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Web-Programming: An Alternative To Unproductive Advertising

Jan 7, 2008
As of this writing the television writers in Hollywood are on strike. The significance of this strike will be felt far beyond the current television season and impact what and where people will get their entertainment in the future. People are now not only embracing the Web for their information needs but are also increasingly turning to it for their entertainment needs as well.

The Web will soon be 'the place' that fills the programming vacuum that network broadcasters have been unwilling and/or unable to fulfill. People were prepared to tolerate constant reruns, dreadful programming, and incessant repetitive ads as long as there was no alternative, but that is no loner the case. Viewers now have an option to bad television and it's the Web, but why should you care and more importantly how can you take advantage of the opportunity it creates?

Why Should You Care?

Information and entertainment have melded in recent years creating what has been dubbed 'infotainment.' It can be argued that the evening news has become more entertainment than hard news and let's not even get into venues like the History Channel where fact and fiction seem to be presented in equal and indistinguishable doses. So what does all this have to do with you and how you deliver your marketing message?

The time is coming, if it is not here already, that companies will not be able to get away with merely uploading online brochures and catalogues, or even extensive screeds singing the praises of every feature and benefit associated with their offering. People demand more, they insist your website be interesting, informative, and entertaining; and it is this aspect of entertainment that potentially makes your marketing presentation memorable.

What Is Web-Programming?

Web-programming takes the creative Web-video campaign concept and pushes it one step further up the evolutionary marketing scale by integrating the message into a programming environment.

This concept is not an entirely new idea, in fact one of the most noted television commercial campaigns of 1991 was the Taster's Choice soap opera-like series of spots that wove the marketing message into a courtship relationship between two apartment neighbors. In an environment where information and entertainment blur, it seems like an ideal solution to capturing an audience's attention and interest, and creating a viral buzz that few products or services can generate by presenting a bulleted list of features.

Build Brand Relationships

James E. Aisner, in his article 'More Than A Name: The Role of Brands in People's Lives' (HBS Working Knowledge For Business Leaders) references the research of Harvard Business School Professor, Susan M. Fournier, "Fournier has created a typology of fifteen different types of relationships between consumers and their brands." These brand relationships include the secret affair, the best friend, kinship, the fling, courtship, the marriage-of-convenience, casual friendship, childhood friendship, mother and child, and master-slave.

What kind of relationship does your brand have with your audience? Is it a short-term fling that starts with a lot of heat and passion and then quickly cools-off, or is it a long-term marriage that will last a lifetime? Finding, and promoting the most appropriate and beneficial brand relationship is the marketing goal of your Web-programming marketing initiative.

Part of the problem many smaller organizations have in developing successful marketing campaigns is that they think in terms of products and services rather than brands; features and benefits rather than relationships. Almost every product or service on the market can be replaced with a competitive substitute, but brands are much harder to replace; brands create a competitive barrier through the development of relationships based on prototypical psychological and emotional factors, the same kinds of factors that govern your personal relationships.

Generate Trust, Confidence, Loyalty and Passion

In his article, "A Brand New You," (Psychology Today), W. Eric Martin tells us that brands came into vogue in the post Civil War era as a response to an increasing mobile population that began to lose touch with local merchants and shopkeepers. Brands became a substitute for the personal relationships that people had with their suppliers. This seemingly minor historic fact helps us understand the significance of brands in today's Web-centric marketplace.

Today's consumer-client, whether retail or business-to-business is more remote, more isolated from the supplier than ever before. The Web allows us to market our products and services anywhere in the world, but in order to actually make a sale, we must establish a relationship that generates a sufficient level of trust, confidence, loyalty and passion. Sneer if you will at the passion and loyalty most Macintosh users have for their computers, but what other computer company can claim such brand allegiance?

Relationships Are Based On Psychological Needs

At the heart of any relationship is the emotional or psychological need that that relationship fulfills. If you haven't found that connection in what you do then you are at a definite competitive disadvantage; and you are competing on the most fickle and transient of factors: price and features. In business, there will always be someone who is prepared to sell a substitute product or service for less, or with more bells and whistles. So why would you ever want to compete on that basis?

