OK, before we do any­thing else, just watch this Audi Super­bowl Commercial:

YouTube Preview Image

Now, let’s talk about why that’s such an amaz­ing piece of storytelling…

How Long Is a Moment?

There’s an apoc­ryphal quote attrib­uted to Steven Spiel­berg that talks about feature-length movies as “60 two-minute scenes” — with each scene capa­ble of cap­tur­ing and riv­et­ing the audience’s atten­tion. It’s a fab­u­lous way to think about filmic storytelling.

And, for adver­tis­ing, it works just as well on the small scale.

Psy­chol­o­gists and neu­ro­sci­en­tists tell us that a moment lasts 2.5 to 3 sec­onds, which is also roughly the same amount of time our brains can hold and process in work­ing mem­ory.

Hand­shakes last a moment. So do hugs. So does a glance into some­one else’s eyes. Go longer than that and it’s both more than a moment and more than a slight change!

A moment, then, is exactly how long a sin­gle, vivid men­tal image is held in the mind’s eye. Draw the imagery out too much longer than that and you’re either build­ing ten­sion or risk­ing the loss of your audience’s attention.

So for me, I don’t think of a 30-second spot as 30 sec­onds, I think of it as 10 great moments (or 20 moments for a 60 sec­ond spot).

That’s 10 men­tal images, each vivid and inter­est­ing enough to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion, strung together to form a riv­et­ing mini-movie. For a TV spot it’s a real mini-movie, and for a Radio or Print Ad, its a movie in the mind. Either way, cre­at­ing one is a game of sequenc­ing men­tal images for max­i­mum impact.

All of which leaves only two questions:

  1. How do you pack as much wal­lop into each 3 sec­ond moment/image as possible
  2. How do you ensure that the moments all build into a mean­ing­ful story that ends with a bang

Pack­ing Wal­lop Into a 3-Second Moment

Obvi­ously, this is a big topic. Whole books could be (and have been) writ­ten about it. But here are the main tech­niques that come to my mind when I think about mak­ing each moment count:

And while all of these ele­ments are impor­tant (and can be found in the Audi ad) I can’t help but feel that the first one, the use of rit­ual, or what Terry Rossio describes as situation-based writ­ing, is the key to most of the oth­ers. It’s also the one that struck me the hard­est when I watched Audi’s 2013 Super­bowl Ad.

Watch the ad again and see if you can’t pick out every sin­gle rit­u­al­is­tic moment that whaps you in the face every three seconds:

  1. Look­ing in the mir­ror before a big event
  2. Mom see­ing you off before High School Prom
  3. Younger sibling/sister as truth teller
  4.  Dad hand­ing you the keys to the car
  5. The vis­ceral thrill of fir­ing up a high-performance V-8
  6. Pulling up to and glanc­ing over at the other car at a light
  7. Look­ing on with envy at the antics of the (limo-riding) in-group
  8. Burn­ing” the other car at a light
  9. Park­ing in the “Big Man’s” reserved spot to thumb your nose at authority
  10. Strut­ting into a build­ing while cooly flick­ing the car lock remote
  11. Enter­ing a hap­pen­ing dance/club/party
  12. Stalk­ing your way through a crowded dance floor/club/party.
  13. Spot­ting the hottest girl in the room
  14. Approach­ing a hot girl danc­ing in the midst of all her friends
  15. Tak­ing a chance at kiss­ing the pretty girl of your dreams
  16. The high school fight (over a girl)
  17. The post-fight black eye (worn with pride)
  18. The post-kiss sigh of ecstasy
  19. The “it was worth it” rebel yell
  20. The end­ing mes­sage: “Brav­ery. It’s what defines us.”

What you’ll notice, as you watch the film, is that the vast major­ity of those moments come and go before you ever have a chance to get bored with them.

The ad always enters these scenes late and then leaves early because the cre­ators chose each moment with care: they’re either arche­typal Amer­i­can growing-up rit­u­als or just every­day, everyone-has-them rit­u­als. No back­story or expla­na­tion required; we encounter them in media res and instantly know what’s going on.

