Why Didn’t We Connect At VidCon?

Oh, right. You weren’t there.

Agency peeps, you missed VidCon… again. I know because I was there, though I did see some of your clients. It’s OK, I’ve got you covered. I’ve compiled a list of realities you would have confronted had you attended VidCon.

And I do mean “confronted.”

VidCon provides no safe place to hide from the volume and intensity of disruption taking place in our industry. It gives no quarter to professionals unwilling to evolve. Here are five observations as seen from vantage points on stage and in the crowd: make of them what you will.

  1. AWOL Agencies

Content, social and marketing agency leaders, we need to talk about VidCon and why you weren’t there. Don’t say, “Cannes.” Not everyone was in France. Yes, it is unfortunate that VidCon ran concurrent to the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. While the media-stoked tension between the old (Cannes) and the new (VidCon) makes for good click-bait headlines, the comparisons exist solely due scheduling, not substance.

Brands and agencies need the benefit of both events.

There’s no question of relevance. The industry track at VidCon has become a “must-do” professional event. Yes, there’s plenty of hype and hubris to be found among the social media stars at VidCon, but the industry programming trades the typical future-gazing conference poppycock for very blunt doses of reality. It is a good approach, as the revolutionary upheaval of video entertainment, influence and advertising is already well underway. One trip to VidCon can make it clear to even the most intransigent luddite that the impact of these changes is essential to understand for today, not just for tomorrow.

Outside of a few media firms who have gone all-in, the agency community has yet to embrace VidCon (Ogilvy is one of the very few creative agencies regularly participating). It’s tempting to accuse agencies of being AWOL, but the truth may be much worse. Have agencies abdicated their role in the new content world, or are they so entrenched in their own microcosm that the importance of VidCon remains impalpable? Either option is corporate self-immolation.

2. TV as we know it is already toast

The challenges facing traditional television target its three essential elements: the delivery platform, the device and the business model. During the Thursday morning VidCon research jam, I gave a preview of data from a study by Ogilvy and The Young Turks. We revealed that 81% of our active Internet video respondents expect all “TV content” to be delivered online within a few years as opposed to over the air or via cable. As for TV as a device? There’s not much love for that, either. A full 60% already think they’ve lost the need to own a TV set.

The real change, the one that will rock the advertising world, is the diffusion of business models. As options grow for consumers to choose how they pay for and receive video content, the opportunities for advertising fragment and shift. Our industry norms were set during an era of advertising-supported linear content, with some modification for pay services. Today, users choose video content via VOD, FVOD, SVOD, AVOD, TVOD and just about any other _VOD acronym one can think of. Discussions throughout VidCon underscored the need for agencies and brands to understand how to play (or not) in each of these spaces… and not just from a media-buying point of view, but via clear strategic and creative thinking moulded around the target models.

3. Twitter is back. Snapchat? Not so much.

After speaking with dozens of creators and listening to their panels, one trend became quite clear: Twitter is a growth platform for audience building, while Snapchat is not. How did this happen? After VidCon’16 one could be excused for thinking Twitter was out of the running as an influential video platform. Despite data showing rich impact (including insights presented by Ogilvy in the main stage research loop), Twitter lacked buzz. That is no longer the case. Creators at VidCon’17 noted that over the ensuing 12 months the platform has upped it’s game with new features and improved business support. The latter is a big deal.

Creators are business people who happen to make videos. Their revenue stream requires both audience growth and long-term engagement. Snapchat, for all it’s societal impact, has yet to become a significant platform of discovery or financial reward for creators. As a result, very few are trying to build a business there. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are leading the pack with continually evolving creator-friendly business models.

4. Viewers don’t hate advertising, they hate what you’re doing with ads

Well, here’s a prickly subject. Let’s call it The Great Advertising Disconnect. There seems to be universal agreement that video advertising formats need to evolve, though the path forward is heavily weighted towards technology rather than the audience. That bias was driven home in a fireside chat with Fidji Simo, VP of Product at Facebook who discussed new ad formats and delivery ideas to “carry people through” ad breaks. Similar thoughts were heard from other platforms and vendors who are focused on making advertising insertions less painful.

What about creative content solutions? The voices calling for better, more relevant advertising to capture viewer attention were few and far between. If that’s not enough provocation for creative agencies to step up and participate in the discussion now, it’s hard to imagine what would be.

5. Yes, your job is in jeopardy

With all the marketplace upheaval that VidCon represents, one might start to fear their long-term job prospects. That’s a fair reaction. During the panel Brands Tell Creators How to Work with Us executives from Viacom, Hasbro, BEN and DJI called creators “today’s creative directors” while noting there is no longer a mandate to make TV commercials. One could take that a couple of ways.

We know that change isn’t just coming; it is already here. Yes, your job probably will be in jeopardy if you and your employer don’t adapt. For agencies, the key to staying in the game is to be present, flexible and accountable. The need for good advertising ideas based on sound strategy and effective distribution isn’t going away. If anything, with the increased availability of data, the opportunities are growing. The question is, “who will reap the rewards?” Will the start-ups and tech companies push out the professional ad people? I don’t know. I used to think it was unlikely, but given that I have now seen agencies virtually ignore VidCon for three years straight, I am beginning to wonder who will be staying in the game.

What to do next?

If your “online content insights” are voyeuristic observations of your kids’ mobile habits and your cocktail party jive is still peppered with “hip” comments about cord-cutting young’uns, it might be good idea to make those VidCon’18 plans, ASAP.

Before blowing 95% of your next budget on TVC’s while setting aside a few bucks for your “influencer strategy” or “social activation,” take a moment to consider what’s actually going on. Now. In real time. In homes. In cars. In schools. In the lives of the people you need to reach.

VidCon Australia is up next in September. Of course, I hope to see many more of my industry peers at VidCon’18, well prepared for the next round of innovation.


Robert John Davis is Executive Director of Content & Social at Ogilvy. His co-authored eBook on video creators and their superfans The Digital Social Contract may be downloaded free at: https://t.co/m5qADqSifr

You can find Rob on Twitter @robertjohndavis , LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/robertjohndavis and Medium https://medium.com/@robertjohndavis