Apple Computer brings new meaning to the cliché ?fashionably late.?
While the computer manufacturer has recently been further down the deployment curve than competitors in the consumer product industry, industries already created don't approach the zeitgeist level until Apple enters the fray.
Witness how the iPod, released in 2001, debuted about three years behind Compaq's Personal Jukebox. Despite that head start, the Personal Jukebox became history and the iPod became the symbol of the personal digital audio player. In fact, Hewlett-Packard acquired Compaq and partnered up with Apple to sell an HP-branded iPod. So pervasive is Apple's clout that when a new medium launched where people distributed audio files via real simple syndication (RSS), it was dubbed "podcasting."
So when Apple announced its video iPod in early October, it joined existing competitors such as iAudio, Creative Zen, Archos, and Sony. But a trendsetter is a trendsetter, regardless of when it enters the game. While one cannot discount Apple's approach to functionality and product design, a breathless media, lots of buzz, and strategic partnerships can also be counted on as strong drivers. Concurrent with the video iPod launch, Apple put music videos and, via a partnership with ABC, archived episodes of popular television shows like Lost and Desperate Housewives on its iTunes music store. Apple made sure to launch with enough content to meet demand.
Shortly after the launch, Burger King, independent of Apple, announced that it would sponsor short comedy films for the video iPod on website Heavy.com. It also gave King masks to Heavy.com users that made short films involving the mask. And thus the video iPod-related marketing era began.
Mike Spataro, EVP of the web relations group at Weber Shandwick, was one of the many in line on opening day for the product.
"We think the [marketing] potential for it is awesome," Spataro says. "We're already starting to get request from clients about ideas. This could provide a tremendous extension of a PR campaign."
While Spataro notes that audio podcasting had not even reached mainstream status yet, people are already moving quickly to embrace the opportunities with video.
"The fact that the iTunes music store got 1 million [video] downloads in the first 10 days shows that there is a pent-up demand for visual," Spataro says.
Michael Wiley, director of new media at early podcast adopter GM, was playing around with one at his desk when discussing the opportunities with PRWeek.com.
"GM is keenly interested in the various applications for the video-enabled iPods, and we are experimenting with various ideas." Wiley says. "We create a lot of video, and we think people would love to get their hands on portable video."
Wiley hypothesized about uses, such as behind-the-scenes footage of GM car design and manufacturing. And he says the production value doesn't even have to be too pristine.
"As long as it's at least 30-frame-per-second video and has some lighting, people would dig it," Wiley says.
Asa Bailey, CEO of his eponymous viral marketing agency, is also bullish on the potential.
"The arrival of the new Video iPod will further compound the consumer's demands for more digital video content," Bailey says. "People are ready to consume branded content especially if it's good quality and free."
But the iPod isn't the only player in town. Bailey says he's already working on some undisclosed campaigns for multiple portable video devices, using what he referred to as "anytime, anyplace, anywhere content that is universally accessible on any device."
Spataro also thinks the marketing material could come from customers.
"Companies are going to look at how to rally brand evangelists to become producers of content," Spataro said. "Forward-thinking brands have already put together plans. You can build a new level of relationships with your customers."
Vendors who have already pushed clients towards video news releases over the internet are also excited at the video iPod opportunities.
"Video podcasting creates another view for us and expands what we do for our clients," says Tim Bahr, president of MultiVu.
He thinks video over the internet and to iPods works especially well for companies with news that doesn't have the obvious hook for the 6 o'clock news.
Matthew MacQueen, experience planning director for Arc Worldwide, says companies can use the video iPod as extension of other video programming. He uses the example of a cooking show providing 5-minute segments on techniques such as dicing an onion or reducing a sauce. Movies can offer rough cuts or short segments with the directors or cast.
MacQueen echoes Spataro's comments that the video iPod would also create a boon for customer-generated content.
"You can ask your customers to send you clips, which you edit into a 'blank of the week' highlight show," MacQueen says.
Marketers also acknowledge the immediate difficulties in a nascent industry like the portable video market.
Spataro says that the medium will really see traction when the video iPod price point decreases from its $300 - $400 range, and other devices flood the market.
"There's definitely a small target right now, but we expect it to grow with the launch of other devices," MacQueen says.
But Pat Isom, Arc Worldwide SVP and account director, says that even though widespread adoption isn't yet on the horizon, marketers can prove their savvy by being early in the game.
"There is a lot of positive brand impact if we're a first mover," Isom says.
Another question mark confronting video podcasts is that they are more consuming than their audio equivalent.
"You can take an [audio] podcast and listen to it in your car or on a treadmill, but video requires your distinct attention," Wiley said.
Even with the new opportunities afforded by the video iPod, marketers aren't ready to shift all of their attention to the opportunities. Bahr says the video iPod is just one step in the continually-changing marketplace.
"Within six weeks, we'll be talking about something else we need to target," Bahr says.