Mythbusting: Video In Email













As a Creative Director, my workday often revolves around crafting and optimizing email communications for big brands. So, I’m always intrigued when new technologies come along that allow me to put another tool in my kit.


One of the most exciting developments to come along recently has been the use of video in email. Not the spoofed playback buttons overlaid on a static image, or even animated gifs that simulate video, but honest-to-goodness sound and motion video played directly in a recipient’s inbox.


Why is this development so exciting? Well, email is a very brief and fleeting medium. Grabbing a user’s attention and convincing them to take action requires the skill to captivate and activate in 3-5 seconds or less.


And, nothing helps people connect with content’s purpose as quickly as video. It’s easy to understand and people instantly emotionally engage with it in a way they don’t often do with text and static images.


Motion Makes Email More Engaging


Rigorous testing of content has indicated that using motion in an email message is a very effective tactic. Even adding simple animations drive increased engagement and higher conversion rates. And, there’s mounting evidence that a richer experience pushes those metrics to even greater heights. That alone makes video in email a technique worth exploring.


So, if video in email is potentially so effective, then why haven’t more brands been using it? Well, up until fairly recently delivering video directly to the inbox posed a few problems. Big problems, in fact. So much so that I bet if you’ve been in the email sector for a while, you gasped when you read the headline “Video in Email.” Why such a visceral reaction?

The Deliverability Nightmare

Previously, video playback required the use of a 3rd party plug-in, like Flash or Quicktime, and email clients abhor 3rd party plug-ins. Plug-ins are a significant security risk to email clients as they can allow viruses and malicious code to sneak in and wreak havoc.

This meant that an email containing video that depended on a plug-in was likely to get sent to the bulk folder, or caught up in a spam filter, preventing the message from even reaching the inbox. Poor deliverability has been the source of many an email marketer’s nightmare. Even with the plug-in installed, and the email delivered, rendering support was spotty, meaning that the user experience was often disappointing.

But, Video Is Too Big

Another major issue had been file size. Lighter emails mean faster downloads, and video files are not light. In fact, just a few seconds of video can easily top out of 10 MB or more. When best practices recommend the use of files sizes of 101 KB or less, a file that is over a thousand times that heavy seemed like insanity. Who would wait minute-upon-minute for an email to download?

All in all, video in email had acquired a bad reputation as mad, bad and dangerous to send. Most email marketers decided to hunker down and play it safe by sticking to images and text, and including links to video hosted on landing pages when needed.

But then, something started happen in 2012. Major brands like Avon, Barney’s, Bloomingdale’s, Brookstone, Discovery, Disney, HP, AT&T, TomTom and Victoria’s Secret slowly started to test the waters again. What had altered so drastically to make video in email less dangerous and more desirable? Primarily, two key advances have changed the game.

1. The Advent Of HTML5 And Its Widespread Support By Email Clients

HTML5 is an open standard which is supported by a shockingly high number of email clients. This means we are able to use a simple HTML5 <video> tag to deliver video to the inbox without the need for a 3rd party plug-in to almost all Web-based, mobile and desktop email clients. No plug-in needed; thus, no deliverability nightmare.

HTML5 also allows us to designate a list of media that can be displayed, letting the email client choose the best-supported format when the email is opened. In that list, we can include references to fallback media, like an animated gif or static graphic for those small number of email clients that won’t allow a video format. No special segmentation needed, no additional versions of the email, just a snippet of code and a few versions of the content.

Though it can be a bit more labor-intensive than using a simple graphic, this technique virtually eliminates the risk of a poor user experiences. When done correctly, it’s almost magical.

2. Use Of Hosted, Progressively Downloaded Video Files

Video files, no matter how small or how short, will always end up heavier than email best practices will recommended. However, with a progressive playback, we can allow users to begin to watch a video without requiring them to download the entire file before it begins. Not only does this mean almost instant access to video playback on a desktop environment, but mobile devices on a 3G+ connection will experience a smooth video experience as well. Pretty cool.

So, with two of the major technical barriers set aside, it’s time to move past the myth that video in email is difficult and troublesome and start learning how to refine its use effectively.

As with most things, the devil is in the details, and wading into video in email does take some research and expertise. The topic may very well warrant a follow up series of how-tos. In the meantime I’ll share a few key resources that I found helpful when I became brave enough to tackle video in email again:

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Video | Email Marketing | Email Marketing Column | Video


About The Author: is a Creative Director with Responsys — a technology company with a focus on cross-channel digital direct marketing solutions. Over the last seven years she has created campaign for leading brands, which have been recognized industry wide for their high creative standards and campaign performance.

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  • iamacyborg

    It’s a nice idea, but there are still far too many problems with video email, the biggest of which being that the video controls just don’t work properly across numerous common webmail clients and browsers.

    We shouldn’t be throwing away the user experience just to get the latest shiny bit of tech into our emails.

