How to Avoid Making McSweeney’s “Generic Brand Video”

This week, AdWeek posted a satirical video called “This Is a Generic Brand Video,” written by McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and produced by stock footage company Dissolve. From stock footage of “scientists” performing unspecified lab research to a list of buzzwords dissolving over a cloudy sky, this video makes fun of dozens of video marketing cliches.

Anyone who’s ever made a branding video will probably snicker a few times watching that. We at Dreamtown certainly rolled our eyes and laughed at the sheer familiarity of it all.

But it got us thinking: Beyond avoiding those specific tropes, there are probably a few lessons to be learned from the “generic brand video.”

Three Lessons from the Generic Brand Video:

1. Understand where the cliches are coming from.

We’re all part of the same culture, living within the same zeitgeist, so sometimes we’re going to have the same ideas. It’s only natural. Often, cliches come about not because creatives are knowingly mimicking each other, but because they engage with similar media and customs, they have similar mindsets which lead them to similar conclusions.

To avoid this, we have to make sure we don’t just passively watch, but thoroughly dissect the latest advertising trends:

  • Have you noticed campaigns where an old man reads poetry while young people frolic on sweeping vistas? (Examples: Computers, Liquor, and Autos)
  • Take a step back and assume they weren’t trying to all be clones.
  • Then ask: What were they trying to convey? Where did the idea start?
  • How are they connecting the cultural theme to their personal brand?
  • What truth in today’s culture did they all identify, and how else could they have approached it?

It’s also a nice reminder not to use the first idea that comes into your head.

2. Write the script with images in mind.

Many times video editors resort to using cliched images because they simply don’t have much of a choice. Usually the problem is that the video’s script was written like a radio narrative – where the audio stands wholly independent of any action taking place within the video.

To prevent this, companies should develop scripts where the voice over is actually complemented by what’s going on in the images.

  • Can you use voice over ironically, where what’s being said is the opposite of what’s being shown?
  • Can the content of the voice over describe a metaphor for what’s being shown?

3. Use original video content, if possible.

There’s a reason stock footage is used and abused so often – it’s easy to get, and it can offer companies a level of production value they might not be able to afford otherwise. But the problem is, the more companies use stock footage, the more it starts to feel cheap.

A better option is developing a strategy that enables you to create and use original video content by narrowing the story’s scope while keeping the production value high. For example, you might spend the same amount on an original story that takes place within an office as you would have on a video full of stock footage of sweeping vistas. Maybe even less, depending on the production company.

And when everyone else’s stock brand videos are starting to feel played out, guess who suddenly looks like the big-budget trendsetter.

In the end, is having a generic brand video going to kill a company’s image? Of course not. That’s the point: It’s safe, easy, and allows executives to check that box they wanted to check. Many viewers might not even notice the content of the video.

But then, good marketing isn’t really about not being noticed, is it?

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