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Email Plus: A Look at Embedded Video


By Stephanie Colleton

Last month’s article by Julia Peavy discussed using animated graphics as an alternative to video in email. It got me thinking, what IS the state of video in email?

And by “in” I mean embedded in the email message itself not just a link to view the video on YouTube or other landing page that is hosting the video.

This article from the DMA Email Marketing Council provides some background on the latest video in email capabilities.

And this recent ClickZ article argues that while once very problematic, it seems that HTML 5, iOS and email client-sniffing technology have made video in email a viable option for some marketers (thought there seems to be some differing opinions on how effective HTML 5 is in advancing video in email).

The ClickZ article features an email from Bare Escentuals that uses an embedded video to show off one of its make-up lines. Coincidently, a colleague of mine received a different email from Bare Escentuals last week that also features video with the subject line “Video: It’s Not What You Think” and features their bareMinerals product line. Unfortunately, it did seem to have a few hiccups. Watching the video in Hotmail on her desktop, the video started playing automatically when the email was opened – a negative in my book.

There was also no way to pause or stop the video while we had the message open. We closed out of the message and went back to the inbox and the audio just kept on playing. Finally, when forwarded, the video did not work. So while the video seemed to work well for the article’s author, we had a different experience. Perhaps the author was using a different ISP or was viewing the video on an Apple device and that worked better.

Another example we found is from Jo-Ann fabric and craft stores. This email features a demonstration of how to create a necklace in three simple steps. Since we received this in Hotmail, the video was displayed at the top of the message using Hotmail’s Active View. This time we were able to start and stop the video on our own. When this email is received at a non-Hotmail address, the video section does not appear at all.

There’s a neat tool for seeing a few examples for yourself from Liveclicker. Brands featured include Disney, Barney’s, Costco and Game of Thrones.

Just enter your email to see how their video in email option works for you. We tested a few different addresses on a few different platforms. Our experience was mixed. For some examples the video started automatically and for others it was subscriber initiated.

This is likely client preference. Everything worked well in Hotmail (but did not use Active View) on the desktop but in Yahoo or Gmail there was no sound. There was a prompt to listen with sound but that simply took us to the Liveclicker site (maybe this wasn’t a glitch but a lead gen tool).

Checking in on the mobile experience, viewing the video via an email on the iPhone 4S and 5 worked well. On my older Android some examples (viewed via Yahoo mail) did not allow me to play video while others did show the video although I was never able to hear the audio.

On a brand new Motorola DROID RAZR none of the videos played (video or audio). When we clicked on the image we were taken to a Liveclicker landing page.

So it seems that video in email may be making progress, but there are still kinks and the experience varies between desktop, mobile and between various email clients. Video in email could have the potential to drive clicks for certain marketers in an increasingly competitive space and when clicks overall are on the decline. But, as always, conduct very thorough testing that includes various email clients and desktop vs. mobile before launching any campaign that uses embedded video.

Stephanie Colleton is director, response consulting at email intelligence firm Return Path.




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