  • Dee Mat Rix

    Problems just need solutions and strategies. To just avoid it is a lazy approach. So what if certain email clients do not support it. Just provide a solution or option for those l;ike we already do when someone cannot see the email and need to view the web version. Sometimes we have to provide great solutions and let the other make the change ie. Outlook 2007.

  • iamacyborg

    Dee, the problem is that the correct video is shown, the controls are shown, but they don’t work. Clicking on the video does nothing, and right clicking isn’t intuitive.

  • Dee Mat Rix

    I agree on the right clicking not being intuitive. But clicking the fallback image is what I normally do to begin with and it works based on tracked clicks for my email campaigns. Obviously text with a CTA receive more click thrus. I admit it is going to be a little more work, but I guarantee you will have a few more people on your list keen to the technology and will become loyal openers if they aren’t already.

  • iamacyborg

    You don’t see the fallback image if the video loads properly, you just get a video with controls that don’t work.

    That’s why I think it’s still not a valid tech to use unless you’re super specific with your segments.

    It could interest a few techy people, it could also massively frustrate some of your audience.

  • Lynn Baus

    So glad to see this thoughtful debate. Like all new approaches, video in email does require additional work in order to ensure that users have a great experience. But we no longer have to avoid it all together. There are great services that help marketers work around the issues you mention iamacybord. LiveClicker VideoEmailExpress and Movable Ink’s new Video-in-Email app are just two. And there are fallback protocols that can be handcrafted without the need for additional technology though they take a little more research and elbow grease. It might be helpful write up some of the details around execution, and tips for working around some of the rendering “gotchas” in subsequent issues so that folks can better understand those specific issues and work-arounds. But the main take away should be that we no longer have to flee in fear from the mention of video delivery to the inbox, we can now start refining and debugging the approach — which is very exciting.

  • tom

    I tried to get the samples you linked to … got all the emails … not a
    single video would open/play. I’m on an iMac viewing email via
    YahooMail. So much for videos in email, huh?!

  • dave collado

    I agree. Also, what about the recipients data plan on mobile devices, wouldn’t this be an issue?

  • justinfoster

    Hi Tom,

    Justin from Liveclicker’s Video Email Express here. Not necessarily so. Video in email is still not supported by many mail clients. The key is to detect the mail client and serve something that DOES work for that client in case video is not supported. In your case, using Yahoo on an iMac, you would have either seen a static image or an animation depending on whether you use a Webkit browser or not. You can see the complete list of mail clients here: Hope this helps,


  • justinfoster

    Hi guys,

    If you’re looking at the examples Lynn posted, a quick note about right clicking. Right clicking to play is only required by Hotmail/ when viewed in Chrome/Firefox. In the cases of the examples, a “right click to play” image should have been overlaid across the video player so that the viewer doesn’t have to guess. It’s possible if you’re viewing some of the older examples that didn’t happen. Let us know if you’re experiencing any trouble with them.


  • justinfoster

    Lynn – totally agree. Great article, too. Good mythbusting ;-)


  • justinfoster

    This is not true. The only webmail client that requires a fallback “right click to play” image is Hotmail. The rest will display static image or animation, which is just fine, since senders use those techniques already. The only place where we still see compatibility issues are on a handful of Android phones, due to a bug in Android. But, in all, even with those accounted for you’re still looking at ~99% of all email recipients able to view video in email (or a fallback) with no issues. I don’t think it’s really correct to say there are too many “problems” just because video’s not supported by all mail clients. There are fallbacks available and the reality is that we’ll never live in a world where email supports 100% of anything, anywhere. For the senders that wish to push the envelope and deliver video in email, it’s a viable option. I don’t believe video in email should always be used, but I do think it has its place in the email marketer’s toolbox.


  • justinfoster

    Hi Dave,

    Good question re: data plans. The answer is “not really.” All devices we have tested request only a portion of the video file on the email open. The file does not begin playback until the play is initiated. Therefore you’re not going to consume a huge amount of data simply by opening your email, or have an email with video “embedded.” I use quotes for “embedded” because the only proper way to deliver video in email is to reference the video file in the HTML. Playback still occurs within the message using this technique.

    However, if you chose to play the video, then that would use your bandwidth and data just as if you were playing a video on the web, and therefore it would use your data then. Hope this helps,


  • Whitney Hoffman

    Isn’t the real question whether or not people want to see the content in their emails? I have enough issues keeping up with the email deluge than to add an additional burden of seeing your video in it, esp. when I screen most of my email on a mobile device. Plus, unless the video is really beyond awesome, I will view it as a waste of time and likely unsubscribe.

    I’d love to see samples of compelling video in email- I just have yet to see anything, with metrics attached, that’s been shown to be worth the problems associated, at least up until this point. Do you have testing metrics?

  • Sean Breslin

    Don’t give up Tom… The video email market is viable. Finding the right format and provider is key!


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