Not only that, but many of these moments are fur­ther aug­mented by mul­ti­ple cam­era shots within the space of a sin­gle 3-second moment. These sto­ry­tellers are putting the ped­dle to the metal visu­ally, ’cause they ain’t tak­ing a chance with los­ing your attention.

Only two of those moments are allowed to linger and grow preg­nant with suspense:

  1. Spotting/walking up to the girl and kiss­ing the girl being one sequence, and
  2. The brew­ing, shocked, then angry reac­tion of the prom king.

Those sequences grow past a sin­gle moment because they gain in sus­pense and inter­est as they move past three sec­onds in length.

He kisses her for more than a moment, which sends your mind off spin­ning: How long is he going to kiss her? Is she going to slap him? No, holy crap, she’s kiss­ing him back! Shit, her date sees him, he’s about to deck him, isn’t he?

The other thing about these par­tic­u­lar moments is that they’re the oblig­a­tory scenes in the story.

Once the incit­ing inci­dent kicks off —- once you find out the kid is going to prom alone — the ques­tion arises as to what he’s going to do about it. What’s he going to do at prom when he gets there? Yeah, he’s got a cool car, but what’s he going to do after he parks it and shows up at prom all alone?  These moments answer that ques­tion, and so they deserve to play out over more than just a few seconds.

And this idea of set-up and pay-off brings us to…

Story Arc — Con­nect­ing Moments Together Meaningfully

The coun­ter­point to Spielberg’s blurb on “60 two-minute scenes” is his quote on story structure:

Peo­ple have for­got­ten how to tell a story. Sto­ries don’t have a mid­dle or an end any more. They usu­ally have a begin­ning that never stops beginning.”

So it’s not only about indi­vid­ual scenes — they still have to be con­nected in a way that makes a point.

Obvi­ously, this is a HUGE topic that many of the great­est minds in his­tory have tack­led. So by all means, go read what Aris­to­tle had to say on the sub­ject. Go read McKee’s Story and all the other modern-day story struc­ture gurus.

But also, let’s maybe bring this down to the level of a blog post and talk about some quick and dirty how-to’s. And with that in mind, here’s what I’ve got for ya:

And again, for me, the first ele­ment is key. If you’re not con­nect­ing one moment to the next through cau­sa­tion or upset, then what’s the point?  Either you’re pay­ing off the promise of a pre­vi­ous moment with a “there­fore,” or you’re throw­ing the audi­ence off-guard by sub­vert­ing their expec­ta­tions with a “but then.”

If you’re not doing one of those two things, you’re prob­a­bly wast­ing time and los­ing the audience’s attention.

What Makes Great The­atre and Holds Attention

Ulti­mately, most ads suck because peo­ple think they’re mak­ing ads, and are will­ing to accept ads that sound like ads. They think ads don’t have to grab your atten­tion and hold your inter­est like a great movie or TV show or radio drama.

They are breath­tak­ingly, spec­tac­u­larly wrong.

This is explained bril­liantly over at the Sell! Sell! Blog [Empha­sis Mine]:

Do You Only Know How To Make Ads?

The things that make a print advert work are the same things that make an edi­to­r­ial lay­out, or piece of printed art strong. The things that make a TV com­mer­cial great are the same things that make a TV pro­gramme, film or piece of video art great. The cru­cial dif­fer­ence being that, obvi­ously, the ulti­mate job of the com­mer­cial work is to meet its brief; sell a prod­uct, change your opin­ion about some­thing, etc. But still, the things that make it work in the end are the same craft skills that make other things strong in that media.

The prob­lem comes when you for­get this, and you think about mak­ing adverts. Peo­ple tend to do things to adverts that they wouldn’t do to an edi­to­r­ial piece of design, or to a film. But unfor­tu­nately ads don’t get processed dif­fer­ently by peo­ple. Either it’s good or it isn’t good. There are no excuses just because it’s an ad. But still, peo­ple try to cram in way too much infor­ma­tion, over-the-top brand­ing, social media logos, and other guff, because it’s an ad.

Some­times it makes you think that peo­ple, clients and agency alike, have for­got­ten how to make inter­est­ing things that also hap­pen to be great ads, and they only know how to make things that look and sound like adverts.”