It really doesn't matter what business you're in, there is always some emotional or psychological component to what you do. The iPod is the market leader in its category despite numerous competitors; it holds that position not because it's the cheapest, which it definitely isn't, or the product with the most features, which it probably is, but because it's an iPod - not a tool but a status symbol, a badge of intelligence and taste, a brand relationship akin to being a member of the coolest club in town.

Web-programming Development

In short, Web-programming is a marketing campaign based on a series of episodic Web-videos tied together by plotline and character development; an ongoing initiative that weaves into its storyline the marketing pitch. The integration of the marketing pitch can be done subtly using product placement techniques or overtly making the pitch part of the story arc.

This marketing technique is not for everyone; it is certainly not for the unsophisticated or for the marketer who is afraid to experiment or to take a chance.

If you are looking for an instant direct financial return like a big sale sign in your storefront window then you are not looking for marketing, you're looking for promotions. Marketing is all about building a brand relationship with your audience. The more time and effort you invest in marketing, the more solid your brand relationship will be, and the more appropriate the clients you'll attract and keep.

Web-programming - Where To Begin

There are four minimal requirements needed to create an episodic Web-video marketing campaign: need identification, point-of-view, attitude, and transformation. These are the same elements defined by Syd Field, the well-respected author, producer, screenwriter, and lecturer, in his book, "The Screenwriter's Workbook;" and they are the same elements that all top-notch salesmen use to build client-relationships - ask yourself - have you ever met a top salesman who wasn't a great storyteller?

Need Identification

Like all episodic series yours will need a hero or protagonist; this is the person your audience will identify with and who will act as their surrogate.

Your protagonist must be searching for something that relates to the emotional or psychological need fulfilled by your product or service. Anyone who has ever had to deal with an insurance company certainly understands the Geico caveman's need for respect. His frustration is the perfect foil for the company's marketing message, 'it's so easy a caveman can do it.' We are all cavemen at heart, seeking respect from big business bureaucracies that make us jump through hoops just to place an order.


You must present your material from a particular point-of-view. Is your presentation told from the protagonist's point-of-view or is it told from an objective observer's, perhaps through voice-over. It can even be counter-intuitive and be told from an antagonist's point-of-view.

If your scenario is more procedural based, you can even present it from different points-of-view each delivering alternative perspectives, each highlighting different aspects of the emotional fulfillment.


Attitude is especially important for Web-based presentations, but it is also one of the scariest aspects of marketing for the faint-of-heart. All too often businesses shy away from bold statements, or extreme displays for fear of alienating some segment of the audience, but it's attitude that grabs people's attention, makes the presentation memorable, and qualifies leads and inquiries.


One of the hardest things a commercial-based episodic series has to deal with is story arc. What change takes place over the life of the series and is the campaign concept strong enough to sustain itself? What transformation takes place? Does your protagonist find fulfillment or does he fail to find the emotional or psychological answer he's looking for. If you're not sure what deep-seated need your product or service satisfies, find the conflict.

All stories are based on conflict, frustration, and desire, whether it's the search for 'whiter whites' or better insurance. If your concept is without conflict, you are not illustrating the need for your solution.

You can show successful transformation based on the adoption of your solution or you can show failure whichever works best for what you're marketing and the audience you are trying to attract.


The Web has from its infancy provided business with enormous marketing opportunities. As the Web's capabilities increase over time, these opportunities increase as well. As much as other media tries to adapt to the competitive pressures created by the Web, old methods and attitudes die-hard; the writer's strike being just one example of a group trying to maintain dominance in an environment they cannot control. The opportunities are there to make your marketing mark if you have the courage to act.
About the Author
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit http://www.mrpwebmedia.com/ads, http://www.136words.com, and http://www.sonicpersonality.com. Contact at info@mrpwebmedia.com or telephone (905) 764-1246.
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