2012: The year of the Web video

Vincent Harris CEO, Harris Media
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If 2010 was the year of Facebook for political campaigns, 2012 will be the year of the Web video.

Who could forget some of the Web videos released during the 2008 campaign? From Mike Gravel’s infamous “Rock” video to Mike Huckabee’s use of Chuck Norris on the campaign stump, Web videos existed, but they were not on the front of campaign strategists’ minds.

This year has seen political campaigns dive into a fervor of Web videos, with many trying to replicate the acclaim Tim Pawlenty has received for his video-centric campaign. The Pawlenty campaign chose early on to engage the 24/7 social media world by putting a large emphasis on videos. In fact, the campaign seems to live by the mantra “the more content, the better.” There was a high-energy video for the announcement, another one for the first tour through New Hampshire and one released within minutes of Barack Obama’s campaign re-election announcement. Perhaps even more amazing than the videos themselves is the fact that they are produced, directed and shot by Lucas Baiano, a 23-year-old political novice who has shown he is a force to reckon with in politics. Lucas’s involvement highlights how new media technologies are continuing to reshape the world of political consulting.

There is no question that the Pawlenty campaign’s aggressive use of videos has sent ripples through all levels of politics. My firm has received many calls from people asking for “Pawlenty-esque” videos, and Pawlenty’s presidential rivals seem to be eager to capitalize on the use of Web videos. So far this cycle, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have released Web videos around relevant news and events.

Despite this boom, some political media consultants are concerned that Web videos are often off-message and tend to look cheap and unpolished. It’s true: Producing quality Web videos isn’t something everyone on the street can do; it takes political knowledge, creativity and a lot of technical skill to put a good video together. To help with this problem, many TV firms are jumping into the space, offering discount videos to clients and hiring younger staffers proficient in Final Cut or Premiere to cut cheaper videos.

One large unanswered question is whether audiences, even highly engaged ones, will grow tired of the style of videos that campaigns this cycle have been gravitating towards: that of the movie trailer. You know what I am talking about. These videos are filled with quick shots and powerful music but very little in terms of policy substance. So far, this catchy combination has captured the media’s attention. But are they impacting voters’ minds and changing election outcomes? Can a candidate be sold to audiences online the same way a movie is sold?

The answer to both questions is yes. Web videos will continue to grow in influence as more ad dollars are spent to expand their reach online.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has some incredible advertising tools that are very good at promoting campaign Web videos, both in terms of gaining video views and in terms of gaining e-mail addresses and campaign donations. You may be familiar with “pre-roll” advertising, which has been used by campaigns for a couple years. This ad property forces users to watch an ad before a longer video on YouTube. An updated version called TrueView is an ad property for which I have seen a lot of success. TrueView allows campaigns to place a Web video or campaign commercial before YouTube videos of specific categories (News & Politics, Entertainment, Sports, etc.). After five seconds of watching the ad, the viewer has the option to skip and continue watching the content they selected.

The beauty of TrueView is that you only pay for users who don’t skip your ad. Even when videos are targeted to specific geographical areas, the cost per view sits around five cents, which is truly amazing. Twenty-thousand views cost a campaign roughly $1,000. That’s a lot of voters watching a 30-second message! Whereas many campaign television media consultants put a small buy behind their television videos online, TrueView makes it easy and smart to go up with small buys around Web ads, thus bolstering their importance to campaigns.

Unlike television ads, which don’t instantly benefit campaigns, Web ads promoted through TrueView are hyperlinked to campaign websites. A viewer who really likes what she sees can click on the ad to find out more information on a candidate and potentially donate to that candidate’s campaign.

Over the past five years, I’ve seen click-through-rates (CTRs) — the percentage of people who click on an ad compared to how many times the ad is shown — on image-based display advertising slowly drop. A CTR of 0.5% isn’t bad, and it’s almost impossible to get one above 3.0%. Another new ad property that YouTube offers is called a “click-action-overlay.” These ads appear within the YouTube player itself while a user is watching a video. These simple ads can be a huge help to campaigns, as advertisers can make a hard-action-ask within them. The great thing about overlay ads is that they often get click-through-rates of 15-20%. This means that 20% of the people who watch the video and see the ad are clicking on the ad and being taken to a website or landing page.

Web videos are here to stay, and their importance will continue to grow. Thirty-second spots that used to cost campaigns tens of thousands of dollars are now costing much less. A smart campaign is one that uses video in rapid response and integrates its usage across all aspects of messaging. Simply putting a 300 x 250 image ad atop the Drudge Report is no longer enough. Web videos allow campaigns to instantly receive feedback on a message and can potentially raise money and collect e-mail addresses.

Friends, the election cycle of the Web video is upon us. Will you embrace it?

Vincent Harris is the founder and CEO of Harris Media, a national media and communications firm based in Austin, Texas. He previously ran day-to-day online operations for Governor Bob McDonnell.