Windows of Opportunity

As 2010 begins, one would like to think there’s finally been a breakthrough in social media marketing. It would be wonderful if an “expert” would just give us all a set of tried-and-true principles for leveraging the power of the Web to deploy effective brand messages. But the stark reality is we’re still in the Wild West. You can carefully plan and consider every variable and you’re still just as likely to get an arrow in your back as you are to strike oil. And here’s the kicker: It’ll always be this way.

You don’t have to become a Facebook fan of futurist Ray Kurzweil to create effective advertising, but you would do well to understand and embrace a key principle in his writings: accelerating change. The rate of technological, social and cultural change is increasing, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in social media. You can let this principle endlessly frustrate you, making you wish you would’ve listened to your parents and gone to medical school. Or, you can appreciate it for the one thing it predictably and consistently provides: windows of opportunity.

If accelerating change creates windows of opportunity in social media, it helps to spot them as they begin to open and sense when they’re about to slam shut.

Let’s look at a couple of windows that, in our opinion, are closing fast, as well as some that are just now opening wide enough for a brand to leap through (keep in mind that bigger brands may need a fair amount of lubrication in order to fit through window openings of any size).

User-generated video contests (closing): In 2007, it somehow seemed cool when TurboTax gave Vanilla Ice something to do by letting him judge nearly 400 entries for the Tax Rap contest. Fortunately for all of us, this didn’t reinvigorate his rap career. By the time A1 Steak Sauce got people to “Sing for Your Beef” in 2009, the idea of getting people to make a difficult-to-sit-through video about a brand seemed a bit overdone. Video contests that were successful in 2009 changed the model in some way, like upping the ante on the prize and the final distribution outlet (good examples are Dorito’s “Crash the Super Bowl” and Tourism Queensland’s “Best Job in the World”). But we can’t ignore the writing on the wall. Video contests won’t generate buzz this year, and “innovative” or “groundbreaking” won’t be words used to describe them.

“Real or fake?” Viral videos (stubbornly open): A couple of years ago, Ray-Ban had otherwise intelligent people arguing about whether or not a guy could catch sunglasses on his face in just about every conceivable circumstance. In 2009, MSi got more than 2 million of us to watch a guy in a unitard catch a laptop in his crack. Here’s one rule of thumb: It’s always fake. We’d like to think the whole “fool me twice, shame on me” principle applies here, but there’s a sucker born every day (and he has a wallet). Brands willing to go there in 2010 might gain sales, but not necessarily respect.

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Short-form pre-rolls (wide open): There are few things more annoying while watching Web videos than 30-second pre-roll ads. Fifteen-second ads are more tolerable, but still give you that moment to get vexed and click away. A 2009 study from MTV U.S. found that a 5-second pre-roll combined with a 10-second lower-third overlay is the most effective and audience-friendly advertising for Web video. This year, smart advertisers will create lots of very short, very high-impact video ads, and it’ll work. Our advice: open with a 5-second pre-roll that can stand alone, but follow the content with a 5-second post-roll that completes the thought and sticks with people.