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Pairing the odd couple

Pairing the odd couple

If you think brand advertisers don't grasp the YouTube opportunity, think again. Ad networks and agencies get it, too. They all know the cash potential is there. So what is keeping brand managers from diving into that enormous pool of high user engagement called social media? All three parties will respectively admit, exclaim, or explain: YouTube and all the other social media sites out there that source their content from their users are, well, scary. What's the big deal? Pairing advertising and social media makes sense. Brand managers want to make an impression on users. YouTube, for instance, is a gold mine of impressions. Its users stay engaged on the site for nearly 28 minutes per visit, according to Nieslen//NetRatings. But even more than making an impression, brand managers want control over the kinds of impressions they make, Chris Actis, vice president of advertising agency MRM Partners, told internetnews.com. "Advertisers are used to communicating out to consumers and so they are reluctant to let go of the control of their messaging," Actis said. "When you advertise on the periphery of a site like MySpace or YouTube, you have to accept that your brand may be bumped up against some content that might not be within the brand guidelines." That is a prospect that terrifies brand managers, said Forrester Research Analyst Brian Haven. "If I've got a tried-and-true brand that's been around for decades, I don't want to find it hanging out with some video of a kid jumping off his roof and hurting himself," Haven told internetnews.com. So what, exactly, are brand managers to do? They could always ignore the social media phenomenon and dote on more familiar and perhaps more malleable media outlets, such as television, print and radio. But the pairing of advertisers and social media makes sense. And to ignore it would be a mistake. YouTube grew its monthly unique audience 297 percent from January to June this year, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. And MySpace is the most popular destination on the Internet, according to Hitwise. It's hard to ignore these numbers. And top that off with the fact that brand advertisers' target demographic -- 18 to 25 year olds – pretty much don't read the newspapers or watch much network television anymore. Trying to get over the conundrum The good news is that there are some case studies already under way that might present options for brand managers and the social media sites that want their money. A few of the experiments give off the leather and cigar smoke aroma of old media. Time Warner's AOL property announced its own user-generated video portal, called AOL UnCut Video, late last month with advertisers such as bellwether Proctor and Gamble already on board. AOL also announced licensing partnerships with old-school content providers, such as A&E, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. Vice President for AOL Video Fred McIntyre told internetnews.com that you'll find the brand advertising next to their productions. "At the top of the spectrum," he said. AOL's idea to shelter user-generated content with "safer" TV content isn't new. Earlier this summer, YouTube made a similar deal with NBC. But there's little evidence to support the idea that sites such as YouTube are popular because of professionally produced, editorially controlled, licensed content. YouTube made its 297 percent before the NBC deal. The solution to advertising around user-generated content isn't really a solution at all. It's more so a way of avoiding the problem and, along with it, the opportunity in the short term. Brand advertisers may be able to say they're getting on YouTube, but they're not being placed near the content that makes the site so enticing. But CNN.com, another Time Warner property, might have found a real solution. It sells brand advertising around actual user-generated content on its CNN Exchange site. Users can submit photos and video to the site, which is sponsored by Dell. But there's a catch. CNN applies the same "journalistic standards" to user-generated content as it does their own in-house content, spokesperson Jennifer Martin told internetnews.com. That's publisher speak for: They don't let users post content that will make their advertisers look bad and stop paying them money. Still, at least they've figured out a way to get the odd couple together. Actis said, however, that MRM Partners encourage their clients to take an even deeper dive into social media. Flickr, a Yahoo property, is a popular photo-sharing site with about 4 million members. Brand advertisers have the same problem with Flickr that they do with YouTube. Who knows what kind of content you could accidentally put your product next to? But as a photo-sharing site, Flickr members were obviously an appealing market for Nikon, which is an MRM client. So instead of having their client advertise on the periphery of the site, Actis steered Nikon into taking an active role in the social community by forming a Nikon group and gallery for Flickr members to join. Nikon presented itself as the "enabler" of the gallery. And because having your photos posted in a public gallery in Flickr grants a member certain cache in the community, joining group became popular, Actis said. Nikon was pleased. So it turns out, there are some options for brand managers and publishers to get together. Just 'try to evolve' But all these options, all this compromise and worrying and pussyfooting around, irritates folks like Seevast CEO Lance Podell. Seevast, formally known as Kanoodle, is the parent company of Pulse 360, an ad network intent on bringing advertisers and publishers together for profit. Podell shared with internetnews.com his message for nervous brand managers: "Get with the program!" The problem brand managers have with user-generated content, said Podell, is the same problem they've had with anything new. Ever. Brand managers were wary of advertising on News Corp.'s Fox when it first came out, Podell said. That is, until they understood it. "Till they realized consumers go here; they watch these shows. This is the beginning of how user-driven media is going to be," Podell continued. "So put on your hard hat; give it a shot. Find out what works. Try to evolve." No responsibility can be taken for the content of external Internet sites.

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