t, but in terms of commercialization and selling a products good equipment makes a difference.

    Is there anyone else from youtube doing skits and selling stuff besides Nalts? I don’t know if Trippy counts yet.

  13. My impression was that someone WAS confusing slick and expensive production value with originality, but that was just my impression.

    Hey, Kevin, jischinger has just handed you your next video idea! Make one about how you are THE ONLY Youtube doing skits and selling stuff on the UTube! THAT should get you lots of response! And maybe even industry queries. I’d like to see what all climbs out of the woodwork to refute that ascertion. It’d be fun to see what all is being sold under the radar on YT.

  14. This is a GREAT thread! I appreciate all the different input! Lots to think about here…

    Nalts isn’t the only one doing skits and selling stuff… But he is likely one of a very short list of creators who is, in fact, getting paid for it… But not for long.

    Chris: “We donโ€™t trust amateur content and neither do our clients. No disrespect to any content producers reading this, but the quality of the majority of amateur productions sucks – in both concept and execution. Can we do better? Of course, we make TV glossy spots.”

    Does glossy = effective? As an advertising guy who only fairly recently picked up a camera and started adding pictures to my work, one of my toughest challenges is deciding whether to a) produce an ad that works, or b) produce an ad the client likes. Rarely are they ever the same thing. I think that if the message is salient, the video will move the product… Quality of production can, I think, take a backseat to quality of message. But while it can take a backseat, it shouldn’t get out of the car altogether… which brings me to my next point:

    Anyone who makes money doing this at any level is a professional by definition. Whether you receive a case of free Mentos for your work, or you win $30K on XLNTADS, congrats. You’ve just done something marketable, and you now turn in your amateur standing. Now, you can a) get better, and get paid more often, or b) keep it as a hobby, and let your videos work like scratch tickets: “Maybe once in awhile I’ll win one.”

    To answer Chris’ concerns about cost vs. reach: While amateur videos may “look” amateurish, those producers are telling a much more intense story to a very small niche of viewers. Brands will get a higher return if I use a less professional looking video to enthusiastically tell my 20 closest friends to buy, than if your big budget production is broadcast on a medium they’re not even watching.

    Successful online marketing, at its core, is all about rewarding your current customers/advocates for telling an enthusiastic story to people who are enthusiastically listening. Just how big a reward depends on how good we tell the story.

  15. Slater: “Successful online marketing, at its core, is all about rewarding your current customers/advocates for telling an enthusiastic story to people who are enthusiastically listening. Just how big a reward depends on how good we tell the story.”

    That, to me, is one very good reason why employing a number of amateur video producers with sizable audiences may be strategically sound. Quality over quantity. A smaller but more targeted audience may produce more conversions to sale than a widespread campaign over a more general audience where, maybe only a small percentage actually takes notice.

    Advertisers should be taking notice of who is popular in online video as it relates to their market and maybe partnering with those people to access their audience. Not waiting for amateur, wanna be marketers to approach them with a concept.

    Hence my statement that the future for amateur video creators is creating original content for micro audiences (and by micro I’m talking in terms of thousands of viewers at minimum, with ten thousand plus possibly being very attractive to ad agencies).

    With a Popular amateur producer and a sizable micro audience along with the right collection of highly relevant advertisers, that has to be a good marriage.

  16. Hey Kevin….you’re always going on about improving the quality of our amateur videos, but I can get 4 times the viewership on Youtube if I just post a stupid 20-second video response to one of your videos rather than spend 6 hours working on something thoughtful. Why should I bother? I’ll just ride your coat tails. Keep up your quality, man, cause I need the views.

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