So the ques­tion you ought to be left with is: does your ad guy just make ads that sound like ads, or is he a mas­ter at grab­bing and guid­ing people’s atten­tion and desires?

Could your copy­writer have scripted any­thing half as good as that Audi Ad?

P.S. Spe­cial shout out to my col­league Tim Miles for inspir­ing me to dis­sect this ad and answer exactly why I like it as much as I do.

Holy mega-bucks, Bat­man! On Sat­ur­day, the orig­i­nal Bat­mo­bile (from the old Adam West TV Show) sold for a whop­ping 4.2 Mil­lion Dollars.  

You can watch the entire bid­ding process in the embed­ded YouTube video, if you want, but I’d advise skip­ping to the 8:14 mark, where they inter­view the win­ning bidder:

YouTube Preview Image

In response to the ques­tion, “what made you want that car?” Rick Cham­pagne gave the fol­low­ing list:

  1. I grew up in that era, so it meant a lot to me.
  2. I’ve been watch­ing that car for 20 years and wait­ing for this day [when it would finally be sold]
  3. I’ve been a Bar­ret Jack­son cus­tomer for well over 15 years
  4. The car is going to go in my liv­ing room
  5. I KNEW I was going to get it

So, just a few reflec­tions from me on the event and Mr. Champagne’s list:

Sen­ti­ment & Emo­tional Con­nec­tion MATTERS

Yes, there is also exclu­siv­ity dri­ving up the price of this car, but by far the biggest fac­tor, and the one men­tioned first by the win­ning bid­der, is the emo­tional con­nec­tion to the old TV show, and in turn, to the famous Batmobile.

If you’re not tak­ing this into account — if you’re not bak­ing a lit­tle Mag­i­cal Think­ing into your mar­ket­ing and adver­tis­ing — you prob­a­bly ought to be.

Baby Boomers Con­trol 70% of the Dis­pos­able Income in the US

Of course, given the era of the Bat­man TV show, it’s not sur­pris­ing that the win­ning bid­der was a Baby Boomer. But don’t over­look the fact that the major­ity of the buy­ers slosh­ing obscene amounts of dis­pos­able income around that auc­tion house were also Boomers. That’s because Baby Boomer’s hold the major­ity of wealth and dis­pos­able income in Amer­ica.

If you’re sell­ing lux­ury or high-end prod­ucts or ser­vices and your mar­ket­ing speaks pri­mar­ily to or from a youth mind­set, you might want to rethink that.

Antic­i­pa­tion Com­bined with Con­fi­dence Is An Unbeat­able Combo

Rick Cham­pagne has been wait­ing to buy this car for 20 years. That’s a lot of antic­i­pa­tion, a lot of time Rick spent imag­in­ing him­self buy­ing that car.

Rick’s also done busi­ness with the auc­tion house, Bar­ret Jack­son, for “well over 15 years.” That’s a lot of repeat busi­ness and confidence.

It also helped, of course, that Bar­ret Jack­son had the car’s orig­i­nal builder/designer and single-person owner on hand to fur­ther ver­ify the authen­tic­ity of the vehi­cle. Per­son­ally, I think it would have been even bet­ter to have had Adam West there, too, but you can’t have every­thing, I guess.

At any rate, the end result is that Rick Cham­pagne was absolutely 100% cer­tain that he was get­ting exactly what he wanted — the 100% gen­uine real deal — from a com­pany that he had full faith and con­fi­dence in to deliver.

This is why he walked into the auc­tion KNOWING that he was going to walk out as the new owner of that car.

What does your com­pany do to help peo­ple IMAGINE buy­ing from you and IMAGINE get­ting the ben­fit from your prod­uct or ser­vice?

When peo­ple walk into your busi­ness do they KNOW that they are going to buy from you? Or do they think they might pos­si­bly buy from you, if the pric­ing is com­pet­i­tive and you seem to have what they want?

