How to use video in email

The first time I came across a video within an email was in 2011 when I received a Game of Thrones email from Sky TV in the UK. Even though I was using Outlook 2007 at the time and had images blocked, I was still pretty amazed to see a real working video when I clicked on the “Can’t view this email” link.

As a fairly geeky email marketer, I viewed the source code to see what magic was going on.

I quickly identified something that looked like this:

<video width="640" height="360" poster="https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/fallback.jpg" controls="controls"> <source src="http://mysite.com/videoname.mp4" type="video/mp4" /> <a href="http://mysite.com/"><img src="https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/fallback.jpg" width="640" height="360" /></a> </video>

If you’re wondering what that code is, it’s actually HTML5 video tag which I can tell you was very advanced stuff at the time. Campaign Monitor co-founder, Dave Greiner blogged about this snippet of code back in 2009 and came to the conclusion that it was the best way to embed a video within an email, but still lacks support from most email clients.

According to our friends at Email on Acid, videos in email will work in Apple Mail, older iOS versions of the iPhone and Outlook.com. So, if you happen to have a high number of subscribers using one of those email clients, you can consider including a video within your emails, otherwise, it’s not something we would recommend. You can easily check what the most popular email clients and devices are among your subscribers with our email client usage report.

To solve for all the other email clients, we have some alternative options for using video in email in this post.

Optimizing your video for email

If you determine that you have a large Apple Mail/Outlook.com subscriber base and you want to try embedding an HTML 5 video in your email, there are a number of things you can do to optimize the experience for your subscribers.

Keep it short

It’s likely that half of the subscribers who open your emails spend less than 10 seconds reading them. Don’t bother trying to display a full feature film within your email. We recommend keeping your video under 60 seconds.

Keep file size low

Another good reason to keep your video short is that you also want to try and keep the file size as low as possible so that the video doesn’t need to buffer to start playing. Keep in mind that many people open your emails on mobile devices which might not have the fastest download speed.

Turn the sound off

People don’t expect sound to come out of their emails. So make sure that you turn the mute sound option on within your code.

Use video for the right reasons

Don’t use a video in your email just for the sake of doing it. Make sure that you have the right audience for the video and that it actually adds value to the email. Some good use cases might include event announcements, new product launches, exclusive interviews, etc.

What’s the alternative to embedding video in your email?

While embedding video in email isn’t a great idea for most due to the lack of support across email clients, there are other solutions you can use to bring videos to your emails including the following:

Animated GIFs

The obvious alternative to video within email is to use an animated GIF. These are easy to make, lightweight and are supported by most email clients. That’s why so many emails you receive from retailers includes an animated GIF of some sort.

Here’s a fun example from Australian retailer, Trelise Cooper:

Static image with play button

Using a play button on top of a static image is an incredibly easy way to link to video content hosted on sites like Wistia, YouTube or Vimeo. Like the animated GIF option, this is a great lightweight solution. And unlike embedding your video in the email, you’ll be able to track your clicks to see how many people are viewing the video from the email.

We did this recently in our Campaign Monitor newsletter with a slick video for Jaybird:

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 2.47.18 PM.png

Animated play button

To add a little extra emphasis to their play button, Harley Davidson of Australia & NZ used an animated play button to draw attention to the video in their email campaign:

Using these alternatives is very easy and has none of the drawbacks of embedding video in email.

Wrap up

Whether you choose to get more technical and use HTML5 video in your email or choose to use one of the alternatives outlined in this post, using video in email can be an engaging way to bring compelling content to your subscribers.

About Kurated

Andrew+King.png

Andrew King has designed, coded and deployed hundreds of emails (to millions of people) and most recently consulted on email strategy for some of the world's largest retailers, non-profits, financial institutions and publishers. He occasionally speaks at industry events and can often be found in San Francisco pondering the future of email. 

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