We’re fascinated by the herd mentality that crops up in the digital world. We had hoped that early adopters of digital technologies would not fall into the same behaviors as their offline predecessors who copied one another’s ideas ad nauseam.
Digital technology apparently makes it even easier to copy tired, clichéd ideas from your competitors.
We’ve catalogued eight video styles that have been overdone and should be retired:
1. Lip dub of employees singing The Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve got a feeling”: There are 50,100 lip-dub videos of people pretending to sing Black Eyed Peas songs. I caught this video of the funhouse skeleton in Ocean City, N.J., which proves the genre has been done to death.
2. Hands drawing really fast on a white board: There are 250,000 of these on YouTube. The whiteboard compressed-time video of hands drawing cartoons is boring. Sure, maybe it’s fun the first 150 times you see it, but it’s still a way to force the viewer to read a bunch of words that you’re drawing on the screen, in between cartoon images of what’s supposed to be your team, or an ocean liner, or any of a thousand completely irrelevant illustrations.
This one is nearly 11 minutes long. Do you really want to watch hands drawing cartoons for 11 minutes?
This next one wants you to get excited about attending a conference for financial professionals, but the only financial professionals you see in this are the cartoon figures drawn by the hand. Why can’t they interview attendees about the value of the conference?
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3. Flash mob of professional dancers/singers in a shopping mall, food court, or train or bus station: You know the one: Two minutes of fast-cut anticipatory images of bystanders looking puzzled when a guy walks into the train station with a tuba, or a woman with a Brunhilde hat with the horns starts singing scales. Then they launch into a full-blown Broadway musical dance number, with full orchestra, and 30 or 40 professional videographers capturing it from every angle, to the amazement of the spectators. This is not a “flash mob,” this is a carefully planned professional video project involving hundreds of people to make it look spontaneous. They don’t look at all spontaneous anymore.
There are 14,500,000 flash mob videos on YouTube. That’s 14.5 million. Why would you waste your money on something this overdone?
4. Time lapse: One of my photojournalist friends, referring to a clichéd photographic effect that makes all points of light look like little stars, called time lapse “the star filter of video.”
Unless you work for a construction company showing us the construction of the tallest building in the world, shot over a four-year construction program, we don’t really need to see your employees scurrying through their day in 30 seconds. I’d rather hear them talk about their passion for your workplace.
(Thanks to C.C. Chapman for doing this time lapse with his GoPro camera.)
5. Words on a blank wall: If you want people to read words, let them download a white paper. Don’t waste your video budget throwing words on a screen. People hate it when you read your PowerPoint slides at them in a seminar. What makes you think they want you to do it in your online video?
6. Chroma key (green screen) that’s not done for fun: Using a green screen to insert yourself into an exciting locale, or in front of a weather map can be fun, as long as you treat it as a fantasy. But if you actually think your viewers will believe you have that great penthouse office, or that you are recording the video from Beijing, forget it.
They won’t believe it, and you’ll damage your company’s credibility.
This can be even more treacherous for job-seekers who are persuaded to let the video producer chroma key them into a fake office. Hiring managers can easily recognize the small number of fake office backgrounds being used. How does it help your efforts to get hired if they think you are being deceptive about your work environment?
7. Chroma key that puts your CEO against a plain background so you can put word slides on the screen: Closely related to No. 5 above. We wrote about this a while ago. It’s worth rereading that blog post.
No one wants you to read words at them. Just talk to them.
Ditch the words. Replace them with video images of real stuff.
8. Videos with “See Dick Run” narration in an attempt to be cute and precious, but which ends up insulting the audience and making them question your company’s grip on reality: We couldn’t believe it when a prospective client told us they thought this was a great video.
I think the infantile copy insults viewers. I know it’s the Golden Gate Bridge. I know what the U.S. map looks like. If the guy at the security desk salutes everybody, instead of telling me the obvious, that he’s saluting people, how about an interview with him explaining why he does that? You don’t need to tell me that you took video of your CEO drinking a cup of coffee. Let the CEO tell me in his own words what he thinks about the crucial business problem that you need solved. That’s far more important.
Don Hewitt, executive producer of “60 Minutes,” had a simple four-word formula he gave reporters for every package they submitted for the television show: Tell me a story.
It’s time that companies learned that formula for the videos they are producing in the online television world.
Forget the gimmicks. Tell me a story.
A version of this article first appeared on Lubetkin.net.