So what are YOU doing to:

  • Take advan­tage of, or estab­lish, emo­tional connections?
  • Give peo­ple full faith and con­fi­dence in your prod­uct or service?
  • Allow peo­ple to develop con­fi­dence in you through pre­vi­ous busi­ness dealings?
  • Pro­vide some­thing worth wait­ing for?

Here’s a small busi­ness exam­ple: for most HVAC com­pa­nies, the pay-off is when some­one buys a new Heat­ing and Air Con­di­tion­ing Sys­tem from them. That’s payday.

But the smart com­pa­nies don’t wait for pay­day to try to get your busi­ness. They’d rather you develop con­fi­dence in them BEFOREHAND.

This process is started with great ads that estab­lish an emo­tional con­nec­tion to the lis­ten­ing audi­ence. And if that emo­tional con­nec­tion seems based on old-timey val­ues and slightly older cul­tural ref­er­ences, well, that’s prob­a­bly NOT an accident.

This emo­tional con­nec­tion is fur­ther strength­ened by the offer of value-priced, high-quality tune-ups and fast, effec­tive repairs. A strat­egy that ensures prospects call YOU when they need a tune-up.

And after 5 or more years of hav­ing their sys­tem tuned by you, YOU become the first per­son they call when there is a break­down — and the only peo­ple they trust when it’s time to buy that new sys­tem. Payday!

The icing on the cake? Well, with any luck, that new sys­tem will come with:

  • advanced fil­tra­tion,
  • added humid­ity control,
  • room tem­per­a­ture equal­iz­ing func­tion­al­ity, and
  • energy sav­ing features.

The kind of sys­tem that makes a home notice­ably more com­fort­able and pleas­ant; a lux­ury sys­tem that the home owner desired for some time and planned on buy­ing “some­day,” when it was time for a new one.

And that’s how you can put some super-hero-powered CRACK-POW! — BAM! into your mar­ket­ing and advertising.

 

“Win­ning ad awards is a silly way to mea­sure suc­cess.”  – A para­phrase of thoughts expressed by my col­leagues, Tim Miles and Char­lie Moger.

And while I heartily sec­ond that emo­tion, I usu­ally let Tim or Char­lie express it, since it’s less sour-grapey to say it after you’ve won those kinds of awards, which they have.

But the inter­est­ing thing is that not all ad awards are based merely on creativity.

You can enter and win awards based upon mar­ket­ing effec­tive­ness! That award is called an “Effie,” and you can review the 2012 Effie win­ners here.

But if you’d also like to see a meta-analysis of win­ning cam­paigns, show­ing what win­ning and final­ist entrants had in com­mon, then you’re also in luck.

Effie World­wide has com­pliled just such an analy­sis in their 2012 Effie Report, and have also been kind enough to sum­ma­rize their  key find­ings as follows:

  • Effie Final­ists tend to spend more on paid media, but not nec­es­sar­ily the most. More final­ists spent in the $20 mil­lion to $40 mil­lion range than in the $40 mil­lion+ cat­e­gory, and nearly half spent less than $20 million.
  • Effie medal­ists have slightly fewer goals to achieve, and cam­paigns with a busi­ness objec­tive, rather than one to reach a tar­get audi­ence, col­lect more medals.
  • Never under­es­ti­mate David tak­ing on Goliath – he’s 47 per­cent more likely to win an Effie medal.
  • In the Shop­per Mar­ket­ing Effie cat­e­gories, about two-thirds of final­ists’ pro­grams demon­strated some aspect of dis­rup­tion – either by novel prod­uct place­ment in the store, chang­ing the way shop­pers per­ceived the retailer or chang­ing per­cep­tions of the brand.”

So what I’d like to do today is take each of Effie Worldwide’s bul­let points and dis­cuss it in terms of local advertising/branding:

Spend More on Paid Media

It’s tempt­ing to go after “free adver­tis­ing” such as Word of Mouth, Social Media, and var­i­ous PR and Guerilla Mar­ket­ing tac­tics, but while those are effec­tive, expe­ri­ence shows that there’s just no replac­ing old-school mass media mus­cle when it comes to grab­bing increased share of mind, and in turrn, share of mar­ket.

