The Moving Picture: Deep Thoughts on Marketing Videos
Posted May 18, 2009

I recently gave a half-day seminar to the greater Wisconsin chapter of the Media Communications Association—International, and I devoted the last hour to creating effective marketing videos for businesses and other organizations. In pulling the materials together, I reviewed 50 or so product-oriented videos from the likes of HP, Apple, Cisco, Microsoft, and IBM. As many of you have already discovered, creating videos for small to midsize businesses gives videographers a nice opportunity to branch out into new markets. In this column, I’ll share the key points from that last hour.

The first thought is that effective videos help move the customer through the organization’s sales cycle, that all-important process of moving customers from attention and interest to conviction and action. In the context of a web video, this means that companies should make the video available where customers looking for information are likely to find it and should have a conclusion that tells the viewer what to do next.

For example, Apple created a 5-minute video on the new battery life of the MacBook Pro; it’s prominently posted on the main product page for the MacBook Pro. What’s not there is any call to action at the end; you don’t even get “for more information, go to” It just ends. Now, it’s pretty obvious where to get more information for Apple products, but it may not be so easy to direct people who view your corporate promotional videos to where you want them to go next. This is especially true if the customer decides to post the video on YouTube or to enable it to be embedded into other websites. Just as you wouldn’t create a brochure without a call to action and a phone number, you shouldn’t create a video without these directions either.

The next key point is organization. The best videos I saw focused on a limited set of discrete product features, which were made obvious from the start. For example, an HP video on the company’s 2008 notebook class focused on four features: a stiffer, more durable case; a new keyboard; a new technology for hard-drive protection; and a new battery design. The video introduced these points in the first 30 seconds with B-roll or images of the component under discussion, and the speaker made it clear when they transitioned from section to section. Like the old saying goes: First, tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.

The third aspect involves the concept of proof. When making factual claims, the proof should always be the most believable statement and source available. Beyond factual statements such as price and availability, company management is never the best source for this type of information. In the Apple battery advertisement, one of the most important claims in the video is that the battery has a life of up to 8 hours. The video shows how Apple made the battery compartment bigger, how the battery is made, and how it communicates more efficiently with the computer. What’s not there are the results of any benchmark testing or third-party reference confirming the battery life. Plenty of test houses, or even customers, could have confirmed this. But Apple chose to use only the spoken words of their own executives and engineers.

In contrast, to prove that its new “DriveGuard 3D” technology prevents hard-drive crashes when notebooks are dropped while running, HP dropped a notebook while it was running—obvious but effective. My favorite was an advertisement from Winmate regarding its water- and dust-resistant cases for computer monitors. Rather than talking about the cases’ features, they sprayed the encased monitors with dust and water and showed that they took a licking and kept on ticking. Don’t tell, show—and if you can’t show, have someone besides company management do the telling.

The next point is to use text to highlight key points in the video. Cisco did a great job with this, presenting one video in a 960x540 window that alternated between full-screen videos of the product and B-roll to PiPs surrounded by text describing key features and benefits. Some people acquire knowledge by listening, some by reading, some by hearing. Adding text serves those who learn best that way and reinforces the message for others.

The next point relates to B-roll/talking-head ratio. That is, in a new product, case study, or even testimonial, what percentage of the video should be talking head and what percentage should be B-roll and other material? I actually measured this for about 10 of the best videos that I saw, and the talking-head component peaked at about 50%, with the more typical videos keeping the talking-head portion in the 20%–30% range. For most videos, the less talking head, the better.

What are the biggest mistakes that I saw? Big companies made precious few; there are definitely big dollars going into these productions. Smaller companies made a host of errors that no pro videographer make—backlighting, ignoring rule-of-thirds positioning, and text that’s too small for the streaming video window and pixelates as a result. There are a bunch of amateurs shooting a lot of these marketing-oriented videos, leaving plenty of opportunity for pros who actually know what they’re doing.

Jan Ozer (jan at is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics. He is working on a new book on using streaming video, social networking, and content aggregation sites for marketing purposes.