Is Google betting on the end of the TV commercial?

A few years ago, a 12-year-old Canadian vocalist started posting homemade videos of himself on YouTube. His talent started to get noticed and eventually attracted the attention of a top entertainment executive. Today, Justin Bieber is one of world’s biggest celebrities (for better or for worse).

Out of all the tools that social media has to offer the world, YouTube has consistently stood out as the network where fresh talent can get noticed and lasting sensations can be created. There’s infinite potential for hits. And this week, AdAge announced that YouTube parent company Google is hoping to bring that spark to brands, too. Google will be launching a pilot program in September to educate advertisers and brands on successful YouTube content strategies. Participants in the program will have access to YouTube Space, dedicated production studios for brands aiming to ramp up their content production to become custom publishers.

“It’s a recognition that brands want to create content for YouTube, not just place their ads there,” wrote Alexandra Bruell for AdAge. “It will also help facilitate partnerships and potential sponsorship opportunities between brands and YouTube creators.”

Entertainment gold mine. Advertising ghost town.

There’s a ton of content on YouTube — over 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Thing is, grainy cat videos and homemade bloopers (and even, ironically, homemade clips of a kid singing into a webcam in the manner of the videos that helped Justin Bieber get discovered) present less-than-appealing ad inventory for big consumer brands.

“YouTube is wildly popular, yet its eclectic mix of YouTuber content creators, and short unpredictable web ‘hits’ are a viral phenomenon that are almost impossible to fit into a media buyers’ annual budget strategies,” wrote Steven Rosenbaum for FastCompany in 2011.

So YouTube needs to give brands additional options, and this week’s announcement of its brand content creation program is just one of those. Currently, videos are expensive to produce, brands and their agencies often don’t have the infrastructure or production know-how for a good online video strategy, and typical ROI is less than compelling.

“The top brands on YouTube average 203,00 Twitter followers and 2.6 million Facebook likes – but only 35,000 YouTube subscribers,” announced a recent OpenSlate study of the top 500 brands on YouTube.

So that’s why Google is helping to give brands a push.

How will brands respond?

Right now, YouTube is effectively an even playing field. If your content is good and people catch onto it, you can become a sensation whether your production budget is zero or in the seven figures. What happens when brands are offered a competitive edge from one of the world’s biggest technology giants?

  • Will amateur cat videos lose their appeal in favor of, say, professional cat videos with trained felines?
  • Will user-generated content be pushed to the background while brands make splashy (and presumably promoted) debuts?
  • Will in-video advertising dollars experience a steady decline as agencies scramble to make sure they have the resources for often-expensive content production?

How might Google sell this to older, more skeptical brands? They can pitch YouTube as a potential test bed for more expensive television commercials. The brand can have some idea of what catches on before making a huge TV media spend. And with regard to this, Google can hold up a big, successful case study of its own.

Remember ‘Parisian Love,’ Google’s Super Bowl ad from 2010? It wasn’t created for the Super Bowl. The video had been on YouTube for almost three months before making its television debut, and ran unchanged and unedited. Obviously, Super Bowl ads are instant, talked-about phenomena. But where was the performance of Parisian Love really stronger – a several-minute run time on television or three months of strong performance on YouTube?

Brands aren’t necessarily ready to fully dive in yet, but the take-away from this announcement is that Google is readying them for an advertising climate where the hottest spots for commercials are online.

Image by Shutterstock

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