Moving pictures can be dangerous, like the video of me from 1988; I was clad in acid-washed jeans with a shock of hair that resembled a dump truck in full tilt.
The same thing applies to a new generation of video.
When it comes to branded video content—even content that supplements an online story or your slick, new app—if you have the wrong mission or focus, things can go south faster than a bender in Tijuana.
This year I’ve provided video content for a TV network, and I’ve learned a lot. My network is an in-airport network that broadcasts to nearly 4 million passengers a month at Washington D.C.’s Dulles International and Reagan National airports. We have 50-inch, flat-screen monitors everywhere, except the bathrooms. (That’s another goal for another day.)
Our screens roll 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our “program” is a 20-minute loop that changes weekly.
What have I learned? That I was wrong about almost everything. Here are the myths I debunked:
Myth No. 1: No one pays attention to video, except for the “S#%* people say” meme on YouTube.
Don’t bet on it. Video content is everywhere, and can fine-tune or define your message and brand.
My team and I produce branded video content for airports, but video is most dominant online with no signs of slowing. In fact, digital tracking company comScore noted that in December, 182 million U.S. Internet users watched online video content for an average of 23.2 hours per viewer.
That number will rise. A recent survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project showed the number of Americans who own a tablet—the device of choice to watch new video content—is 29 percent.
Myth No. 2: Tell a good story and you’ll be fine—video length doesn’t matter.
The writer in me wanted to believe this, but something interesting happened on my way to becoming Marty Scorsese. I learned it’s best to leave long narratives to tablets, and even then, only if you have something monumental that you can’t say in 60-90 seconds.
In 2011 we showcased local artists, singers, chefs and even yours truly in Portland for a travelogue. The videography was strong, the stories were appealing, and the music soared in the right places.
The problem was the videos were too long; they clocked in anywhere from three to six minutes. I visited the airports and watched the body language of viewers. I witnessed initial interest fade to iPhone-checks and, in some instances, actual snoozing. This is a sign you’re not engaging your audience. (Nothing gets by me.)
Myth No. 3: One-minute, branded videos are appealing and don’t need a narrative.
There are no shortcuts. Videos, like good stories, need a beginning, middle and end—even if they’re 60-seconds long.
This is among the best one-minute videos I’ve seen in the past six months. It’s branded content for a student travel service in Australia. Images of gorgeous places flash across the screen.
The middle? Yes, the guy claps at pigeons. The end? Looks like the Tetons, right? At the very end the video fades to white with the branded catchphrase. This video is so effective, I’m more than a little jealous. It tells an incredible story in less time than it takes to send an email.
Myth No. 4: YouTube democratized video production, so content doesn’t have to look that good.
Sorry, but production values for branded content need to be just as strong as those you write for print or online. Besides, YouTube even has plans to redefine niche programming light years beyond cable.
The good news is HD cameras make it easy for content creators, once wary of anything other than the almighty keyboard, to film interviews and tell stories in new and exciting ways.
Content creators can take it a step further. The latest version of Final Cut features a smooth user interface and infinite flexibility.
I still don’t know the perfect path of video and its role in the content we provide. But I do have a better sense of how to avoid paths that lead to scary things such as miniscule click-through or, even worse, a collective shrug from audiences.
Marty would be proud.