DelusionA few people I’ve spoken to in the industry lately have said they’re feeling a little ambivalent about the amount of hype building up around video advertising. On the one hand it’s exciting and tempting to just go with the flow, but there’s also a sense that expectations might be starting to get out of hand. Each year the trade press needs a word to complete the ‘this is going to be the year of…’ sentence, and this year that word was ‘video’, which quickly switched to ‘connected TV’ as soon as CES came around.

Although few would argue that these aren’t exciting times for video, it’s far too early to describe the industry as being ‘all grown up‘. If anything, the industry is a toddler – albeit one with very wealthy, well-educated and highly supportive parents. The kind of parents who are unlikely to allow it to fail. It has huge potential and has a great future ahead of it, but there’s still lots to learn before it finds its feet. It’s experimenting on a daily basis to find what does and doesn’t work and, in the absence of a developed identity of its own, it’s trying to mimic the older generation. And, every once in a while, it has a little accident.

Today’s Hype Is Tomorrow’s Disappointment

Industry hype is usually sparked by what people perceive to be landmark events. The most recent of event for video advertising was CES putting connected TVs on the map. Other events have been YouTube’s decision to spend $100 million on content and the rise of RTB and programmatic buying in video. And there are a hundred other things you could point to as evidence the industry is in rude health and growing steadily.

However, reading some of the trade press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that exponential growth was a foregone conclusion (there are exceptions). Whereas the reality is that video advertising’s success isn’t even close to being a done deal. Yet we in the trade press – and I’m holding my own hands up here too – like nothing more than to faithfully report the industry’s impossibly positive news and views.

Then of course the industry itself shares and retweets the articles on growth forecasts and imminent revolutions, often ideas that they themselves created via press releases or interviews. Everyones a winner in the hype cycle, or at least they think they are. After all, hype attracts attention, generates media interest, and VC money pours in to grow the bubble further still; all of which goes full circle and comes back to the trade press as more people to read our articles, click on our advertisers’ ads, and buy tickets to our events.

So then the trade press has the resources to spend even more money on ratcheting up the hype further still, at least until the next fashionable advertising channel comes along (3D Second Screen, anyone?). It’s an echo chamber, chock-full of sexy predictions and self-congratulation.

Getting the Basics Right

However, the media hype belies the fact that there’s still a lot of work to be done in video advertising – important work. For a start the industry needs to take action on getting the plumbing right: things like like standards, metrics, verification and audience fragmentation. Then new platforms like connected TV and the second screen need to be transformed from interesting toys and concepts into commercial realities before anyone starts can start talking about 2012 being the year of anything with a straight face.

Managing Expectations

The fact that these issues exist is fine of course. It’s still early days and there are smart people working on smart solutions. All industries take time to evolve and the problems facing video advertising are all surmountable. But it’s not in anyone’s interest to pretend we’re already there yet.

When presenting the industry to advertisers, we need to not only think like marketers, but also like sales people. And sales people will tell you that it’s all very well whipping up excitement in the customer, but it’s equally important to manage the customer’s expectations if you’re going to keep their business beyond that first bit of test budget. If the industry can’t deliver on its promises, it’s going to damage video’s reputation. And it’s not easy to win back trust after its gone.

Let the Data Do The Talking

The good news is that the industry doesn’t actually have to mislead anyone or build up unnecessary hype to prove its worth. Like TV, video works and it’s easy for brand advertisers and TV buyers to grasp why it works, not to mention the fact that its value can also be demonstrated with qualitative data and empirical research.

An excellent example of how to articulate the industry’s strengths was the recent research recently carried out by Nielsen on behalf of YuMe, which demonstrated that dual-platform campaigns – in this case video and TV – extend the reach and lower the costs of the campaign. It was a very simple, honest, and powerful message: running a TV campaign without a side order of video will cost you more and give you less, and here’s some independent data just in case you had any doubts. It was an exercise in clever communication that will in all likelihood benefit the entire industry.

Complacency

It’s also important to remember that hype isn’t something the industry reserves for outsiders, but it also affects how the industry views itself. At best, being surrounded by hype can result in an occasional loss of perspective. At worst, people invest in business models grounded in nothing but dreams and the hope that the industry will deliver everything the hype machine promised it would. One of the best descriptions of this phenomenon I’ve ever read was written by Edelman’s Steve Rubel, who wrote a blog post about what was happening in the ‘Web 2.0′ world (seems almost quaint now), the title of which was ‘The Web 2.0 World is Skunk-Drunk On It’s Own Kool-Aid’.

Drunkenness is the perfect analogy for the hype-riddled hive mind. And at this point I’d say the video advertising industry and the trade press is on its second glass. Nobody’s drunk yet and most people are behaving perfectly well, but there’s a little misplaced confidence creeping in and a few people …well, there are a handful who are starting to sound like they might be talking a little sh*t. This is a great industry with very real strengths and a prosperous future, but let’s not allow the Kool-Aid to spoil the party.


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