Embedding video in email (Lifts conversion rate 50%)

Haven Holiday newsletter

In June 2008, MarketingSherpa released a case study, “Embedded Video Lifts Conversion Rate 50%” for Haven Holidays. Reading about it on Mark Brownlow’s blog, I was among the many doubters.

I assumed Haven Holidays were using Flash or Javascript, which does not render in most email clients. UK based RedEye, the email service provider delivering the emails, had no information on their website.

So I signed up for Haven Holidays’ newsletters. Shortly after, I received a video in my inbox .  It started playing immediately - that was a first! I forwarded the email to my husband, a games programmer asking, “How did they do this?!!” 


How to do it:

The first thing we - ok he - did, was use the same technique as Haven Holidays with one of our videos:

1. Grab your video file
I used an MPEG but you can use Quicktime MOV (requires Quicktime player), AVI, or Windows Media Video.

2. Encode it into base64
This turns your video file into raw binary data, which can be read as a text string. It can be embedded into an email file which is text based.  Just google base64 for a list of free encoders.

3. Embed the base64 text into your email - the key is to use dynsrc 
Here’s where it gets tricky. Create an html email with an image, and add a dynsrc parameter to point to your video file.  If an email client does not play the embedded video, this image will appear. Add a link to your online video file, as a back-up measure.

You can download a zip file here, containing Sparks.eml When you double click the file it launches in Outlook, or open it in a text editor like wordpad and view all the code rather than the small segment below.
example code:

<div align=center width=100% height=100%><img src=”http://www.mysite.com/myimage.gif” mce_src=”http://www.mysite.com/myimage.gif”  dynsrc=”cid:myvideo.mpg” mce_src=”cid:myvideo.mpg”   width=”320″ height=”240″/><div>

After you’ve converted your video file to a base64 encoded string. Embed the encoded video file in the html as a unique content ‘part’ (emails are read as multipart documents, text only, html etc) Use the dynsrc parameter to point to this content ‘part’ to redirect the url in the image tag.

example code:

Content-ID: <myvideo.mpg>
Content-Type: application/octet-stream; name=myvideo.mpg
Content-Transfer-Encoding: base64

4. Send 
We usually use Campaign Monitor to deliver - and test - our emails, but they don’t accept embedded files. So we used Blat for our video test.  Its free, accepts embedded files and automatically does the base64 encoding for you.

Why Embed Video?

A few reasons you should give embedded video a try:

  • 50% lift in conversion rates…
  • The video starts playing immediately, even with images blocked
  • Technology costs nothing, use a free 64Base encoder.
  • Email clients that don’t play the video, show a screenshot with a link.
  • With Christmas coming up, everyone will be rolling out the bells and whistles.
  • It’s at least worth one A/B test against the screenshot approach.

Why stick with a screenshot?

Always a downside:

  • Embedding increases file size. The Haven Holidays email is 1.34mb with the video embedded.
  • If you try streaming the video using dynsrc, it only plays when images are enabled.
  • Most email service providers, don’t support embedded files.
  • Embedding video is not supported across all email clients.

Support for embedded video

We could not run this test through our usual testing tool,  it does not support embedded files. Therefore we could only test in 7 clients. For those clients that do not play the video, a backup image and link to an online version is displayed.

If you use one of the email clients not yet tested,  email me and I will send you the video test, then we can fill in the blanks…

Embedded Video support in email
Web–based email clients
AOL web No
Comcast ?
Earthlink ?
Gmail No
Mail.com ?
MSN Hotmail ?
Windows live Hotmail ?
Yahoo classic No
Yahoo! Mail No
Desktop email clients
AOL 10 No
Lotus Notes 6.5 No
Outlook 2000 & 2003 Yes
Outlook 2007 No
Outlook Express 6 Yes
Outlook XP ?
Thunderbird No
Windows Mail ?
Mac Mail (.mac) No

 Examples Used:

  • Style Campaign Video  —  The streaming version, not sure if you can show the embedded video in a web-page…
  • You can view the Haven email here it shows the back-up screenshot, the embedded video does not run online.
  • You can download a zip file here, containing Sparks.eml an embedded video email.When you double click the file it launches in Outlook, or open it in a text editor like wordpad and view all the code rather than the small segment below.

If you want me to send you the single Style Campaign email, so you can see the embedded video email me. You won’t be added to my monthly newsletter, or Spammed. Note - It does not work in Outlook 2007 or Gmail, so if you’re using Outlook 2007 or Gmail and want to view the code download the zip file here.

Without knowing which email clients the video plays in, I cannot make a recommendation. Haven Holidays reports a 50% lift in conversions using this technique, which is encouraging. On the other hand, Mark Brownlow pointed out that we don’t know if they tested against the screenshot method.
For me its not practical, my ESP does not support embedded files. I could send using Blat, but then my clients would have no reports…I’m sticking with the screenshot method for now.

For more reading on embedding images in email, check out this post by Campaign Monitor.

Update: Thanks to everyone who helped out with the testing. This technique is not widely supported and will run on Outlook 2000 and 2003 only.  I’d give it a miss for now. But don’t be discouraged…

I ran some tests during Dec 08, converting a video to an animated gif. Results were exciting. Video Gifs play in all email clients except Outlook 2007, which displays the first frame only. Check out the post and forward yourself my Twilight demo email.


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