But if that’s the case, then why didn’t final­ist spend the most on media?  Frankly, I’m guess­ing here, but I think this indi­cates intel­li­gent media buys along with the desire to effec­tively con­cen­trate on one (or a few) media source(s) rather than a spend­ing spree spread out over too many media types.

It might also indi­cate the invest­ment in long-term, day-in and day-out media spends for brand­ing rather than mas­sive, flash-in-the-pan spend­ing for one-time mar­ket­ing blitzes.

In any case, accord­ing to Effie World­wide, effec­tive mar­ket­ing strate­gies are more likely to have intel­li­gently invested in paid media.

Focus on Fewer Goals & Tie Them to Busi­ness Objectives

There’s an apoc­ryphal story about a copy­writer who was late to a client meet­ing, wherein the board was going to dis­cuss with him the 13 Points they wanted to their ad to cover.

So the copy­writer walks in late car­ry­ing a hockey bag over his shoul­der. With­out say­ing a word, he places the bag on the con­fer­ence table, pulls out a board that’s basi­cally been turned into a bed of nails — a rather eye catch­ing prop that grabs every eye in the room as it’s placed on the table.

The copy­writer then takes a fry pan out of the bag and slams it down onto the bed of nails. Lift­ing the fry pan up, he shows the exec­u­tive team the dim­ples. Then writer-boy swaps out the bed of nails with a board fea­tur­ing a sin­gle, impos­ing spike potrud­ing from it. He slams the fry pan down, forc­ing the spike clean through it, cre­at­ing a half-inch hole big enough to stare through when mr. copy­writer holds the pan up to show the board.

At this point, our intre­pid copy­writer says, “Now how many points do you want the ad mes­sag­ing to convey?”

As it is with ads, so it is with cam­paigns: one point, goal, or objec­tive per cam­paign is always best.

And if you want to nar­row it down to one objec­tive, you’ll want to choose a busi­ness objec­tive. So, fig­ure out how you want to mea­sure suc­cess in term of your (or your client’s) busi­ness, along with what the required time­line is, THEN cre­ate a cam­paign clearly aimed at achiev­ing that sin­gu­lar, busi­ness goal.

And by the way, “dri­ving traf­fic” isn’t a busi­ness goal. Increas­ing gross sales might be, but merely get­ting traf­fic through the door isn’t. So con­ver­sion ain’t just a met­ric for online businesses…

Act Like David Rather Than Goliath

Increas­ing mar­ket share when you have very lit­tle of it to begin with is rel­a­tively easy, as there are plenty of com­peti­tors to steal cus­tomers from, and plenty of prospec­tive cus­tomers to steal. On the other hand, once you’ve cor­nered 30–35% of the mar­ket, grab­bing more of that same mar­ket is darned difficult.

This is why, again accord­ing to the Effie Report, smaller busi­nesses tak­ing on larger com­pe­ti­tion are more likely to find their adver­tis­ing effec­tive — because gain­ing mar­ket­share always involves steal­ing it from some­one else. So when you’re already hold­ing almost all the mar­bles, there are fewer and fewer left to acquire.

For local busi­nesses that means that once you become the Goliath of your cat­e­gory, you either have to open up a new store in another mar­ket, or open up another busi­ness, or business-line, in the same mar­ket. Either way, your future growth will be pow­ered by your Davids rather than your Goliaths.

Of course, this assumes that the smaller busi­ness has some­thing new or inter­est­ing to offer the cus­tomer… which leads us to

Prac­tice Disruption

If you look at how that last bul­let point is worded, it’s basi­cally say­ing you need to do two things:

  1. Grab people’s atten­tion through some form of novelty
  2. Pro­vide peo­ple with some sort of Unique Sell­ing Proposi­ton, OR change the way they FEEL about the brand

In other words, if you’re offerng the exact same thing as every­one else, in the exact same man­ner, and if your ads are pre­dictable, bor­ing and dull, then it won’t mat­ter that you’re invest­ing in paid media in order to air ads aimed at achiev­ing mea­sur­able busi­ness goals for a busi­ness that has plenty of mar­ket share left to steal — you’ll still lose.

