I’d be remiss if as an experienced television producer, web marketing and video production professional to not mention “Web serials”.  This is not a new concept, but I think serials used in marketing deserve to be part of a serious discussion when any company is deciding on their future marketing strategy and allocating next-year’s budgets.  With the lower cost of web video production, they’re springing up more and more and are encouraging more virality than ever before.  Why?  They’re engaging, usually funny, and effective at conveying a marketing message without feeling like a TV commercial.

Is it finally time to throw away the 30 second TV ad format altogether?  Many companies have already chosen this path, others with small budgets that can’t afford television airtime never had a choice.

Not convinced?  Check out this Tripp Crosby spoof on corporate conference calls!

What are “Web Serials”

Web serials are a way to make daily, weekly, or even monthly content that’s entertaining or informative to a target audience that will encourage people to go to your website and read or view and make it a point to come back for more.  The bigger goals would be to produce content that goes viral, encouraging your audience to actively participate in sharing links to your content with others.

Natural market forces and technology have created audience fragmentation which has evolved into more targeted channels, publications, magazines, websites, types of stores, restaurants, cafes.  This list goes on.

The type of content helps determine who is watching, which helps advertisers reach the right audience for the products and services they’re eager to sell them.  These days, it’s easy for companies to post content on the web that can be found that will direct people to a page on their website to sell people things.  Posting content may be easy, but what about producing the content?  There are many options for this as well, but your advertising and marketing experts will have to determine the cost and benefits compared to the overall ROI.

Let’s learn from the hey day of soap operas

If the proliferation of different cable stations and other media channels like NetFlix and Glenn Beck’s innovative online TV network “The Blaze TV” are any indication, distinct audiences with focused interests and tastes are delivering what advertisers need — targeted eye balls.  These channels are still expanding, sure, some are struggling to stay relevant, mostly because they haven’t figured out what their target audience likes and wants to watch or perhaps they haven’t grown or evolved with their audience — they aren’t keeping up with their audience.

What’s our purpose?! Well, darling it’s to make sure we don’t end. Each episode has something in the plot that can’t be resolved without another episode. Everyone knows that, else how do we gather an audience following and keep them coming back so we can sell detergent through commercials and get paid.  Beats a regular job, doesn’t it?

When “soaps” sold soap

Think about the term “soap opera”.  Opera was an embellished term describing a melodramatic story, but where did “soap” come from?  It’s because the leading advertisers that sponsored these shows aired advertisements selling soap — mostly laundry detergent.  Even though it started in the ’30s on radio, it grew immensely in popularity by the 1950s.  In the ’50s, since the majority of people who did the laundry were stay-at-home housewives, and so soaps became one of the first and greatest targeted marketing campaigns ever conceived.

Soaps were also mocked and belittled much like its conveyance at that time since the television was often referred to as “the boob tube”.  As if this new talking picture box was some drunken uncle that made us laugh but no one admitted they were related to — a certain class of society saw television as some dumb form of entertainment for the masses.  In some ways, it’s hard to look back 70 years or turn on the TV today and not find many examples that substantiate this argument.

Web serials gather followings in many forms

There are many ways to build an audience, but the important thing to understand is the audiences are already out there, it’s about the content being discovered.  You’re not really “growing an audience”, you’re “growing a following among an audience”.

Someone’s weekly op-ed articles in a newspaper or online can gather a following.  A daily radio talk show gathers a following.  Your “product of the month” or “sale item” eblast gathers a following.

Most of us have our favorite TV shows, so we know what it’s like to be a follower, too

A soap opera that features mostly “monster truck” footage and demolition derbies probably won’t last long because the women who are supposed to watch it won’t tune in or stream it online.  Think about what appeals to you, what you like and what you watch.  What’s tasty to you could be awful to someone else.  Do you like Monty Python or Downton Abbey?  I like both, but hey, we’re all different.  So it makes sense that one person is actually a part of many different audiences.  This leads advertisers to reach their core audience and rely on them to pass information on to others outside.  After all, not everyone who needs to buy laundry soap likes and/or watches soap operas.

I DO just wish you'd get to the point...
I DO just wish you’d get to the point…

How do you get your core audience to share your advertising?

