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30 second summary:

  • Why hasn’t advertising found its way into virtual meeting tools?
  • Why shouldn’t brands consider videoconferencing platforms just another sales channel and opportunity to gain mindshare as work-from-home models and distributed workforce continue to be prevalent?
  • What impact does this potentially broader advertising landscape have on data protection?

Wake up, open your phone, and flip through email, news, and social feeds. Turn on the TV and watch the morning shows. Hop on the peloton for a short ride or run. Head to your computer and start your work day: email, websites, and video conference at a time on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, and half a dozen other platforms. Have dinner, then browse websites on your tablet or maybe a game on Xbox before embarking on an evening of reading or viewing another screen.

That’s the routine for so many of us in 2021, a large chunk of our days staring at one screen at a time. The pandemic has made it a matter of course for many, especially knowledge workers and executives, to work from home. Much of the day is now spent on video calls with other people in their own homes. An endless routine and a very captive audience.

CEOs and marketers around the world are feeling 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 the digital channels. Invest in new ways to communicate and advertise with your audience. Be on the newest platform and be seen.

Pressure from all sides to address the audience looking at the screens. Various sources suggest that the average person saw up to 700 ads per day before the pandemic (up to 5000 ads per day were suggested in a 2007 report).

Regardless of the number, advertising is ubiquitous on our screen properties. If it’s not an ad or text ad, it’s content we pay for directly (streaming networks, fitness apps) promoting their own content to keep viewers captive.

The biggest exception is that there are so many people around all day: Zoom and Teams and WebEx and all the other services that fill our calendars with meeting after meeting.

Executives who used to struggle for boardroom seats now sit in high-tech home offices (or makeshift offices in kitchens, guest rooms, and basements).

Sellers advertising in video chat. Children and adults sit through classes. Virtual wine tasting and happy hour. Eyeballs for hours and no ads in sight.

Why is there no ads in Zoom?

The logical answer is, since these are services that businesses pay for, it makes sense that they be a closed environment and ad-free. But how many people use 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 show ads for their products and services on the screen during those video calls?

A more nuanced answer to the question is that there are a number of social assumptions and mores that treat the virtual meeting like a live meeting. Would you pause a live meeting for 30 seconds to display an ad on the big screen? Probably not.

But in the good old days of corporate offices, weren’t the company logos and various company advertisements on the walls of the offices and on the branded mugs in the conference rooms?

In the B2B world, virtual meetings are likely to become the norm in the future, allowing companies to deploy remote workers for remote customers.

It is only a matter of time before the company’s virtual backgrounds used by sellers become high quality watermarks of the logo on the screen. This is part of a more expensive package offered by Zoom, Microsoft, and Google companies.

From there, watch the sponsoring company’s video commercials for a meeting for five and 15 seconds while everyone is in the virtual waiting room. Ads are inevitable as eyeballs are available.

For these free versions of video conferencing services, imagine the ability to purchase ad space based on audience demographics and possibly even the anonymized content of the meeting.

Someone in the meeting says, “I want to have a ski weekend next month,” and ads for ski resorts within 500 miles of their location appear at the bottom of the screen.

Is that a data breach? When was the last time you read all of the terms and conditions before starting a video call?

Your competitor just sponsored the winning call

The actual issues that take center stage are privacy, fairness and competition. Think back to all those guerrilla ad campaigns that got you eyeballs at the most ideal moment.

The buses with large logos for a competitor roaming outside a company’s user conference. A soccer player wearing their sponsor’s logo instead of the sponsor’s logo. Any opportunity to catch eyeballs can be a fair game, right?

Now imagine a competitor figuring out how to place his video ad in the video conference waiting room before you call for winnings. What if a company creates amazingly high quality virtual backgrounds with their logo and distributes them to their customers?

If you think Zoom bombing was a problem, just wait for advertising money to come in.

Privacy and fairness can save the day and keep us all looking at the video squares of other executives in their homes. But don’t we all secretly wish that our logo would appear eight hours a day in front of potential customers?

Norman Guadagno is Chief Marketing Officer at Acoustic, the largest independent marketing cloud, and a member of the ClickZ Advisory Board.

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