There are these odd but pervasive little lies floating around the world of marketing video. Everywhere they travel they misinform and leave a trail of nonsense in their path. Like most lies, they rely on partial truths – illogical associations and predisposed prejudices.
These lies have grown in recent years, fed by a slew of statements that don’t hold water once you really start critically testing them. Yet, I’m calling foul and putting these statements through the some real rigor. Here we go…
Lie One: “Low-quality or amateur produced video is more authentic and therefore more important in your video content.”
I’m not sure how authenticity and quality got stuck at either end of a sliding scale, whereas you move towards one and subsequently lose the other. Amateur looking video isn’t inherently more authentic. It certainly can be but losing quality doesn’t guarantee authenticity either. It’s true that a review from a user or quick product demonstration might feel more believable if it feels like it wasn’t manipulated by professionals, but that doesn’t mean all video falls into this category.
In many cases quality is needed to improve authenticity and credibility. Case study videos, educational videos, promos and story-focused vignettes are just a few of the many types of productions that need some base-level quality to be accepted by the viewer. Putting time and attention into production value when it’s expected shows that you take yourself and the audience seriously.
Ultimately, authenticity comes from you being authentic, not from grainy footage or bad sound. As for production value, choose a level that makes sense for the video (more on that below), not some silly notion about tricking the audience into thinking your brand seems cool or edgy and therefore more “real.” Audiences can tell when your lowered production value is about gimmick and not authenticity.
Lie Two: “Audiences are more accepting of lower quality video and therefore you can get away with it.”
On face value this statement seems “sort of true.” Most people are shooting “just-okay” video on their phones and a lot of it is vertically shot (don’t get me started on that, but suffice it to say that’s not how you’re supposed to do it). Videos with far less than professional quality are getting millions of hits on YouTube. Even some movies and TV shows are being shot with the shaky cell phone video look. Yet a classic mistake of logic is made when you automatically assume that people accept it because there is more of it. That’s simply not true. Let’s start with the movies and TV shows.
The shaky, handheld or first-person style of filming you see in some otherwise professional programs is a choice, not an accident or a budget-cutting technique. The producers have made a specific choice to use that style because they believe it supports the story, often with professional crew and a real budget, not some guy that owns a good cell phone. Yet for every shaky, reality-style production, there are countless others that don’t employ that style for the same reasons. Smart producers and directors will use a style that does the best job of telling the story. Most of the time, it isn’t the “user” or “found” footage look. The market will support a few of those types of projects but too often the vast majority end up being cliche and fall flat in the ratings.
As for those YouTube videos that are low-quality and get millions of hits? They’re a fluke. Seriously, they are. They get great views in spite of bad quality because the content of the video is so great (a perfectly-timed cat fail, caught on camera) that audiences will ignore the junky sound or video. That’s really hard to duplicate and relies heavily on timing, placement and subject matter. Trying to recreate the views of an organically viral video by matching its quality misses the whole point of why something is organically viral in the first place. Beyond that, the top 30 YouTube videos are mostly high-end produced videos, not the reverse. Even more so, a significant portion of the other reasonably well watched videos around the web are relatively well produced as well, dispelling any notion that quality doesn’t matter. Mostly it does. Unless your brand is a skateboarder jumping off stuff or cats doing funny things, it’s highly unlikely that a low-quality video you produce will gain an audience just because it looks like a YouTube video.
So what’s the truth?
The truth is that video quality still matters and that means so much more than what camera you’re using. The idea or story behind a video is the primary driving force in gaining an audience. Our job as producers is to make sure that everything we do in production supports that story or idea. That includes a variety of perceived quality levels, but amateurly shot cell phone video with no plan is usually not on the list. For the most part, we choose and get great results from expertly shot, edited and delivered video. It’s that simple.