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.