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5 Surprising Ways “Pop-Up Video” Invented Digital Marketing

By Martin Kihn | June 19, 2014 | 1 Comment

Here’s a spill, amigos: In my misspent youth, I was a writer for a program that aired on VH1 in the U.S. and MTV Networks around the world. It was called “Pop-Up Video,” and it made quite the spritz around town in the late 1990’s, before the internet really got its mojo rising.

I appeared on the “Today” Show, my boss was on “Oprah” (twice), and I personally got to write a segment for Kevin Bacon on the VH1 Fashion Awards that flamed out due to technical problems. (At least, that’s what I keep telling my therapist.) It was a glorious moment in time and a very odd show, and it’s my contention that “Pop-Up Video” actually forged the hermeneutics of today’s digital marketing mise en place.

Huh? If you’re wondering what I just said, remind yourself that you’re reading a Gartner blog post, I’m a Gartner analyst with at least one Ivy League parchment on the wall of my seraglio, and . . . wait, what’s this?


Bloop! Yes, I wrote that “pop.” Or rather, poignantly adapted it from a dictionary to synch with Alanis’ timeless question, “Isn’t It Ironic?” (Answer: Not really. Her examples in the song’s lyrics don’t demonstrate irony so much as a run of bad luck.)

For a while, I was the show’s Head Writer, a title that sounds more ritzy than reality. My “team” consisted of five skeptical hipsters who ignored me, a dried-up cactus, and a production assistant who’s probably still wandering around Times Square wondering what day it is.

But the tell-all can wait. For now, let’s get to the super-exciting . . .

“5 Surprising Ways ‘Pop-Up Video’ Invented Digital Marketing”

  1. Responsive – Today, no message exists on a single level; we’re awash in meta-layers and simultaneous information streams. The modern web is about multi-tiered communication, with one message commenting on another as it happens. This is particularly true in social media, of course, but the modern marketer reacts to the stream of a users’ behavior in the same way we “poppers” reacted to the music video. Our most successful pops on the show were the sudden reveals. In the “Ironic” video, above, there’s a fleeting moment when you can see the back-seat cameraman in the car’s rear-view mirror. Bloop! Pop magic.
  2. Real-Time – “Pop-Up Video” was not just responsive, it was anchored in time. Part of music’s power is the way it plots groups of people to a moment (always passing) . . . and the show’s commentary unfolds in the audience’s tick. It’s the same effect a marketer wants when she adapts her brand’s website based on what a user just did. In Phil Collins’ epic video for “Take Me Home,” he lip-synchs that (very long) song in various cities around the world. In quite a few of these far-flung locations, he’s wearing the exact same shirt. I pointed this out with an arrow. You’re welcome.
  3. Totally Real – There’s real-time and then there’s real time. This is not an existential quip, but a literal description that may surprise you: every fact presented in every episode of “Pop-Up Video” was entirely true. We used to say every fact was “triple-checked,” which was optimistic. No fact could be repeated. Once I revealed that 26% of men have cried at work, I had to dry my eyes and move on. I’m not saying all marketing has to be factual, of course – just that it has to be real (or, if you prefer, authentic).
  4. Not Available Anywhere Else – The best material in any “Pop-Up Video” script came right from a person who was on the set. This is called first-hand information, and it is usually not available online. Let me repeat this incredible poke for the kids in the back: a lot of really interesting information is not available online. It’s even more interesting because it’s not online. Facts on the web get repeated and lazily swiped so much they lose interest. When a grip tells me that those brief glimpses we see of Michael Jackson in the video for “Victory” are actually a wax dummy of Michael Jackson because he refused to go to the shoot – well, that is what I call interesting.
  5. A Lot of Work – It’s the only job I’ve had where a member of my family actually called my boss at midnight and told him he had to send me home on the R Train. Viewers had no idea how much work was involved in tracking down sources, finding the facts, lining them up with the video, crafting a coherent “arc” and – oh, yeah, – making it funny. The more I’m around digital marketers, the more I think we’re all looking for the “silver bullet” – the hub, or cloud, that will solve our problems. When it’s invented, I’ll let you know. For now, know that anything worthwhile is going to be a labored slog through the valley of pain. And if you do it right, and it works, it will all seem incredibly easy and obvious.

Bloop! Let me know your fondest “Pop-Up Video” memory, especially if it’s from Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart” (my personal favorite). Follow me @martykihn

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1 Comment

  • Calvin Quinn says:

    My favorite was actually that other Alanis Morrisette video where she stares at the camera in a single take for four minutes. How you managed to “pop” that one amazed me. I remember a lot of jokes about Canada and the US having the longest undefended border in the world, which frankly scared me.