Video Viewers at 9th & Hennepin

Late last week I got a note from Mark Robertson of ReelSEO explaining there was a shuffle of speaker time slots at the www.reelw in San Francisco, where I was scheduled to present. I skimmed through the email looking for the sentence that read, “so thanks for your enthusiasm, Rob, but your services are no longer required.” It didn’t say that. In fact after a quick exchange of emails, I ended up agreeing to present in one of the keynote slots. I knew I wanted to speak about viewer data and the research we (Ogilvy) had just collaborated on with Google… and I started to obsess about it. When I do speaking gigs I often write up scenarios and possible directions to go. Here’s one that was fun, but didn’t make the cut…

The next day I was driving down the insufferably boring and wretchedly dangerous southern portion of the New Jersey Turnpike. Unlike the northern part where rail yards, ship yards, half-demolished factories and airport runways give ample distraction to the death trap asphalt in front of you, the southern section is one sleep-inducing green/grey wash of pavement and roadside weeds glistening with broken glass from someone’s long-past misfortune. It’s a place where you have to occupy your mind, otherwise your mind will occupy you.

I usually try to feed my head with music and that morning I was listening to a Tom Waits concert I’d downloaded from NPR.org when the song 9th and Hennepin came on. It’s a brilliant bit of prose about prostitutes, drunks and drug addled dreamers… after all, it is a Tom Waits song. At the end, the narrator reveals he wasn’t really there; he had seen it all from the window of a passing train. He imagined that he knew how those people behaved, imagined it in great detail, but he really didn’t know.

He was just riding by.

And I thought about how often we are guilty of doing the same thing when it comes to knowing the users of interactive video. No matter how much data we have, do we really take the time to understand the people we are trying to reach? Or are we just riding by imaging who they are?

I see evidence everyday – everyday – that a good portion of our peers don’t know how users behave. If they did know, their videos would be drastically different. Instead, we see the same strategies, the same story arcs and the same “lift and shift” behaviors from TV or film.

Maybe they are just riding by, as well?

It would do us well to get off the train and go down to the metaphorical corner of 9th and Hennepin to mingle with our peeps. Don’t worry, it’s early. The hookers are sleeping and the conmen are still too hungover to bother with the likes of us. The donut shop is open, of course. I wonder what we’ll learn?