For New York–based William Hereford, 27, the former assistant of Chris Craymer, the breakthrough came two years ago with a short video called “Cooking Dinner”. Hereford calls the three-and-a-half minute clip “a technical test, an attempt to shoot video that acts like a still photograph.” He overlaid typography—the recipe instructions for roasted duck—onto the scenes so that the overall effect is sort of like a moving cookbook. The clip was viewed more than 30,000 times and led Hereford into the fuzzy and exploding world of advertorial—sponsored videos that give the viewer something both beautiful and useful but ultimately exist because they’ve got product to move.
GRAYSON: Explain the evolution of your business.
WILLIAM: After “Cooking Dinner,” the CEO of Meyer Corporation called my cell phone and left a message. That was unique; it was a sign of the developing market for this kind of thing. They said, “We really like this but if we just turn it into a commercial, it’ll never get as much attention as your original piece.” I told them I thought we should create content that looks like it was “sponsored by” and not “created for.” Now I throw those words around all the time when I meet with clients. If you want to succeed on the Web, the content needs to look as though it is sponsored content and not content that you created to advertise your specific product. Soft sell, soft sell, soft sell.
Or else make the hard sell. Everything in between is just crap. Some clients call and say, “We don’t want to push the product too hard, but we want to make sure it’s about the product.” And I always say, No, No, if you want to do this, either don’t be ashamed that you’re selling something (like these Old Spice commercials that are going around) or else produce something that looks editorial. And that’s what Anolon wanted. We shot 18 videos for them. The idea was just to show the product being used and shoot something that’s really beautiful to drive traffic to their site. I thought it would be great if we could let each consumer walk away with a service element—a recipe (See the videos here.).
GRAYSON: So what did Anolon do with videos?
WILLIAM: They used them as sponsored content on Saveur’s website [of which Hereford is also a contributor]. If readers of a magazine’s website like the content I’ve created, they’re also going to like the content I’ve created for Anolon. It makes sense for Anolon to advertise with Saveur; it makes sense for Saveur to pursue Anolon. That coupling allows us to have bigger budgets and create better content. I don’t think this was possible before Web videos.
GRAYSON: Where’s the market for this stuff?
WILLIAM: I recently went to a Women’s Wear Daily conference, and I was the only photographer there. It was all marketing people. There was a price to get in, so it was a big investment for me. I thought it was so perfect. I met someone who asked why I was there. I said, Last year 80 percent of my income came from advertorial.
GRAYSON: How do you price this stuff? Who’s to say what it’s worth?
WILLIAM: It’s still the wild West. The print industry has a pretty good structure, but well-produced video just costs more to make. You can’t shoot it with a still camera wrapped around your shoulder and hope that it looks great. Everyone is scrambling. You’ve got to create these pairings between products and editorial in order to get a budget that allows you to do it right.