A client recently asked me if I could help her develop a “viral video” for her large industrial parts business. I asked what she meant by “viral video” and she said she meant a video with a low production budget that gets passed around the web and seen by thousands of viewers. I joked that something from the “stupid pet tricks” genre might fit the bill, perhaps a chimpanzee spraying a kitten with a hose. I told her if we include a chimp we could get at least 100,000 views.

We then talked seriously about what is happening with video on the web because, in case you haven’t logged on in a year or so, people are watching a lot of video online.

Research shows that Americans spend 32 percent of their time online, and they’re spending most of that time watching video. What are they watching? Eighty-four percent of the time they are watching short clips of music, comedy, and yes, perhaps chimps spraying kittens with hoses. Eleven percent of the time they’re watching TV shows and five percent of the time they’re watching movies.

In a nutshell, videos are a leading source of entertainment on the web.

It’s no wonder that marketers like my client are asking how they can use online video to reach their customers. However, these companies are not in the entertainment business and can’t expect to spend their marketing budgets on “stupid pet tricks.” What should they do?

Let’s look at three marketing campaigns where online video is being used in innovative and effective ways.

Frankfurt Zoo Banner Ad Campaign: Zoos are fun, but one of the best parts of visiting a zoo is seeing the animals feeding. Wouldn’t the experience be even better if you could feed the animals yourself? This is the insight that the Frankfurt Zoo used in a recent digital marketing campaign. Banner ads across the web show live video of a fish tank at the Frankfurt Zoo. By clicking on the button under the video, you can activate a bubble sprayer in the fish tank, and during select feeding times, you can actually deliver food to the fish and see them eat. It’s video, it’s digital and it’s so cool that news of the campaign got passed around the web far beyond the scope of the media buy.

Coldwell Banker YouTube Channel: Last time you bought a house, you probably remember the process as one with lots of looking and lots of driving. Coldwell Banker is using its YouTube Channel to make the process easier. Click to the channel and you’ll see a map. Orient the map to neighborhoods where you might want to buy, and then see markers on houses for sale. Click on a marker and you’ll launch a video of the house posted by the local real estate agent. What could be easier?

Apple Advertising Campaign: Remember the TV commercials with the two guys standing in front of the white background? One says, “I’m an Apple.” And the other guy says, “I’m a PC.” The campaign captures the Apple brand’s essence perfectly and tweaks Apple competitors powerfully. When Apple sought to extend the campaign into the digital space, the question was how to mirror the messaging and impact of the TV campaign. The answer: Buy high profile media and simply deliver the TV executions into web pages. I saw the campaign on the homepage of www.NYTimes.com. As soon as I launched the NY Times homepage, I saw the two characters from the Apple TV campaign in a vertical space on the right side of the screen. They began to talk to one another just as they do on TV. I was given the option of muting the sound, but it was surprising enough, and entertaining enough that I forgot about the news for a minute and just watched Mr. Apple mocking Mr. PC.

Coldwell Banker, the Frankfurt Zoo and Apple have tapped into our newly developed expectation that when we go online we want to see video, and they have done it in ways that work. Each of these campaigns is based on a keen understanding of their customers’ needs. Each one uses video to solve a customer problem or provide brand-appropriate entertainment. Most remarkably, they didn’t even have to use chimpanzees to get our attention.