Corporate videos aren't most people's idea of must-see TV, but a few brands are betting that consumers will seek them out on the Web.
Several companies—including Hitachi, The Home Depot and IBM—are producing brief Internet-based documentaries in order to present their products and capabilities, tinged with touches of humanity. Subtlety is the watchword: In some of the videos making the rounds, the brand is not mentioned until two minutes in.
The results are providing a self-reported click-through rate of up to 30% for Hitachi, which came online with a series of five-minute vignettes called True Stories—via McCann Erickson, San Francisco—in November.
Hitachi, based in Brisbane, Calif., worked through Google to place the videos, which make a valiant stab at playing down the corporate, in-your-face approach and settle for subtle undertones of how the company's services are applied in real-life circumstances, such as the fiber-optic installation in Bandon, Ore. (population 3,000). Hitachi is using the approach to dispel a notion that it is solely a stereo gear company.
"Hitachi is so complex, and we make everything, from rice cookers to power plants to super computers, so we decided that these documentaries were the place to go," said Gerry Corbett, svp-branding and corporate communications. So far, company data shows that in addition to the high click-through rate, visitors to the video section of Hitachi's Web site are staying an average of six to seven minutes. They're being driven there via print, online and viral efforts as well as banners at business sites, including forbes.com and wsj.com.
"So much has been said about how the consumer now wants control and needs control, and this is a perfect medium for that," said Roger Adams, CMO at Home Depot, which launched its own series of documentaries last month. "And this way, a consumer can see a message, but not a blatant message."
Home Depot's episodes, via The Richards Group, Dallas, top out at around four minutes and lean more heavily on branding, with prominent integration. Thirty and 60-second versions of the episodes are used for TV broadcast. Home Depot has placed some of the full-length videos at video-on-demand, and has pointedly avoided YouTube.
"A genuine testimonial does not belong on YouTube," Adams said. "These are serious."
The episodes from both Hitachi and Home Depot have customer input, some ethereal music as a soundtrack and a hint of documentary filmmaking. Visitors are directed to them via Web banners, print ads and word-of-mouth.
They're not just showing up on the Web. New York police commissioner Ray Kelly recently showed a video to a law enforcement gathering explaining crime-fighting technology developed for the department by IBM.
It was a touching and dramatic video, filled with real people and real crimes.
It also was a commercial for IBM, via Ogilvy & Mather, New York, part of IBM's own version of True Stories, called Stories of Innovation.
"Not everyone is going to sit down, grab some popcorn and watch these videos," said Ogilvy group creative director Jeff Curry. "We have to make this more entertaining than a corporate video; it has to be more than a PowerPoint presentation."
But are they effective or are brand managers deluded?
"This is the advertising version of masturbation," said Greg Stuart, co-author of What Sticks, a critique of the advertising industry. "These are very self-indulgent. They are very slickly produced, probably even more so than a regular commercial. And these are really corporate videos."