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Video, Part 1: Setting the Bar Higher Than Viral

June 29, 2009

iPhoneIn April, I wrote a post titled, Go Viral!, bemoaning the death of high fidelity in music because of MP3s, and how YouTube and handheld devices have essentially done the same thing to video, lowering the quality of what we experience visually.

But because of our mindset when we watch videos on these very small screens, viral videos involving embarrassing situations, dancing, animals, and whatever else are all the rage. The bar is set relatively low, and the potential reward is huge. Thus, it makes a lot of sense for marketers to go viral.

However, it takes more than having access to technology and some online principles to produce a video that communicates effectively and touches the audience emotionally. In marketing higher education, whether it’s a video for an annual or capital campaign, or for alumni reminding them of their experience at their alma mater, or to recruit students, you’re going to need to find ways to communicate meaningful and sometimes complex content for your audience. Unfortunately, many people producing videos online today don’t really know of the inherent dynamics at play visually when they shoot or edit video.

It’s sort of like when I cook. I am able to put ingredients together following a recipe, and even improvise a bit based on taste and what I’ve observed over the years. But even though the recipe may produce a delicious meal, I have no idea how those individual tastes worked together to get to be delicious, and I certainly have no clue how ingredients in general work together or against each other so that I may create my own delicious meal from scratch.

Pointing a camera and editing some shots together of the campus won’t necessarily cut it. What you typically get is a cookie cutter approach that ends up looking like every other college video with shots of science labs and students studying in the library with very little emotional effect. It’s similar to what happens with viewbooks. Those shots aren’t bad necessarily. They may even be shot creatively, and they are certainly part of your college’s story. But how they’re put together side by side doesn’t produce that something special.

What also doesn’t work is relying on words to communicate your concept and brand. We’re used to communicating with words. It’s really the easiest thing to do–write a script, go get some footage to go with it, and you’ve got your video. Done. Piece of cake.

Oh, and forget dialogue. The toughest thing to write in a script or screenplay is dialogue. So, typically, dramatic approaches to videos border on disaster.

Using my cooking analogy, what you should be aiming for is a way to put all the ingredients together to effectively tell a story and communicate ideas and feelings. But in order to do so, you need to at least understand the dynamics in play in visual media.

In my next post, I’ll detail the basic principle behind the language of visual storytelling. Then from there, we’ll look at some examples in the media and in higher education.

For now, your homework for Part 2 is this clip from The Birds, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Pay attention to how Hitchcock uses visuals to tell most of the story, and then try watching it with the sound turned off. That should give you a clue as to where we’re headed.

Next up: Video, Part 2: Visual Storytelling

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