With Trends Like These
Looking backward, it’s easy to identify trends in digital video marketing. From the long-ago time of 2010’s irreverent stick figures, up to today’s glut of slick motion graphics videos with 3D animation, video styles change and evolve en masse, like fashion.
It’s easy to identify one of the forces that is pushing production value upward: budgets are getting bigger. You, as a potential client looking to get the word out, probably have more money to throw around today than you would have 8 years ago. Back in the early days, before explainer videos were accepted to have an ROI, it was harder to secure the funds to make them. So shoestring, low-fi videos that leaned on clever writing were something of a necessity.
At least at first. If available budget was the only factor, why did we see big companies start adopting the low-fi explainer video style for a bit? They could likely afford better, but my guess is that they saw what people expected out of a homepage explainer video and tried to emulate that. Or, more flatteringly, they saw that the stick figure style worked, and they didn’t want to mess with success.
A trend was born. New videos had to look like other successful videos, because a style that was “out of style” would be embarrassing.
This held until some daring, new, lushly illustrated video garnered a lot of attention. And videos looked like that for a while, until someone did a video on a whiteboard… and so on.
making what’s right for you
It’s easy to identify trends when you’re looking backward because the past doesn’t change. It’s like examining the fossil record. What’s tougher is figuring out what you want your future video to look like, when you can only speak in a language composed of references to other videos that came before it. “I want a video that looks like that Chipotle commercial, but within our budget.” “I really don’t want something cartoony like these videos, stay away from those”. Stuff like that, trying to compare something not yet born to things that are already dead.
This conversation happens at two key points in the production process: when you’re putting together your creative brief, and when you’re evaluating the visual style your creative team has produced for you. When you’re sitting down and getting ready to type, I want you to consider something radical:
Trends don’t exist. Or, if they do, trends don’t matter.
“But wait! They absolutely do exist! You opened this article talking about them!” I’ll concede that. I’ll even concede that it’s worth knowing what’s going on with other videos while you’re making one of your own. But when it comes time to make decisions about your video, put trends out of your mind, because they can cause you to second guess yourself and miss out on making something truly unique that matches your brand identity. Even worse, it can cause you to make a video that doesn’t excite you, your company, or your clients.
Following your gut
I’ll illustrate this with the most prominent example of a trend (really, a myth) of the past few years: that character-based animated videos are dying or dead. Lots of companies shied away from using characters in their video marketing because they felt like they harmed their credibility. Will people take us seriously if the foot we put forward is a cartoon? So what replaced character-based videos was the motion graphics style.
This may have been the right decision for a lot of companies. Character stories can be poor fits for, say, B2B videos about data analytics. But not everyone who observes (and clings to) this trend is making their decisions with that kind of nuance.
“Many companies don’t want to use characters” morphs into “nobody should put characters into their videos anymore”. A trend results when an observation is transformed into a law.
The danger here is that, because of some offhanded remark you may have heard, you will head in the wrong direction. You will ignore your instinct for what kind of video matches your brand, or the story you want to tell. You will chase the trend, instead of working toward what’s appropriate. And, you will make a motion graphics video that doesn’t speak to your audience’s wishes or desires.
Worse, trends fade. You will probably be relying on your video as a marketing asset for longer than the trend is operative. So if you are slavishly devoted to the trends, you will look outdated anyway. On the positive side, if you make something appropriate to who you are, it will always be a good fit no matter what’s going on elsewhere.
When you’re trying to decide what your video should look like, remember that trends don’t exist, and they don’t matter. But the wider world out of your head. Because even if everyone is telling you that character videos are dead, there are people making beautiful and effective character videos every single day. And if you’re reading this in two years when motion graphics videos have been declared dead and buried, well, the same will be true then.
Make what’s right for you. Make what’s appropriate. Follow your gut, not what’s winning awards or making people write articles. What do they know?