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Video, Part 4: College Videos, A Few Examples

July 6, 2009

My point with this video series is that even today in this environment of videos designed for websites and viewed on computer screens and hand-held devices, taking advantage of the power of the visual media would help colleges and universities communicate more effectively. And while my emphasis has been on visual storytelling, certainly interviews, narration, script, acting, music, visuals, etc. should all work in tandem to tell your story. The best videos and films are very strong in one or more of these categories, and take advantage of the inherent visual dynamics at play.

So, let’s take a look at a few college videos. The first four were produced either for the college’s website or for a television commercial. The last two were created for fundraising campaigns. I’ll comment on each briefly.

The first is an award-winning spot for Robert Morris College.

Well done, but pretty traditional in its production. The spot was designed to be very energetic and uses moving and hand-held shots, as well as students leaning into the camera, to communicate that energy. It gives you an impression that there’s a lot going on at RMC. While it is a television commercial, it would also work well on their website.

Compare that to this: a 2:00 student production that won a video competition at DePaul University. I found this video on Twitter from @debmaue.

I love this video! In only two minutes, you really come to feel like you know what the DePaul community is about. It is heartfelt and the connection with the students grows as the production continues. It does this through great performances by the students, and importantly, tight close-ups for every single shot. Alfred Hitchcock had a rule about visual storytelling that is broken all the time by filmmakers. The closer in you get with a shot, the more energy there is until you pull out again. If you want to increase the energy, feeling, emotion, etc., stay on the close-up. If you want to dissipate it, loosen the framing up. Here, the director of this student production maintained the emotion of the students by never leaving the close-up. The students, framing, and editing took it from there. Very well done.

Next up: Here. Now. UCLA. You may have seen this on television at halftime of a UCLA football game. Having had a daughter at UCLA, I think the spot captures UCLA very well. It was produced by UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television.

The magic here is in the writing and in the diversity of student actors and scenes. There’s really nothing special visually about the spot, except for what they have chosen to show. But the result of the words, actors, and scenes give you the feeling that UCLA is a big-time university near the beach in sunny, entertainment-rich southern California, the university California owns where “nobody at UCLA keeps score on who you are, they just want to see what you do.” To me, that quote (and skate park scene) is a shot at arch rival USC.

The following video for West Point takes a very different approach to telling its story: Developing Leaders for a Lifetime.

West Point uses beautiful visuals along with a very left brain script and narrator. If you are patriotic, it may appeal to your emotions, but mostly this video is logical, which one would expect from a military academy. It’s heavy on words and contains a lot of information for prospective students. The main message definitely comes through that it’s a special place unlike just about any other institution of higher learning.

These last two videos take different approaches for fundraising campaigns. This first one is from Dartmouth, and was produced for their annual fund campaign. I found it on Karlyn Morissette’s website.

Dartmouth has taken a bit of a risk with this video because of its approach to the script, and choice of visuals to go along with it. There’s no doubt that Dartmouth’s alumni are a sophisticated group able to handle the logic of the message of the video. The risk it takes is that it gets away from the standard affective fundraising language, and focuses on the left brain in a logical appeal for funding given its “wacky business model.” What I wonder about is the effectiveness of the very right brain visuals. Because my right brain is trying to figure them out and is dazzled by them, am I fully hearing the appeal and logic of the narrator? Perhaps it will work. I do like this video a lot, and am curious as to how it’s been working. Kudos to Dartmouth for thinking outside the box.

Finally, a fundraising video from Vanguard University, where I was vice president for enrollment management and advancement, and assistant professor of television and film. Vanguard is a private university without a rich heritage of alumni and donors supporting it. And while it is a US News top five baccalaureate college in the West, it is a small college in need of capital improvements. This is a capital campaign video targeted to major donors who are very values-oriented.

The video takes a standard approach to fundraising that went after the affective side of the brain. It was directed by Randy Argue, an independent video and feature film producer/director, and one of my former students. It is beautifully shot, uses music creatively, and takes advantage of very articulate testimonials. The video was well-received by major donors.

Well, that’s it for this post and series on how video can be more effective in marketing higher education.

Previously:

Video, Part 3: Deconstructing the Montage

Video, Part 2: Visual Storytelling

Video: Part 1: Setting the Bar Higher Than Viral

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