May 22, 2007
Case Study

How Video Message Gets Viewed by 59% of Target Audience

SUMMARY: If you’re a B-to-B marketer trying to reach prospects using Outlook or Lotus Notes, email rendering issues can be a major road hazard. Blocked images, preview panes, virus concerns -- it’s hard enough getting a single image seen, much less a 30-second video spot.

So, how can you put a video message in the email itself and have it work flawlessly? See how one nonprofit found a way around deliverability issues and put together a video-powered email test targeting ultra-busy TV station managers.
“Since we don’t buy television airtime, we have to get people to donate it,” says Barbara Shimaitis, Sr. VP, Ad Council. “It’s always very important to find cost-effective methods of extending our outreach and getting our spots on the air.”

Last year, Shimaitis needed to incorporate their broadcast videos into other parts of their marketing mix. Charged with a goal to bring in approximately $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion in free ad spots for their public service announcements (PSAs), she and her team had their work cut out.

While they were used to relying on postal direct mail, Shimaitis wanted to try a different route. Leveraging their already-produced TV commercials onto the Internet made the most sense, and they were particularly interested in delivering them via email. But Shimaitis didn’t want to worry about image suppression, rendering concerns, emails not getting through or making users open attachments to view the video.

Knowing full well about the deliverability pitfalls that multimedia email can bring, Shimaitis and her team located a vendor (see hotlink below) who promised to use rich media to deliver properly rendered videos into PCs or Macs and the major email providers, including Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL, Outlook and Lotus Notes.

The latter two were critical since the emails were being sent to at-work station managers who mainly used office accounts like Outlook. For the system, Shimaitis wanted:

- In some email systems, the video launched as soon as the email message was opened, or the user simply had to mouse over or click on the video screen. They used this method so users didn't have to open an attachment and to expedite the viewing experience because there was no streaming or buffering issues.

- When the video didn’t play inside the email, it was made to open and run instantly in a separate browser window.

(Technically speaking, the system compressed the graphics rather than stream them in the HTML, avoiding the occurrence of suppression. Since most ISPs -- in an effort to protect subscribers -- use suppression to block HTML images or junk-bin the message entirely, the system side-stepped the obstacles and the graphics/video went through intact.)

Here are the five steps they took to execute the campaign:

-> Step #1. Postal mail kick-start

Postal direct mail had always performed well in getting the Ad Council’s DVDs or videotapes distributed to the stations. So, Shimaitis and her team designed a nationwide video-embedded-email-DM combo campaign to more than 3,515 TV stations to push a PSA before the July 4th holiday called “Buzz Driving Is Drunk Driving.”

They wanted the mail piece to be thorough with the video-powered email as the ping that put the pitch over the top. The mailer included:

o A letter to the director, encouraging him or her to air the spot
o A storyboard sheet, including images from the TV ads with the PSA script
o A fact sheet with statistics on the issue and description of campaign goals
o Local information on how the issue affects their community

-> Step #2. Target the right addresses

Next, they used lists with station managers’ physical and email addresses, but they took an extra step for the sake of accuracy/deliverability concerns by leveraging their 10 regional media centers to ensure that the campaign reached the right contacts.

“They helped cull the list, adding to it and making it more accurate,” Shimaitis says. “They were already in the field, and each of them regularly check with 10 to 15 stations.”

-> Step #3. Send postal mail before email

MarketingSherpa’s recent article on dual email-DM campaigns (see link below) advised that B-to-B mail pieces -- especially large ones -- get dropped before sending the email. So, it was nice to hear that Shimaitis employed this tactic.

What’s particularly interesting was that they sent the mail package 2 1/2 weeks before the email went out. This time window was based on best results from previous campaigns.

“Whether they had done anything with the package sitting on their desk or not, we wanted the email to be read while the mail piece was still there,” Shimaitis says. “In the case of the latter, it should serve as a reminder to the station manager to tell his or her traffic [director] to get the spot into rotation.”

-> Step #4. Email blast

The email used a small image of the DVD packaging and the copy, “These PSAs were sent to your station.” In case managers misplaced their DVDs, they were instructed to call a toll-free number to get another one.

The copy also informed station managers to go to a dedicated site to learn about Ad Council-supported issues. Two paragraphs explained the aim of this specific PSA.

-> Step #5. Video transfer

With the movie wmv file, Shimaitis and her team then placed the code into an HTML template. They also included hotlinks for two additional TV spots from “Buzz Driving Is Drunk Driving,” along with a more-info page and mail-forward feature. For users who couldn't view the main video automatically within the email, they added the words “Roll mouse over the box or click if prompted” over the video box.
Thanks to the video-powered-email/DM effort, the Ad Council met their test goal and then some, helping accrue an all-time high $1.9 billion in free advertising last year. Since then, the video-powered-email system has become a staple in their marketing outreach.

“We’ve seen indications that these emails absolutely drive the airtime -- as we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the stations that they loved them,” Shimaitis says. “To be able to easily play the video through the email is one less step they have to take. There’s more speed and relevancy, while taking our creative a step further.” Because their ad-tracking system doesn’t monitor the glut of smaller markets that make up their targets, they are unable to calculate exact conversion rates.

The clickthrough rate for “Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving” was 59%, 24 percentage points higher than previous campaigns in HTML-only. Open rates were 47.5% higher than what they had been seeing, while deliverability was the same as the organization’s average of 96% to 98%.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Ad Council:

Past Sherpa article - Use Email & Postal Mail to Create a Really Powerful One-Two Punch:

Vismail - Ad Council’s ESP, which also provided the video-email technology:

Mullen Advertising - produced the TV spots:

Media Market Resources/PrecisionTrak - broadcast TV list provider:

Warren Communications - cable TV list agency:

Ad Council:

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