Ad agencies are paid to provide original, never-seen-before ideas and images that captivate consumers and compel them to buy, but the truth is that sometimes, just sometimes, imaginations dry up, and imitation does indeed become the sincerest form of flattery. Watch enough branded online video content and you’ll soon see that some attention-grabbing ideas are totally played out at this point. Any future branding you do online should avoid these eye-rolling clichés.
They were fun while they lasted, but can we make them stop now? Flash mobs actually reached their creative peak about five years ago in a London train station, and it’s been nothing but smiling, dancing crowds getting in the way of busy pedestrians ever since. The only thing worse than a flash mob is a sexy flash mob, or to put it more bluntly, a sexy flash mob that doesn’t try hard enough to be sexy…or a mob. Josh Warner, president of Feed Company, a video seeding company behind viral ads for Levi’s, Ford, and Google says, “Flash mob anything has lost its freshness. It might be fun to watch, but it’s overdone. It’s the viral video version of having to watch a stage production of ‘The Lion King’ for the umpteenth time.” The verdict: Flash mobs should be left behind in 2009.
Just because Evel Knievel was able to captivate the nation in the pre-Internet era with stunts performed in Las Vegas parking lots doesn’t mean that Ford should try the same thing 45 years later to draw attention to its Mustang. This kind of branded video is incredibly expensive to produce, and at least in Ford’s case seemed to have gotten almost no traction online, anyway.
The stunt category can also include sexy stunts, which rarely come across well in branded videos, and often seem to be produced simply so the YouTube title can include the word “sexy” for search engine optimization purposes. Volvo tried one that was so badly lit and confusing that it looked more like a pan-European blackout than a car commercial. Luckily, the Swedes quickly learned their lesson and were able to create the exception to the rule with their brilliant Jean-Claude Van Damme effort. No brand should aspire to pander to the lowest common denominator simply to attract down-market eyeballs. How is taking that route ultimately going to enhance the value of the brand?
Once upon a time, Nivea went to what must have been great expense to commandeer entire airport terminals. Its goal: to prank travelers to make the case for strong deodorant, an idea that seems somewhat ill-conceived now that we live in the age of terror. “The attempt to create videos with pranks or strange humor, like last year’s “Carrie” trailer, is overdone and has lost its novelty,” says Rob Ciampa, chief marketing officer of Pixability. “You might get some funny or interesting reactions, but most tricks have been around the block a few times by now, and at this point they often result in negative viewer sentiment.” For his part, Feed Company’s Warnerhates anything that doesn’t feel fresh. “Tricks and gags from brand advertisers are so 2007. I don’t want to be tricked into watching your video. Be genuine, and show me something that’s worth watching and connects me to your brand in a meaningful way.”
David Murdico, executive creative director of Supercool Creative, has an interesting take on one typical style of branded video. “I think the number one thing in branded online media that has been completely overdone is the ‘explainer video.’ You know, the one that starts off with ‘This is Jill. Jill owns a small business but wonders how she’ll ever find the time to work AND spend time with her family. Well now there’s…’ Then they show you the new product, service, or app that’s supposed to solve everyone’s problem.” His complaint: “Videos like these used to be novel, but now they all look and sound the same, in great part because a bunch of production companies that could make them cheaply popped up suddenly. I think the genre is overexposed.” He cites a Hotel Blocks video as an example of an explainer gone wrong.
“A close cousin to the explainer video is the ‘animated infographic,’ Murdico says. “It essentially has all of the information that an infographic has — and I happen to think infographics are on their way out, by the way — but it moves around to a voiceover and royalty-free music. I’m pretty much over both of them.”
“With a few exceptions, most branded online media goes viral because of sheer luck,” says Pixability’s Ciampa. It’s useless, he contends, to try to catch that lightning in a bottle twice.
“We see brands trying to replicate a smash success with new, slightly different content, sometimes with a bigger budget or more outlandish approach. Most of the time it falls flat. Dollar Shave Club 2.0 is a good example. Just because it’s been done once and worked out well doesn’t mean it will work again.”
Ciampa cites the classic Will it Blend? series as an exception, mainly because there was always a cool new gadget to destroy. “With the CEO’s departure in February 2013, one has to wonder if this Will It Blend? has run its course,” he says.
Remember, if it sounds, looks, and feels like a cliché, then it probably is, as a brilliant parody of branded video corporate speak written by Kendra Eash for McSweeney’s and brought to life by the stock video experts at Dissolve expertly proves. “See how this guy in a lab coat holds up a beaker? That means we do research. Here’s a picture of DNA.” Indeed. Ironically enough, this is one branded video that works like a charm. Dissolve has earned 1.5 million YouTube views so far.