Stories that make people remember because of its emotional impact are more likely to share parts of your advertising message.  You just have to make sure they’re passing on a story that has your advertising wrapped in it without sounding like advertising.  Jonah Berger wrote a fascinating book called “Contagious” that touches on many ways to go viral.  He calls stories the “Trojan Horse” for advertisers.

People want to tell their friends about things that are novel, unusual, exciting, or extraordinarily beneficial to their friends.  Help them help their friends!  Another angle he delves into is “social currency” — basically, it’s elevating one’s own stature by knowing something others don’t.  Another way to go viral is to try and be a secret.

There’s so much wisdom in the science of contagious marketing that Jonah Berger cleverly explains in his book “Contagious”, but it takes creativity to think like a viral marketer and it takes a genius to actually be one!

Web serials help you find ways to appeal to your audience and study their responses.  The more you can create benefits for them I’ve listed above, the more they will share with others who aren’t a follower of your content.  This will help you hone your advertising messages and align your content to what most resonates with your audience.  These efforts should help you improve your content and advertising at the same time.

Content providers and advertisers are partners

Content providers make shows and produce content for things like magazines, newspapers, and websites.  How do they make money to continue doing what they’re doing?  Where is the value in a new comic strip that pokes fun of President Bush or Obama?

The value of the content is actually the audience the content draws.  If no one’s ever heard of a comic strip and no one seeks it out, reads it, shares it online, it’s not worth a dime.

The Food Network gets a lot of money from different food and kitchen-related companies.  Makes sense.  Where would you air your new set of titanium golf clubs?  I hope you said on the Golf Channel first, then again, some old white guys in plaid pants probably do watch the Food Network too, but you put your advertising dollars where you’ll get the most return, right?

Remember that content providers simply follow the expansion and evolution of audiences.  What people are willing to seek out and invest their time and energy to watch is what gives content its value.

There’s no doubt segments of the universe of people who watch things are still being identified, there’s also no doubt sometimes the content itself creates new audience segments.  Think about it — those people interested specifically in Star Wars wouldn’t exist without the Star Wars movies and George Lucas, right?  That’s it’s own topic I might cover some other time.  Don’t get me started on “audience over-engagement” — content that is just too good and immersive could be a total waste for advertisers!

We all have access to the “magic machine”

In the olden days, advertising agencies had to dig deep and make a lot of educated guesses.  Imagine if in the 1950s and ad firm had a magic machine that gave them the ability to find out what people want, how they feel, what they like, what they need, what they are looking for.  Imagine the research and the different choices in content and products they would have sold if they knew.

Through web searches and social media, audiences tell us what they want.  We all have that information at our disposal now, because a majority of people are typing in BILLIONS of searches every day, posting BILLIONS of comments or articles online every day.  A lot of clutter and noise, but beneath all that noise is some very useful data.  Data those ad firms from the 50s fantasized about having.  We all have that “magic machine” now and there’s plenty of useful data inside all that information

 Rules for good web serial content

  1. Engage audience and encourage repeat visitors.
  2. Reward loyalty — the more they read, the more privileges, access and offers they get later.
  3. Same goals soap operas served — to build targeted advertising frequency through a focused content channel and reach a target market.

Have you ever watched a commercial that was heavy on emotion but seemed to lack any other purpose?  There’s a reason advertisers try to appeal to peoples’ emotions.  By building content that would encourage predictable and loyal followers, soaps gave advertisers new ways to reach audiences on a repeated emotional level.  During states of tension and high emotions, people are more likely to remember what they were watching.

Video already dominates all other forms of media for recall, so it’s natural to build your web serial marketing program around producing video content.  Web video production already has outpaced conventional television advertising because compared to buying television airtime there are not barrier restrictions to put your video online.

But if you don’t have much of a budget, you might want to at least consider posting some written articles on your site.

Here are some other suggestions for low-cost web video production serials:

  1. Jewelry and fashion industries could benefit by appealing to women through small digestible novellas — love stories that continue on each week or month.
  2. Make a game out of reading the content for special deals or “unlocking special savings”.
  3. Short adventure or horror stories that can inject your company’s products or services in some context.
  4. Post a monthly newsletter with different types of tips each month — home fire safety, seasonal preparation tips, recipes, etc.

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