But if you’re ads cap­ture the inter­est and imag­i­na­tion of the buy­ing pub­lic, while offer­ing them a strong rea­son to do busi­ness with you, you’ll soon dis­rupt the power struc­ture of your indus­try as you dom­i­nate every mar­ket you care to enter.

My only note of cau­tion is to add in a third point: cred­i­bil­ity. You can grab their atten­tion and promise them a tempt­ing and rel­e­vant ben­e­fit, but if your audi­ence doesn’t believe you, your ads won’t achieve much.

Rel­e­vance and Cred­i­bil­ity are the meat of the mes­sage. The nov­elty part sim­ply ensures that your mes­sage is heard long enough to be deemed rel­e­vant and credible.

Ah… Val­i­da­tion

Inter­est­ingly enough, these are the same prin­ci­ples espoused by all Wiz­ard of Ads Part­ners, includ­ing Tim and Char­lie, so it’s grat­i­fy­ing to see them espoused by a insti­tu­tion ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing effec­tive adver­tis­ing, such as Effie Worldwide.

If you’re inter­ested in explor­ing these prin­ci­ples to grow your busi­ness, why not con­tact one of us?

2013 is just get­ting started, why not make it your year to thrive?

 

It’s a slight change, but it makes a world of dif­fer­ence, doesn’t it?

The photo comes cour­tesy of a rather clever ad cam­paign for The Cape Times – some­thing I was turned onto by the always-wonderful No Cap­tion Needed blog. The intent was to make us see these iconic pho­tos with new eyes, allow­ing the idea of a self-taken-phone-camera-pic to shake up a clas­sic. And it worked.

But it also trans­for­rmed the pho­tos into some­thing creepy, espe­cially this one.

It’s one thing to look on as the ecstasy of vic­tory so over­comes a sailor’s sen­si­bil­i­ties that he kisses a stranger in the street; it’s entirely another when the sailor still has the self-awareness to phone-pic him­self dur­ing his sup­posed blissed-out moment.

Some­times, it’s just a whole lot bet­ter when some­one else is con­trol­ling the cam­era and the spot­light. In fact, not just some­times, but often.

Trans­lat­ing this to adver­tis­ing and marketing:

  • When oth­ers sing your praises, it comes off as cred­i­ble and gen­uine; when you sing your praises, you come off as a wanna be Don­ald Trump
  • When reviews praise an item to the sky, we believe it; when prod­uct copy does so, we read it with a large grain of salt
  • When you tell me how great some­one else is, you come off as pas­sion­ate; when you tell me how great you are, you come off as arrogant

Well.. you get the pic­ture. Why not let some­one else hold the cam­era.  Or, if you’ve got the cam­era, why not point it at some­thing other than yourself?

Drama­tists advise each other to “enter late and leave early.”

That means take the dra­matic focal point or pur­pose of a given scene, and move the “cut” or “fade in” — the entrance — as close to that point as pos­si­ble. Elim­i­nate the preamble.

Then, exit the scene as soon as you’ve accom­plished the dra­matic moment. Don’t tie up the lose ends and don’t spell out the ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Let the audi­ence fill in the gaps between one scene and the next.

This empha­sizes the drama by cut­ting out the “bor­ing bits.” And it works. But  almost no one ever men­tions the impor­tance of rit­ual to this process.

Because a rit­ual is a defined process, one can enter into the mid­dle of one and have per­fect ori­en­ta­tion around what’s going on — what hap­pened before enter­ing the scene and what to expect next. Expec­ta­tions that can then be har­nessed for sus­pense and/or sub­verted for surprise.

And rit­ual offers the same help for leav­ing a scene early: the audi­ence already knows how the rit­ual is sup­posed to end. So the writer doesn’t have to show you, or he can high­light the dra­matic depar­ture from the ordi­nary by fore­ground­ing how the end­ing dif­fers from expec­ta­tion. Brides are sup­posed to walk out of the church mar­ried to the man they met at the altar, so run­ning away from the altar with a crazy man that showed up halfway through the cer­e­mony (like in the grad­u­ate) is pretty dra­matic.

