That video is the subject of many strategic marketing conversations these days is not surprising. According to Cisco, by 2016, 55% of all consumer Internet traffic will be video.  A study from Borrell Associates shows that video will account for more than one-third of all online advertising spending in the next five years. As the demand for video grows, how can brands steer the medium in a direction that is effective, creative, and pioneering? 

One way is to look to the past for answers as to how to predict the future.

Here are three fundamental guidelines for creating online videos that achieve brand, aesthetic, and innovation goals.

1) Don’t think short. Think 'as short as possible.'

How long should a video be?

I can’t count the number of times clients have asked me this. The answer, of course, is as short as possible. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could quantify this a little more. Well, we can. Thanks to a study conducted by Wistia, we know that shorter is better.   

But we also know that at some point, engagement flattens out, and there isn’t much difference between a two-minute video and a five-minute video.  


Source: Wistia

This flattening is interesting for two reasons. First, it means that while audience attention spans are short -- a precipitous drop occurs across the board around 30 seconds -- they’re not as short as we thought they were. And, second, it mirrors audience consumption of film when film first hit the mainstream.

Films were necessarily short at first. In the 1890s, filmmakers were limited by technology as well as their own inability to realize that the medium that could do more than capture glimpses of everyday life. The earliest films were called “scenics” or “actualities,” which captured short, prosaic glimpses of life like a weightlifter flexing or workers leaving a factory. Initially, filmmakers didn’t realize that film could tell longer, more immersive stories. But films were also short because audiences had not yet learned how to consume them. In fact, when audiences first saw the Lumière brother's 1895 film, The Arrival of a Train, they fled from the cinema houses for fear a train was going to actually come hurtling through the screen at them!

The data coupled with this history points to a strong possibility: that video creators should keep online marketing videos short, but not too short, to tell a good story. If history is to repeat itself, and the Wistia data suggests it may, audiences are learning to consume longer and longer online videos. If brands are to be trailblazers, it is up to them to help steer audiences to this place by creating more immersive and longer stories.  

So how do brands find the balance between short audience attention spans and people's demand for longer video content? One way to do this may be found in the next point. 

2) Don’t think episodic. Think serial.

When television arrived on the scene, its programming was almost exclusively episodic. That is, each program was a self-contained entity without an interconnecting narrative. In other words, a viewer did not need to have seen the previous episodes to be fully immersed in later episodes. So, too, has been the history of online video. In fact, one of the most talked-about contemporary online campaigns, Uber’s “Behind the Wheel” series, is a collection of independent, self-contained slice-of-life stories with Uber drivers. 

But if history tells us anything, it’s that online video will soon go the way of television and begin to tell serial narratives -- single stories that span a series of episodes. Technology, in many ways, is forcing shorter and shorter episodes on video creators (think Vine’s six-second limit). And as we learned above, audience affinity for longer stories is increasing -- 33% of tablet owners watch an hour of video every day according to Brainshark).

Therefore, it may be time for video creators to begin to tell longer narratives across many episodes. This way, they can steer consumers toward emotional immersion and away from promotional suffocation. Plus, the opportunity to engage the same viewers across a series of interrelated videos creates the opportunity to turn mere customers into brand champions. 

3) Think disruptively. (This is not a commercial.)

Both early film and television were shot “proscenium style” -- an unmoving camera simply capturing the events that took place before it. This was done to simulate the experience of theater so as not to disrupt the audience too much. But audiences quickly came to regard film, and then television, as completely unique media platforms. Once this shift happened, audiences demanded equally unique creative approaches.  

The same is happening with online video. Consumers are inundated with promotion, and they are running to online video for respite. But still, too many online videos are nothing more than repurposed television commercials. This doesn’t work because the online environment is social, and television is most definitely not.

Tom Pepper writes for Econsultancy that, “Advertisers must create content that is designed for digital audiences who consume video in a different way to TV viewers.”   

Brands must stop thinking of online video as commercial and begin thinking of it as a space for socializing and entertainment. This means making videos more immersive and interactive across multiple platforms. It also means brands must stop thinking of each video as a project. They need to consider their online video content program as a whole. And above all, it means brands must decisively say to online video consumers through their creative execution that “this is not a commercial.”


Originally published Sep 24, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017


Video Marketing