Q&A: Will DRTV catch on with viral video?

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Q&A: Will DRTV catch on with viral video?

DM News' DRTV News Weekly contributing editor Sarah Littman spoke with Stephen Kelley, chief technical officer at hawthorne direct, Fairfield, IA, about the growth of online video and its effect on direct response television.

Q: Google agreed to buy user generated content video Web site YouTube for $1.65 billion in October; NBC Universal, News Corp., and possibly CBS may soon announce a monetized rival; and Time Magazine named the users of user-generated sites its Person of the Year.

What's driving this explosion of online video?

Online video has been around for a long time. However, it is only recently that the convergence of several key factors have made it possible for anyone in the developed world to, easily and cheaply, produce and distribute video worldwide on the Internet.

The first factor is the availability of inexpensive, high power digital cameras and computers. The second factor is the widespread penetration of broadband.

The third factor is a revitalization of what can be a very nebulous, yet basically simple, idea, which has been associated with the terms Web application, 2-way Web, and Web 2.0.

The idea of using a Web site as a software application has been around since the beginning of the Web, but Web applications have recently become significantly more powerful and easier to build with recent technologies like ASP.NET, JSP, LAMP, and AJAX.

Finally, the financial community has recovered from - or forgotten - the dot-com crash. Now Web business plans can again attract investors with the basic pattern of "build it, they will come and an audience can be monetized one way or another."

Another way of looking at this video explosion is that video is probably the most engaging and compelling media type. It is natural for this powerful media type to expand to fill any available opportunities for people to produce and distribute it. As video production and distribution technology has improved, video has naturally and steadily moved from the hands of a few organizations into the hands of the masses.

Not so very long ago, only large organizations that could afford lots of skilled personnel, expensive equipment and massive operations could produce and distribute video. Now, anyone who can plug a $200 digital camera into a $500 computer with a $30/month broadband connection and click a few buttons on their computer can produce and distribute video worldwide.

Q: How does this affect the DRTV industry?

The more things change; the more they stay the same. On the one hand, the video revolution will probably result in a complete transformation of the TV and, therefore, the DRTV industry. The new world will be characterized by a practically unlimited ability to choose, view, produce and distribute video easily and inexpensively.

We are now seeing technologies, which have the ability to provide access to any video, anywhere, anytime at virtually zero incremental cost. We are seeing technologies, which have the ability to record video and distribute it worldwide from a variety of tiny, inexpensive devices anywhere and everywhere, again at virtually zero incremental cost.

TV is becoming a fully interactive two-way experience integrating and hyperlinked to other media of all types. The metrics available, granularity and targetability are also increasing to be practically anything you can imagine measuring or targeting. It's utterly amazing to truly consider where modern video technology is at: it is quickly approaching a singularity of practically unlimited possibilities at zero incremental cost.

The incremental cost is dropping to zero because once the infrastructure is in place, all of this is just more bits through that same infrastructure. Whether the TV or the computer dominates the living room is irrelevant, as each is fully incorporating all the capabilities of the other so they both will provide the full functionality of this anything, anytime, interactive experience.

On the other hand, the core principles and competencies that underlie the DRTV industry will remain unchanged in the new world: producing compelling video communication, motivating people to take action, and precise, granular measurements of the effectiveness of the media.

Moreover, it looks like these DRTV principles will become the foundation of the bulk of the advertising industry, though it is uncertain if the DRTV industry will gain the full credit it deserves for pioneering these techniques.

Mass media, unaccountable advertising to a passive audience is dead. More and more advertising is incorporating highly targeted, highly accountable, compelling, engaging video content. In my mind this is just an expansion of the basic principles of DRTV into the new online, interactive media channels.

Q: What are some of the key points traditional DR marketers need to know about viral video? How should they be integrating it into their marketing strategies?

I don't think viral video is currently a huge opportunity for direct marketers and it may never be. Traditional DR is very focused on a directly measurable result like MER (media efficiency ratio) , CPA (cost-per-acquisition) or CPL (cost-per-lead) and making pretty good guesses on media performance based on history.

Viral video is more about buzz and brand awareness and results are highly unpredictable. The strangest things sometimes hit big and others that look like a sure hit flop or even backfire.

A lot of companies using DR don't have big budgets to risk on viral video. I think it is important for clients and agencies to try some viral marketing, but in most cases it will be a very small part of the overall campaign budget. I think viral marketing can and will take great advantage of DR principles to become more accountable and predictable.

The question is, if it does so to become accountable and predictable, will we still call it viral?

One thing well worth the minimal extra effort is to reposition your traditional DR shows for posting on various viral video sites. You can do this site by site or take advantage of products and services becoming available that post your video to many sites from one easy-to-use interface.

Although simply posting the TV spot or show is the simplest thing to do, planning to produce a custom viral version from the same production resources for the TV versions is a good idea. Web video is a different media and there is a body of best practices for what to do differently to produce effective Web video.

Q: Someone just sent me an e-mail of myself as an elf doing a dance from the Office Max site http://www.elfyourself.com/. While I found it hilarious, my elf self has some radical dance moves, I'm wondering how does a brand company like Office Max actually monetizes dancing elf videos?

Have you tried Reindeer Arm Wrestling: http://www.reindeerarmwrestling.com/?

I can only guess. The blog Smart Lemming has a post, which says that this Office Max site is getting 200 unique visitors per second creating 8 new elves per second and a lot of attention from blogs and the traditional press. I bet they are measuring the amount of traffic that flows from this to other sites and how much flows into online purchases.

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