Here’s a great video exam­ple of John August edit­ing a new­bies script and apply­ing exactly this principle:

YouTube Preview Image

The rit­ual, in this case, is check­ing into a hotel. We’ve all done it, we know how that rit­ual starts and ends — so why show all of it?

For adver­tis­ers, enter­ing a rit­ual late and leav­ing it early lets you squeeze more story into less air time. Like this Clorox ad:

YouTube Preview Image

The entire ad is built around a rit­ual that is then sub­verted to make a point. And that would be cool enough if it was just a typ­i­cal 30-second ad, but if you look at the time­line on the video, it’s actu­ally a 15-second spot. Clorox com­pressed the ad into half the typ­i­cal time­frame, allow­ing them to com­bine two of these style ads — two full story arcs — into a 30-second ad-space.

Enter Late and Leave Early Through Ritual!

I’m a fan of explana­tory videos for sev­eral reasons:

  • High engage­ment (for at least the first 20 — 60 sec­onds). In a TL;DR world a well placed video will hold a visitor’s full atten­tion for at least 20 seconds.
  • Multi-media. You’ve got mov­ing pic­tures, words, music, and sound effects all work­ing to con­vey infor­ma­tion and cre­ate emotion.
  • Emo­tion & Impact. Noth­ing beats video when it comes to high-impact demos and/or con­vey­ing pas­sion, enthu­si­asm and sincerity.

Unfor­tu­nately, very few explana­tory videos take full advan­tage of these strengths.

  • Many waste their high-engagement win­dow with too much unadorned expo­si­tion and preamble.
  • Most over-use the “say-it, show it” tech­nique and under-use visual sto­ry­telling tech­niques to point where they become noth­ing more than poorly illus­trated radio ads.
  • And more than a few tend to over­play the cartoon-y ani­ma­tion in ways that under­mine effec­tive emo­tional impact

But Sales­force knocked their video on Cloud Com­put­ing out of the park. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it now:

YouTube Preview Image

Granted, the video could jump to the point even faster than it does, but even still, the cen­tral meat of the mes­sage starts after 15 sec­onds — within the 20 sec­ond win­dow of engage­ment. More­over, the fast-moving ani­ma­tion eas­ily keeps view­ers’ atten­tion until then. And after that, the video just keeps get­ting better.

Here are some spe­cific aspects of the video that are worth not­ing, copy­ing, and demand­ing from your explana­torry video, should you decide to get one:

1. The video coun­ter­points less-emotional words with more emo­tional imagery

For exam­ple, at the 40 sec­ond mark, the audio says “you call tech­ni­cal sup­port, and they don’t know, so they blame some­one else.” But the imagery shows the tech sup­port guy loung­ing in a chair with his feet up, laugh­ing at the cus­tomers predica­ment while mind­lessly throw­ing darts. The neu­tral audio com­bines with the cut­ting video to cre­ate a mes­sag­ing impact that’s greater than either one alone. Nice.

Another great exam­ple occurs when one stick fig­ure “sticks up” a cus­tomer stand-in, fir­ing a pis­tol that unfurls into a microsoft flag — all while the announcer says, ”…the way you pay for cloud apps is also dif­fer­ent.”  Well played, Sales­force. Well played : )

2. The ani­ma­tion enhances the emo­tional impact of the mes­sag­ing rather than under­min­ing it

At the 44 sec­ond mark, the video shows a rather unstable-looking stack of soft­ware, which top­ples when one of the soft­ware boxes get’s swapped out forr an upgrade.  The top­pling of the boxes is meant to rep­re­sent and dra­ma­tize a seri­ous real-world problem.

A less-effective video would show the stack crash­ing straight to one side or another, with­out employ­ing any depth cueus. In cin­e­matic terms, they’d use flat stag­ing, more suit­able to com­edy than drama. Worse, they’d prob­a­bly make the crash car­toony in a way that would belit­tle the real-world con­se­quences sup­pos­edly rep­re­sented by the animation.

In the Sales­force video, on the other hand, they show the stack crash­ing towards the camera/viewer, using depth stag­ing and seri­ous sound effects to enhance the dra­matic effect of the crash. And it works, because the pro­duc­ers of the video knew their craft as visual storytellers.

