Lights, Camera ... Inaction

August 13, 2009
Video in email? Not quite yet, Mr. DeMille.

In one of our recent e-newsletters, we decided to feature some recent video work by using a still shot of the commercial with the ubiquitous "Play" button slapped on top. The implication, I hope, was clear: Click here, and you'll see some moving pictures. But we didn't try to embed the actual video in the email.

Why not? Because video playback in email just isn't ready for the spotlight, despite years of pining from desperate marketers, largely because a handful of cranks ruined the fun for everyone. As a thorough study of the matter conducted by Campaign Monitor—our email management system of choice—noted:

"Many years ago most desktop and web-based email clients actually supported video in email. As security tightened and spam became a bigger problem, the belt was tightened and video support became a thing of the past."

Moreover, that study went on to conclude that the myriad incompatibilities in video formats and email clients available to consumers meant that video in email is still, at best, a pipe dream. It just doesn't work, despite the increased availability of broadband access and the push toward more web video use in general. But there's a bigger point to be made here.

Email is best used to invite or inspire further action. Click here. Read more. See our specials. Go here to vote. In other words, it's a means to an end—not the end itself. Having video playback inside an email means the reader (now viewer) doesn't need to do anything else. It's a dead end.

The best practice of showing a clickable image that links to a web page displaying the full video isn't just for overcoming technical challenges. It's also for creating a better call to action and increasing conversions.