Video Communication: Trembling Between Excellence and the Abyss
Twenty-five years ago, a potential technology boon for communicators was simultaneously undermining the communication business.
Oh, it was awful.
Awful, and—after I completed a marathon session of vetting many dozens of corporate videos as program chairman of the Strategic Video Awards— suddenly familiar again.
For lucky readers too young to remember the advent of computer-aided graphic design: In the late-1980s “desktop design” programs eliminated the physical and technical aspects the art director’s craft, thus making it possible for anybody to create a publication. And since anybody could, everybody did.
And here came all manner of nutty newsletters and misguided magazines. Ransom-note font use. Cornucopias of clip art. Graphical geegaws. The artistic abominations abounded, and though some fine publications were still being done by the old pros, they were nearly snowed under by the amateurish stuff.
Similarly, and perhaps predictably, the video explosion is throwing off shrapnel ranging from the beautiful to the banal to the truly barbaric. Now anybody can shoot video, anybody can edit video, anybody can distribute video. And everybody is.
The results perfectly parallel the flood of sewage that gushed out of the so-called desktop design revolution. Mainly:
• Inconsistency of style, pace and tone. Just as with publications, a sense of taste and proportion in video communication is earned and learned over time, and it can’t be faked or rushed, even by the most talented video newcomers.
• Corporate vanity, rekindled. We know the CFO is dry as dust in print, but people will love to see him on video! Cut the CFO out of the video—and then cut the remainder of the video in half.
• Bells and plastic whistles: If your editing technique is clever enough that people notice it, it’s too clever by half.
• The unbearable soullessness of being corporate. It’s one thing to put out a boring magazine, through which people can flip at their own pace. But to get them to sit through a vapid corporate video, even for two minutes, you’re going to need handcuffs.
• Videos made for videos’ sake. We’ve seen exceptions, but in general, people will not watch a video about the wonders of your new website. They’ll shut your video off if you use it to convey dozens of statistics they know damn well they’ll never retain. And please don’t allow yourself to hope that sentient human beings will trade five minutes of their mortal lives to hear your carefully chosen corporate customers say nice things about your product.
Look: The good news is, the Desktop Design Disaster worked itself out—or wore itself out. Some of the early amateurs learned their craft and others scurried back to the work they were good at. And the truly competent and committed design pros made the transition to the digital design age and kept on doing good work.
The same thing will happen with video.
It’s going to be a hell of an uneven half-decade or so, but as chairman of the Strategic Video Awards, I’m up for it.
David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.