There doesn't seem to be a week that goes by lately when headlines aren't perforated by another cautionary tale of a company that rushed into doing something it didn't fully calculate the risks of.
Be it Groupon, social media or, for our purposes in this piece, online video. As politicians who likely don't even use the Internet are deciding our digital fates, one small way companies can assert their control is by assuring they aren't taken to the cleaners by video production houses when entrepreneurs decide they'd like to advertise by using video online.
Even after politicians put a stop to SOPA and PIPA, there still isn't really any authority in place when it comes to metrics to determine the quality, impact and organization of video. That's where Brian Mandelbaum and his company ClearStream come in.
Mandelbaum, whose background is in advertising and the name might sound familiar since he was on the fourth season of "The Apprentice," passionately believes in equipping business owners with the tools to make sure they're represented how they want in online video ads. In other words, if you think you absolutely must have video ads but don't know the first thing about it, ClearStream is a great first resource to turn to in figuring out what the heck you should be doing and what sort of questions you should be asking.
Along those lines, I gave Mandelbaum a call to see what sort of common mistakes entrepreneurs, the creative teams and the public make when discussing and seeking out online video.
Why is there is so much misrepresentation in this field?
Brian Mandelbaum: I think that it's more a lack of education in the marketplace right now, from the brand and the buying side, as well as the people that are actually supplying it to the brand. Most of the time everybody's focused on the audience and reaching that key target demographic. In order for there to be real true power in a power reaching a consumer, there has to be a relationship between content and context. What you're seeing is people really targeting the right people but putting it in the wrong context. You never want to see a brand like Sears being misaligned because of the content they're adjacent to in an online video.
That's because people aren't really classifying it out there. There's really no classifying standardized metric that says, "This is for content for online video, this is in-stream." No one really knows where the inventory really fits, and no one's really organizing it.
What we do as a company is actually rate it, score it, classify it and share it with everyone around the table -- not just the brand but also the publishers and technology companies that are supplying all this video in the marketplace.
What are some of the classifications you've helped impose?
Brian Mandelbaum: Well, there are two main ones we look at. The quality of your video -- we understand that video doesn't just sit on the web. It can be streamed from a computer, a mobile device, a tablet or from a television. With that respect, that's where quality comes in. Then the length of the content. Nobody wants a 30-second advertisement pre-roll clip to run before 45 seconds of content.
Someone should tell YouTube that.
Brian Mandelbaum: Exactly. That's a bad user experience for everyone at the table: the publisher, the brand and the consumer. But there's billions of videos like that online, so it's being able to say, "What's the quality and length of the video? How is it encoded? What is the definition? Is it standard? High-definition? 1080?" There's all different quality metrics there. Has it been shared online or embedded on other blogs? How has it been tagged online? What is the metadata? All these different attributes go into our quality score, and there's actually a couple more dozen that I could talk about very technically.
We also then classify the content. We actually apply an index to the thematic of content. So, very high-level theme areas like sports and home and garden, and we also go deeper, so below home and garden there's cooking or cleaning. So that you can understand if you're Proctor And Gamble, and only want to buy cleaning content online, that it's our standardized metric that tells them it's cleaning content. Content is very subjective, so one publisher's representation of sports may be different than another publisher's representation of sports. What we're saying is, "This is a representation of sports."
What are some questions you'd suggest entrepreneurs should ask production houses to make sure they aren't going to be yanked around?
Brian Mandelbaum: When you're looking to buy online video -- and by the way, I do believe it's one of the most powerful mechanisms to reach consumers. There's nothing better than sight, sound and motion. Everybody knows that with display, you really suffer from banner-blindness with that right rail of the website. That's true. So, especially on NBC, when you're watching video clips, you're definitely going to see that. What I recommend that anybody ask anybody that's supplying them with advertising is:
a) What type of content am I running and how are you guaranteeing that content?
b) Are my advertisements running within an actual linear stream or are they running with a banner? Video can be classified in many different fashions. Video just means motion. It can live within a stream or within a banner. You get to see the difference in that in the pricing. A lot of people don't understand that. You may buy a million impressions of video advertising, and you may buy it as one placement at one price. But the reality is it's actually a cocktail of different placements that average down to one CPM [cost per impression — ed.]. You want to make sure the CPM you're buying is a particular placement and it's not being mixed with other types of inventory that effectively lower the price.
What's the proper way to make a clip really sizzle?
Brian Mandelbaum: It's really about understanding the consumer. To get a video message to the right person is really understanding what the consumer is looking for and getting the right insight and then nailing a message that resonates with them and hits them emotionally. That's true to everything in advertising, whether it's video or whether it's print or radio. I think that's the critical way of communicating to consumers.
We talked about ways companies might be taken advantage of, but what sort of mistakes do you see the creative end of this making?
Brian Mandelbaum: If [the entity hiring is] looking for an end result, let's say it's ordering online or visiting a website, making sure there's a call to action. That way you understand what your KPI is -- your key performance indicator, to specify early that you're driving towards the right success. Sometimes those are proxy, like, just visit a website.
And finally, since I know you're waiting for me to ask: How did being on The Apprentice inform how you act as an entrepreneur now?
Brian Mandelbaum: I was thinking about that today, when I woke up, figuring you were going to ask some questions about it. But if you think about it, it's actually pretty closely tied. It's being in a very agile, fast-paced environment. You basically can either grow your role in The Apprentice or get cut. When you're starting a company, particularly a startup, the first 18 months are the most critical and you have to be high-paced, high-velocity, very agile, and very strategic. All those skills that I learned while doing The Apprentice actually gave me the tools I need to run a business in its infancy. Everyday is a new challenge and everyday you have to accomplish a new task -- it's very similar to being on The Apprentice.
So people must ask you about this a lot, then, huh?
Brian Mandelbaum: They do ask me about it a lot. And it's funny because I don't have it on my resume, but if you Google me, they always ask it.
Yeah, I knew I was going to close with it, so I'm sure you were wondering when it was coming.
Brian Mandelbaum: [Laughs.]
Why don't you have it on your resume?
Brian Mandelbaum: I don't want that to seem like it's the reason I'm in business. I want my credit to come from the successes I've had outside that show.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.