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Content is King (Even in Web Video)

A shocking 30 billion web videos being viewed in the US in November 2009, followed by 33 billion being viewed in December, suggest that the medium may only now be reaching its advent, if yet. It appears that all the hype about online video is appropriate, and has been all along. We don’t know exactly why, but statistics indicate that web video increases clicks and interaction time. The current metrics, analysis, and rhetoric of the Marketing/PR space are clear: leverage video now, or fall utterly behind.

That can be an unsettling proposition—and premature—considering that, quite like early television and advertising professionals, we still don’t know exactly where the medium is heading. On bolder days, I might even suggest that we’re hardly certain that video, especially when applied to a website, will remain a true medium. Perhaps soon, web video will come to be considered merely elemental to a greater picture, rather than self-contained.

More comparisons between web video and the early days of television are all too appropriate for this entry, but too numerous to list here. I may try to tackle that later.

Certainly, web video has distinguished itself some from traditional one-way motion picture like television, considering its inherent interactivity. Some even argue that as TV competes for viewership with online services like Hulu, it’s becoming more interactive, à la web video. Like early TV, online video technology is evolving quickly, indeed. What may seem like simple innovations by video platforms like Veeple—in this case, a second video layer that allows interactive, clickable tags—can change everything. This year’s CES saw booths everywhere beaming 3D web video from computer monitors. We should only expect more rapid changes with mobile video, as well.

That’s all well and good; but, regarding video in PR messaging and marketing, are we putting the proverbial carriage before the horse?

Throughout all these changes, no matter where the winds may carry online video, no matter what metrics may indicate, one principle will always remain constant: content is king. Not metrics. If your organization matches appropriate, engaging, rich messaging with suitable recipients, it will always be successful.

Sometimes, today’s rhetoric about web video misses the point, I think, and should be completely reframed. But I do understand that web video is such a nascent and thriving industry, our understanding and methods are likewise not yet fully formed. We’re in the “numbers phase,” I suppose, which understandably places great importance on metrics. For example, DoubleClick has been accurately measuring for years that ads that contain video garner much more click-throughs than ads that don’t.

Fair enough. But there is another tale metrics could never tell.

I’m a recovered film theory student. Having also migrated to web video/PR/marketing from the film and television industry like myself, many of my peers might similarly characterize themselves. Two popular film theorists named Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell advanced a catchy and nuanced method of criticism called “neo-formalism.” Very basically, neo-formalism suggests that a critic may approach a work of art (specifically, a motion picture) by determining the extent to which content is successfully conveyed by form. (In this sense, content is “that which something expresses, implies, or conveys.”) Ideally, a work’s form should be so transparent, that it’s virtually indistinguishable from content. So, a critic may address a work with such questions as, “Is this form appropriate for the content?” Or, maybe, “Does the form interfere with the content?”

Though I don’t necessarily wish to compare web video to cinema, this critical approach brings to mind some salient talking points:

  • Metrics isolate web video content from its form—be it advertising, PR, marketing, or vlog.
  • Metrics inherently disregard evaluation of content itself.
  • Based on metrics, it’s all too tempting to make observations like, “consider video for a higher click-through rate.”
  • Without content, there could be no metrics or form. That relationship is not reciprocal. Without words, there is no whitepaper; without images and sound, there is no video. So, despite what the metrics prove, it seems illogical to claim things like incorporating video increases click-throughs, because only content itself can do that.

What if your messaging—be it PR, marketing, advertisement, or other—isn’t suitable for video? For example, would it ever make sense to create a video version (form) of a whitepaper (content)? Probably not, since a video would be far too lengthy. PDF is more appropriate. Would you ever convert a table (content) to video form, only for the sake of adding video to your PR materials? Leveraging Flash may be appropriate, but graphical tables most likely transmit statistical information more efficiently than video. Is it prudent to integrate video in your organization’s next marketing blast if you have no initial concept of what that video may discuss, or what property or materials it may be leveraged with? No.

Does it make sense to create a PR video if you have nothing to say?

Rather than allowing results-based metrics to form your PR media, perhaps it’s wiser to begin with some more fundamental questions. What is the message, if indeed there is one? Who is the target audience? How can we best engage them with this particular message?

In other words, what form best fits this message to this target audience—video, text, graphic, image, or other? In this light, it may become clear that video isn’t the appropriate form at all.

For what it’s worth, as a PR/marketing video producer, I can’t recall one occasion where that last question presented itself before the obvious attendant answer. Once we honestly evaluate the content, or the message, creative strategies and forms tend to present themselves naturally and organically.

If we allow them, strong messages can literally form themselves. That is a power metrics, and even form, simply don’t possess.

Because, content is king, after all.