Media Forum: Can video enhance search?

Will Google's proposed new format excite advertisers, Alasdair Reid asks.

Clever Google. It has just invented a cure for its own apparent split personality.

Google gives the impression of being two businesses. There's the grim, older Google, the one that bases its corporate values on the Kosygin-era Soviet Union. The search engine monolith that declared Cold War on the advertising industry - the one that asks you to take a tedious "exam" before you're allowed to give it your money.

Then there's the newer, cheerful Google, the one that loves display advertising and appreciates what a ticklish business it is to produce. The one that wants to help you "achieve your goals" and lets you display your choice of text, image, Flash or video ads on its Display Network. The Google that has an inkling that it might own a video-on-demand hub called YouTube.

Last week, the hand of history no doubt hovering somewhere in the vicinity, the two Googles seemed to acknowledge one another. Google, in short, is preparing to roll out a new format that will walk the search walk but will talk the video display talk - the goal is to allow advertisers to include videos in their AdWords sponsored search listings.

This builds on an initiative first announced in September enabling advertisers to include images (most pertinently, maps) alongside text.

Should advertisers be excited by this new departure? Yes, absolutely they should, Norm Johnston, the global digital leader at Mindshare, argues. He says: "This move is very positive for advertisers. It simply enables them to add emotive context to a very functional action.

"Brand keywords could result in a brand video while specific product searches could be associated with product demos. It could also be used as the ultimate customer service feature. Type any question into the search box and you could have instant visual help. Imagine a do-it-yourself retailer supplying how-to videos for common searches."

Andrew Girdwood, bigmouthmedia's media innovations director, says that this development heralds the next stage in the battle of the living room. TV will increasingly be used to access the internet; and, at the same time, the established and heritage web operators will be focusing ever more determinedly on video formats. Digital and traditional marketing philosophies are winding up for a battle for share of mind in the home leisure space. Convergence of video and search is but a further manifestation of this.

So he reckons this is good news for advertisers - though he believes it raises some interesting regulatory issues. He explains: "For instance, the Advertising Standards Authority is extending its remit to digital in March 2011. The ASA already has two separate sets of rules - one for broadcast and one for everything else. Does this latest initiative come under broadcast or everything else? And then there's Google's paid search rules on the sort of language (for instance, on making exaggerated product claims) that advertisers are allowed to use. Will it enforce those rules where the video content is concerned?"

Some observers, however, are sceptical about whether many advertisers will believe it worthwhile in making lots of new video content just for this environment. We're in uncharted territory here.

In fact, Jonathan Lyon, the social media strategist at Wunderman, says he can't work out if this is a brilliant idea that's going to bomb or a terrible idea that's going to perform brilliantly. In the end, he concludes, it will all come down to the way it's implemented.

For instance, there's a key issue about sound. Do the videos run silently unless you turn up the volume? Or will Google let you have it, whether you want it or not?

Lyon adds: "Implementation issues like that are key. From a consumer perspective, the potential pitfall is that people will find this an intrusion into their search experience. And if that's the case, there might be a backlash. I'm hoping Google has thought through this sort of issue. And it will be interesting also to see how it might work in tandem with YouTube. I can see some advertisers offering a vignette in the hope that you'll click through to a more immersive experience. For instance, a film trailer."

In the end, though, you have to see this as a positive development, Hugh Cameron, the chief strategy officer at PHD, insists. He says: "Yes, it's attractive to advertisers. It's the next step in Google creating a richer search experience. If you agree with the viewpoint that brand consideration expands rather than contracts during the search stage of the consumer journey, it is a great opportunity to inject content and depth of emotion or information at a pivotal moment."

YES - Norm Johnston, global digital leader, Mindshare

"Many clients already have a lot of video content, so this enables them to get more use out of these assets. It's a brilliant move on Google's part and a feature that has been on many agencies' wishlists for years."

YES - Andrew Girdwood, media innovations director, bigmouthmedia

"Advertisers will take to it slowly and steadily. I don't think there will be a big leap. There will be some paid search advertisers who will discover that video assets are not easy to produce. It will take time to find formats that work."

MAYBE - Jonathan Lyon, social media strategist, Wunderman

"Undoubtedly, some advertisers will want to trial it. But, at this stage, what is being proposed is likely to seem quite expensive because you will not be able to determine your real cost of engagement."

YES - Hugh Cameron, chief strategy officer, PHD

"It's the next step for Google. I can't see many reasons for brands not to want to test it at the very least. For advertisers and agencies interested in developing new forms of content or deploying existing assets, it is exciting."

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