Camera Ready...New tools and services make it easy for small companies to create video ads

Man, sometimes hangin out on Twitter, you find out the best stuff. This post came via "smallbusiness" on of my Twitter folks

August 11, 2008; Page R7

Getting noticed by potential customers on the increasingly crowded Internet is a challenge, especially for small businesses with small marketing budgets. But there's one way to stand out amid the clutter, even for those with limited resources: online video commercials.

Online video ads -- typically less than 30 seconds and appearing in Internet yellow pages, local search directories, news sites, blogs or social-media sites such as YouTube and Facebook -- give consumers a more detailed view into a business and what sets it apart.

Less passive than television commercials, online video ads encourage viewers to click through to the company's Web site for more information or to make an instant purchase.

Once limited to companies with the resources to hire advertising agencies and production companies, online commercials are now within the reach of smaller firms. Software and services sold by companies such as Spot Runner Inc., Mixpo, PixelFish Inc., TurnHere Inc. and Jivox Inc. allow small companies to create, deploy and monitor video ads at a fraction of the cost of hiring an ad agency to do it for them.

Cresco Equipment Rentals featured its employees and equipment in its ads, to make the process of renting seem less intimidating. Small-business owners can choose where and when their ads will play, targeting customers by location, demographic and the types of Web sites they surf. They can keep tabs on how many views of the ad have occurred, how many people clicked through to their Web site, downloaded a promotional coupon or made a purchase after watching the video.

These programs offer "small businesses a way to capture their target audience...on a larger scale and at a cheaper price," says Josh Martin, a vice president and director of emerging media for New York-based ID Media, a member of Interpublic Group of Cos. "Video commercials offer a compelling way to engage consumers."

Cresco Equipment Rentals
Spending by advertisers on online video ads is expected to nearly quadruple by 2011 -- rising to $1.9 billion from $505 million this year, according to New York-based research firm eMarketer Inc. Part of the reason: Click-through rates for video ads are higher than they are for plain-image or text-only ads, statistics from Google Inc.'s digital-marketing firm DoubleClick show.

In addition, more people are watching videos online than ever before -- 154.2 million this year, compared with 114.3 million in 2006, according to eMarketer. While many are watching news and entertainment videos, a survey by the Online Publishers Association found that 80% of those who watch online video have seen a video ad at some point, leading 31% to check out the advertiser's Web page and 12% to make a purchase.

The simplest and often cheapest of the new online-video tools allow business owners to pick from stock video footage and then customize the ad to fit their company. These spots work best when a unique image of the firm isn't necessary to get a marketing message across. This also is the best option for business owners with particularly small budgets.


The Princess Port Bed and Breakfast used a video of a couple on a beach to pitch itself to travelers.
In April, Mirek Boruta, co-owner of the Princess Port Bed and Breakfast, a family-owned B&B in Half Moon Bay, Calif., was looking for a way to attract customers because bookings were down for the typically popular summer season.

He was unimpressed with Internet banner ads and search-related listings, so he turned to Jivox, a Web-based video-ad service based in San Mateo, Calif. Jivox lets customers create commercials at no cost, but charges about $5 to $20 per 1,000 views of the video, depending on where the advertiser chooses to distribute the spot.

Lured by the opportunity to try out an ad free, Mr. Boruta registered for the site and began using the self-service ad-making software, which walks users through each step of the process. He tried out a variety of stock footage associated with hotels and beaches, eventually choosing an 18-second clip of a couple holding hands and walking along a beach. He added an upbeat, jazzy music clip and an overlay of text that read: "Looking to getaway? Check out the best Bed & Breakfast in Half Moon Bay, CA." Underneath the text ran a link to Princess Port's Web site and a link to a coupon offering customers 10% off their next stay.

"Users get bombarded with ads everywhere, so offering them something in return for taking the time to learn about your product makes an ad more effective," says Diaz Nesamoney, founder and chief executive officer of Jivox.

The cost of most video ads depends on where and how often they run. Companies can narrow down what day and time the ad plays and target customers by physical location.

Some Internet users get annoyed by video ads that run before entertainment or news videos they are waiting to watch and will ignore or skip over the ad as a result. Small businesses may be better served by distributing their ads through directories and other sites that attract people who are on the Internet specifically to search for a product or service, says Matt Booth, senior vice president of interactive local media at researcher Kelsey Group in Princeton, N.J.


• What's New: New tools and services are making it easier for smaller companies to create online video ads.
• What's at Stake: Statistics show that Internet users are more likely to click on video commercials than they are on plain-image or text-only ads.
• Steps to Consider: Depending on your budget and message, use stock footage or hire a videographer, then decide where and when your ad should play.For his part, Mr. Boruta pinpointed users located in California, Nevada and Washington who were surfing local television and newspaper Web sites on Wednesday and Thursday nights, when he thought potential clients would be contemplating their weekend plans.

"Our Web traffic tripled instantly, from 10 hits a day to 30," and soon "all of our rooms were booked solid," Mr. Boruta says. The cost of running the ad for 40,000 views (measured as how many times a user watched the video through the end): $500.

Mr. Boruta says 85% of customers brought in the online coupon, so he knew the ad was working. "We're a small bed and breakfast, so tripling the visits to our Web site and having to actually turn customers away is a big deal," he says.

Some businesses, such as restaurants and real-estate agents, may benefit by creating a more personalized video profile of their shops. Incorporating product demonstrations, promotions and customer feedback gives consumers an instant and in-depth view into the company. Showing a distinct atmosphere engages customers and invites them to come on in, says Kelsey Group's Mr. Booth.

Chris Smith, president of Cresco Equipment Rentals, an equipment-rental company based in Livermore, Calif., owned by NorCal Rental Group LLC, turned to Internet-video company TurnHere when he decided he needed to do more than rely on word of mouth to attract customers to his stores. TurnHere, based in Emeryville, Calif., produces unique video profiles for a flat rate, starting at $495. Businesses also pay TurnHere a monthly fee of $100 to $1,000, depending on how many video ads they have and on how many Web sites they appear.

TurnHere sent a professional videographer to some of the Cresco stores to tape their products, customers and employees. The videos included images of the town and intersection where each shop was located.

The videos -- which appeared on Cresco's Web sites and in search-engine listings on sites such as Google and MSN -- helped familiarize first-time customers with typically intimidating products such as sanders, saws and drilling equipment, Mr. Smith says. Customers would walk into a store and already recognize the manager and products from the videos, he adds.

"There are a hundred other stores that carry what we carry," Mr. Smith says. "With video, we get to fill in the blanks with some texture and tell our story."

Visits to Cresco's Web site soared to about 14,500 a month from 4,000 in less than a year. Managers across stores say customers comment on the video ads on a daily basis. And while Mr. Smith says it's too early to measure any increases in sales, "when people need rentals, we're now at the top of their minds."

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