Adding Online Video to the Sales Toolkit

The News & Review's video ad project hits the web.

In November, the Sacramento News & Review launched its Face to Face Video Ad project. The concept of a “video ad” may at first sound less than revolutionary. Aren’t video ads what we see on television every six minutes?

Not quite. Those are noisy, slick, gimmicky TV ads. The News & Review‘s video ads, which have also been rolled out at the company’s paper in Chico and will soon hit its Reno paper, are quieter fare: serious, in-depth recorded interviews with vendors about their products and services. The edited videos appear on, which means they’re not being shoved down viewers’ throats. Instead, the ads must be compelling enough to find their own audience.

And in that they succeed. These ads are interesting. A colonic hydro-therapist offers to remove your excess wastes in the friendliest way possible. A lawyer gives a brisk and competent case for himself as your DUI defender. A psychic sincerely explains what you can expect her to tell you about loved ones who have “crossed over.” Watching this first crop of video ads is guaranteed to open your mind.

News & Review president and CEO Jeff von Kaenel was inspired when he traveled to India with his teenage daughter and watched her shoot and edit video of their trip for a school project. “The video technology had gotten so easy to use,” he says. It got him thinking about how the paper could take advantage of the technological leaps. “I looked at other sites [that had posted video ads] and they were like commercials.”

Von Kaenel had a different vision. He wanted to take advantage of the online, volunteer-viewing format and dig deeper into the “intangibles”: the advertiser’s personality and mission. He didn’t want advertisers to submit commercials; he wanted the News & Review to produce the video themselves, using a standardized interview format. The idea was to give potential customers the opportunity to go into the advertiser’s office for a few minutes — via the computer screen — and have some questions answered.

Chris Caraway, special projects manager of the Chico News & Review, says that in an uncertain climate for classifieds, video ads provide an alternative source of ad revenue. He says the ads allow customers a “vibe check,” an opportunity to “spy on that person before you even call.”

In Sacramento, the project has been implemented by Susan Cooper, the paper’s sales development manager. In a recent conversation with AAN News, she says she is encouraged by the preliminary results of Face to Face.

How common are video ads? Are other organizations using similar concepts?

It’s starting to take on its own life. A number of career sites are now doing not only video interviews, but also video resumes. Companies trying to find employees are doing video ads to recruit. It’s a natural evolution that’s been developing over the last few years.

How was the video ad idea implemented?

Well, it’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another thing to bring it to life. The idea was to say, OK, what can we do practically to make this thing come to reality? What infrastructure do we have in place that we could currently use without spending extra money? Because developing something new can be expensive if you don’t have something already built into the business, so we used our existing website and worked around to create a place where we could put these.

That was the first step. The second step was, ‘What kind of videos do we need to take and who’s going to do them? Are they going to be independent contractors, are they going to be employees?’ We ended up with two independent contractors that would go out and shoot the videos of the customers that we contract with.

Has that been cost-effective?

Yes, it has, because we were able to get the cost of the video — the hard cost just for taping the video, not the administration of it — is $75 a video right now.

How do these ads differ from TV ads?

They are not meant to appear or be like a commercial. The appearance is to be more kind of homemade, a little bit campy, and also to get an essence of the person and get a real idea of who the individual is. People as a rule will work with or buy from people they feel comfortable with, and if they feel comfortable with them then there’s a trust that is automatically assumed. So what it does is it allows the consumer to go and view these individuals to get that essence before they actually make a decision to work with or talk to [the advertiser] about their product or service.

How did you decide on optimal length for the videos?

The length has a lot to do with the website and how it would tolerate them playing. It needs to be a certain size and it needs to be no longer than three minutes. People will not look at it any longer. They will probably make a decision in the first few seconds whether they will continue viewing that video.

Obviously, you’re hoping this will be a useful tool for any kind of advertiser. But are there certain types of advertising clients for whom this could be especially useful? For example, services people might otherwise feel uncomfortable with or nervous about? I noticed a good number of video ads of the holistic healing bent.

Yes. Getting a sense of what somebody does by listening to them can make somebody a lot more comfortable about actually contacting an individual about that service.

We really don’t know where this is going to go. Our feeling is that it’s going to maybe take off in the service industry, for example, with counselors and, you know, the quirky, intangible kind of product. But we don’t know, because what we found surprising is that we’ve had a lot of companies that aren’t necessarily in that venue that are very interested in this and actually are filming. So, we’re kind of letting it take its own course.

Are video ads particularly good for the kinds of businesses that advertise in alternative weeklies?

I think it’s good for anybody that needs to get the word out because the public is gravitating to more of a ‘net view and what we’re seeing is that a lot of people are not taking that time that they used to to read. They’re wanting it faster, quicker, now. I think this approaches the market in that way.

Because I look at myself and … I do everything online. I communicate with my family and my friends and my colleagues online. And I look at news online. Therefore it’s a natural progression for people to start looking at goods and services and products they’re going to buy online. So we need to move in that direction. Does it mean that print’s going to go away? No, it just means that they will complement each other, and we need to understand how to match the two and blend them.

Have you seen any video ads so far that you felt looked particularly effective, like just what you had envisioned?

Yes. There was a counselor who did smoking cessation and talked about her service and what she did, I think that really nailed it. (Watch it here) A jeweler actually did [also]. Most people don’t understand, you know, what the art and the artistry is that goes into jewelry making and real quality. Those two I think really did capture the essence of it.

MORE: Check out all the Face to Face Video Ads at

Emma Pollin is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.

Is your paper undertaking any innovative business initiatives you’d like AAN News to profile? Email Jon Whiten at jwhiten (at) with details.

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