Wake up, open the phone and start flipping through email, news, and social feeds. Turn on the TV and catch the morning shows. Hop on the Peloton for a quick ride or run. Make your way to your computer and begin your workday: email, websites, and one video conference after another on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, and half a dozen other platforms. Have dinner, then flipping through sites on your tablet or maybe a game on the Xbox, before settling into an evening of reading or watching another screen.
That’s the routine for so many of us in 2021, a large part of our days staring at one screen after another. The pandemic has made working from home commonplace for many, especially knowledge workers and executives, with a large portion of each day now spent in video calls with other people in their own homes. An endless routine and a very captive audience.
CEOs and marketers around the globe feel the relentless pressure for digital transformation, whatever that highly ambiguous and ambitious phrase may mean to them. Transform the business to take full advantage of digital channels. Invest in new ways to communicate and advertise with your audiences. Be on the latest platform and be seen.
Pressure from all sides to tap into those audiences watching the screens. Various sources suggest that the average person before the pandemic saw as many as 700 ads per day (in 2007, a report suggested as many as 5000 per day).
Whatever the number, advertising is pervasive across our screen real estate. If it is not a display or text ad, it is content we are paying for directly (streaming networks, fitness apps) that is advertising its own content to keep viewers captive.
The biggest exception to all this is where so many people find themselves all day long: Zoom and Teams and WebEx and all those other services filling our calendars with meeting after meeting.
Executives who would once jockey for seats in the boardroom are now sitting in high-tech home offices (or makeshift offices in kitchens, spare bedrooms, and basements).
Salespeople pitching on video chat. Children and adults sitting through classes. Virtual wine tastings and happy hours. Hours and hours of eyeballs, and no advertising in sight.
The logical answer is that because these are services paid for by companies, it makes sense for them to be a closed environment and ad-free. But how many people are using the free versions of these applications?
How many companies are paying a lot for Teams or Zoom and would love to be able to brand the experience and have ads for their products and services appear on-screen during those video calls?
A more nuanced answer to the question is that there are a set of social assumptions and mores in place that treat the virtual meeting just like a live meeting. Would you pause a live meeting for 30 seconds to show an ad on the big screen? Likely not.
But, back in the good old days of corporate offices, weren’t the company logo and various company advertisements plastered all over the walls of the offices and on the branded mugs in the conference rooms?
In the B2B world, virtual meetings are likely to be the norm going forward, allowing companies to have remote workforces catering to remote customers.
It is only a matter of time before those company branded virtual backgrounds salespeople use become high-quality watermarks of the logo on the screen, part of a higher-priced package offered to companies by Zoom and Microsoft and Google.
From there, watch for five and 15 second video commercials from the sponsoring company for a meeting while everyone is in the virtual waiting room. Ads are inevitable because eyeballs are available.
For those free versions of the video conferencing services, just imagine the possibilities of buying ad space based on the demographics of the audience and possibly even the anonymized content of the meeting taking place.
Someone in the meeting says, “I want to take a ski weekend next month” and ads for ski resorts within 500 miles of their location start scrolling along the bottom of their screen.
Is that a privacy violation? When was the last time you read all the Terms & Conditions before jumping into a video call?
The real issues at the heart of this are going to be privacy, fairness, and competition. Think back to all those guerilla advertising campaigns that would find ways to capture eyeballs at the most ideal moment.
The buses with big logos for a competitor roaming around outside a company’s user conference. A football player wearing their sponsor’s logo instead of the event sponsor’s logo. Every opportunity to capture eyeballs can be fair game, right?
Now imagine a competitor figuring out how to place their video ad in the waiting room of the video conference before your earnings call. What if one company creates amazing high-quality virtual backgrounds with their logo and distributes them to your customers.
If you think Zoom-bombing was a problem, just wait until advertising money becomes involved.
Privacy and fairness may save the day, letting us all keep our eyes focused on the video squares of other executives in their homes. But don’t we all secretly wish our logo was appearing in front of the captive eyes of prospects eight hours a day?