You can see this same depth stag­ing when the “hair­ball” crushes the small busi­ness two. The scene is shot at an angle, look­ing up at the advanc­ing hair­ball, rather than shown flat.

Remem­ber: videos should use seri­ous stag­ing and seri­ous sound effects for seri­ous sub­ject matter.

3. The video builds upon visual sym­bols from one scene to the next

The Sales­force video empha­sizes the mess of a soft­ware crash by cre­at­ing a giant hair­ball of IT difficulty/failure around the top­pled soft­ware stack at the 50 sec­ond mark. Then that same hair­ball crushes a small busi­ness under the weight of IT dif­fi­cul­ties 10 sec­onds later, while the audio track says, “small busi­nesses don’t stand a chance.” Great pair­ing of visual sto­ry­telling and sym­bol­ism (IT fail­ure will kill your small busi­ness) with explana­tory audio.

Later the video will also con­trast the wob­bly soft­ware stack dis­played at the video’s 44 sec­ond mark with a nice, super-stable, cloud-supported stack of cloud-based apps show­cased at the 2:40 mark.

4. The Video Makes Effec­tive Use of Real­ity Hooks and Analogies

When the Sales­force video com­pares gmail with Microsoft Exchange, a light goes on. Any­one with the slight­est gMail expe­ri­ence knows that it truly deliv­ers on Apple’s claimed promise of “It just works.” gMail might not have the best inter­face in the world, but it does work uber-reliably, with no tech­ni­cal fid­dling required on the part of the user.

So what bet­ter way to drive home the advan­tages of cloud-based com­put­ing over reguar, enter­prise level soft­ware than bring­ing it to the level of imme­di­ate, shared expe­ri­ence.  The abil­ity to bring the ben­e­fits of cloud-based apps home to the viewer, serves not only as an explana­tory anal­ogy, but as a per­sua­sive “real­ity hook.”

5. The video’s strongest and bold­est claims are fol­lowed by a gen­uine “Here’s why” sequence

Start­ing at the 1:50 mark and run­ning all the way till 2:10, the Sales­force video makes sev­eral bold claims about cloud-based apps: that you can be up and run­ning in a few days, that their apps cost less, are more scal­able and secure and reli­able than reg­u­lar soft­ware. Then, they give a nice reason-why expla­na­tion for those claims.

Right at the 2:10 mark the video launches into an expla­na­tion of multi-tenancy, com­par­ing it to rent­ing space in an office build­ing (rather than pay­ing for the whole build­ing your­self).  Strong, Rel­e­vant Claims + Cred­i­ble Proof = Per­sua­sion. The sales­force video gets this in a way that a lot of explana­tory videos don’t.

6. The video uses music to its advantage

Go ahead and lis­ten to the video as it switches from the piano music of frus­tra­tion and pain while it explains busi­ness software’s short­com­ings to play­ing a high-beat, up-tempo music when explain­ing the advan­tages of cloud com­put­ing. When you con­trol the music, you con­trol the emo­tional tone of the video, mean­ing that every explana­tory video ought to make per­sua­sive use of music, just like Salesforce’s video does.

The Bot­tom Line

If you’re plan­ning on cre­at­ing an explana­tory video for your busi­ness or start-up, it’s well worth the time to watch a bunch of them from dif­fer­ent providers.  Watch them with the sound off. Watch them with the sound on but the video cov­ered up. Now ask yourself:

  • Which ones make full use of visual storytelling?
  • Which make effec­tive use of music?
  • Which take too darn long to get to the point?
  • And which ones actual achieve both clar­ity and cred­i­bil­ity regard­ing the prod­ucts claimed benefits?

What you’ll prob­a­bly find is that great explana­tory videos require a strongly per­sua­sive script AND strong visual sto­ry­telling. Just make sure you’re get­ting both parts of that equa­tion into your video…

P.S. There are a lot of solid explana­tory videos out there and I’ll be review­ing more in the com­ing weeks, so if you’ve got a favorite you’d like ana­lyzed, link to it in the comments.

 

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