Want a sense of just how far YouTube has evolved from its scruffy user-generated roots to a premier site for big brand launches? Then head over to YouTube.com now and you'll see huge rotating rich media campaigns running for VISA, with a tie-in for the new Disney/Pixar film Toy Story 3 (opening tomorrow) and for Xbox's new Kinect motion-sensing feature (the "Wii-killer" unveiled earlier this week at E3).
From a brand launch perspective, these are about as big as they get, with huge money and franchises at stake for all of the companies involved, not to mention the positive or negative career impact for the marketers driving the media strategies at these companies. The fact that both are advertising prominently on YouTube says volumes about the site's importance in the online advertising world and its evolution from its UGC start.
It wasn't that long ago when YouTube was derided an un-monetizable jumble of amateurish clips. It's also worth noting that, as best I can tell, neither the Kinect nor VISA/Toy Story 3 campaigns are running on Yahoo, AOL or MSN right now, the traditional online homes for big brand launches. Now imagine when YouTube is available on TVs via Google TV and you get a sense of just how important YouTube is going to be, and how strategic it has become for Google which is trying to expand beyond search ads.