NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Christine Arnholt felt a bit woozy. And anything that conjures up symptoms of seasickness is not a good thing in cruise marketing, noted the VP-marketing services for Carnival. But as she leaned in for a first-person video view of a waterslide trip down churning rapids at funshipisland.com, it just felt so, well, real.
"Isn't that cool?" she gushed.
The new site is a virtual tour of a Carnival cruise, where visitors can try out everything from the ship's piano bar, sundeck and karaoke lounge to onshore activities such as 4x4 cruising. The idea is to pique interest by showing what to expect, since fewer than 18% of North Americans have been on a cruise.
The site is an example of marketers' increasing sophistication in their use of online video to create not just linear demonstrations that look like TV commercials, but interactive, virtual experiences.
It's an evolution enabled by higher broadband penetration, more-sophisticated web-development technology and a continued rise in TV-ad skipping, which is leading marketers to question the effectiveness and efficiency of the medium that has long been at the center of marketing plans.
Brian McAndrews, who last week traded his title of aQuantive CEO for an executive role at Microsoft, said in April, "The website is replacing the 30 as the central expression of a brand." In most cases, rich-video sites can be made for half the cost of a 30-second spot, according to people who have done them.
Plenty of detractors say the web will never be a replacement for TV's reach and ability to create interest, but there's no denying the depth of experience a website allows. A "significant" percentage of the 500,000 people who visited funshipisland.com in its first month spent 30 minutes on the site, said Susan Kidwell, VP-client services at Avenue A/Razorfish, which manages Carnival's account. On Boeing's NewAirplane.com, millions of people have spent an average of 12 minutes exploring the nooks and features of the DreamLiner jet.
Of course, just because you build it doesn't mean the sales will come. Chris Parkin, VP-product marketing for analytics provider Omniture, said it has found that as companies made investments in technology and raced to build rich internet applications and video websites, conversions went down. "People got tied up watching video and forgot what they were there for," he said. But through an iterative testing process, marketers refined the process enough to meet or exceed their conversion goals.
Few have tapped technology
Video-rich sites are still fairly confined to microsite status; few marketers have tapped the technology for the front page of a main site. Some of that may have to do with the difficulty of optimizing rich-video sites for search -- a challenge that will soon be eased by the introduction of new technology, said Dorian Sweet, executive creative director at Tribal DDB. Its first rich-media site, in which a fictional family shows off family-friendly meals and entertaining tips, lives at mealstogether.com.
Mr. Sweet said a lot of consumer-package-goods marketers are still very TV- and print-oriented. "The decisions they make are around the same criteria ... connecting emotionally with users in a certain way," he said. "Technology has allowed us to do things like mealstogether.com and others where we can bring them together."
Things never done before
As any interactive creative director will tell you, it's not about reproducing TV on the internet. The Boeing site "was purposefully shot and planned for the web," said Patrick Sarkissian, president of Sarkissian Mason, which created it. Web programmers were onsite at the shoot, working with the directors.
As web sophistication ratchets up, interactive agencies are being asked to do things they've never done before. "Most brands we work with, what they really want is a good solution," said Bruce Henderson, senior partner-group creative director at Ogilvy, New York, which has created virtual-video sites for client Six Flags. "Some would prefer you do everything; some would prefer you go to a production company."
Organic, which created an interactive choose-your-own-adventure film for client Jeep, partners with production companies on some projects, but "we want to make sure we have our own degree of expertise," Creative Director Sam Cannon said.