Dueling Political Advertising Models: Is Online Video Better than TV?

Mike Connery wrote an article last week for Future Majority (cross-posted on MyDD) that raises some interesting points about the potential of online video to reach niche audiences:

“Cable [tv] buys are smart not just because they are cheap, but because they are targeted and can help you increase the effectiveness of an ad buy. This theory applies even more so to viral video, which will rise from within and appeal to certain online and offline niche communities…So when the next smash viral hit of the cycle emerges, don’t forget that there were a few hundred others that didn’t get noticed, but may have just as much — if not more — of an impact on our democracy and our politics.”

His discussion of the potential of online video to supplement or replace traditional tv advertising really got me thinking about one of the significant traits of Internet video — that watching it is a voluntary act.

By comparison, let’s look at traditional political commercials (I know it’s painful, but stick with me) — they’re generally bland and risk-free, produced and run in massive numbers. The vast majority of the coupla billion dollars spent in the ’06 elections went for tv, just as political money has since the late 1960s. And the individual ads don’t work very well, at least according to some experts I’ve read, since it seems that a political commercial needs to be seen many more times than a normal one to get noticed. Basically, political ads succeed when you shove enough of them down peoples’ throats that they can’t help but gag.

Online video is completely different, because you CHOOSE to click on a video clip. When you watch something on YouTube, whether it’s referenced in a blog, suggested by a friend or it turns up randomly while you’re clicking around on the web, you’re not passively absorbing information while you sit on your couch eating chips, as you are likely doing while watching the boob tube: you’re actively seeking information in some way. You’re choosing to interact with the video, which is an inherently mentally engaging act.

Consequently, web video seems far more likely than television advertising to have an immediate effect when first watched — one online impression may well work better than dozens of repetitions of a similar message on tv. Mike’s original article argues that it’s ridiculous to think of online video using traditional tv advertising numbers, and I think he’s nailed a significant truth.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t see online video (video on demand) replacing tv advertising (video by command) any time soon, but I do think that smart campaigns will recognize the power of video to reach out to people at the moment that they’re interested in a subject. Hmmm, how about tying that to search advertising, another immediate-interest driven tool? Sounds like a perfect match. Of course, if you want your content to be viewed, it’d better be compelling, but we already know all about that, right?

I recommend checking Mike’s article out; it definitely helped clarify my thinking.


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Colin Delany
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