September 22, 2011

How to make cause marketing video that doesn’t suck

  • Buffer
  • Buffer


10 tips you need to know before picking up that camera

Target audience: Nonprofits, NGOs, cause organizations, social enterprises, brands, educators, video producers, Web publishers, storytellers, individuals.

Guest post by Steve Stockman
Writer/director/producer, Custom Productions, Inc.

Stockman headshot Videos are made out of passion you have for your cause — the people you are helping, the changes that need to be made, the story that has to be told. They’re a powerful cause marketing tool. But no matter how good your cause is, one truth stands between you and successful communication: Nobody watches bad video. A poorly done video — one that bores people to the point of clicking away — gives you no chance to inspire, to inform, ask for donations, or share your passion. And if nobody watches, you might as well not bother.

The good news: stories about people, struggle, challenges and passion are entertaining — as long as you know how not to push your audience away with a lame video. Turns out that with a little bit of awareness, planning and practice, you too can make video that doesn’t suck.

Here are 10 things you need to know:

1The audience comes first. What kind of experience is your video providing for the audience? If it isn’t going to take them on a fun or emotional ride, maybe your project should be a memo instead. Give the audience a good time and they’ll love you. And vice versa.

2Video shines at communicating motion and emotion. Facts and figures? Not so much. It’s a human thing — as animals, we’re wired to pay attention to things that move (Food! Danger!) and the communications of the tribe (Is he going to hit me? Does she want sex?). If what you have to say is best said with charts and lists, it may just not be good video material.

3A good video can be summed up in a single sentence. That sentence should consist of a noun, a verb and a result. “Our executive director” is not a video. “Our executive director confronts congresspeople on the street to ask about Global Warming” is.

4Think in shots. You won’t see a lot of long, rambling shots on TV. That’s because a video needs detail and action to hold our attention. Don’t run your camera non-stop. Instead, find something interesting. Aim. Shoot. And, when it stops being interesting, stop shooting and point somewhere else. Your short shots will add up to a shorter, more professional video.

cello camera shot

5Cut bad sound, bad lighting and bad photography. It’s disrespectful to ask your audience to suffer through dark scenes, hollow, echoing audio or brain-hurting camera bounces. Worse: They’re instant tune-outs. If it looks bad on the camera’s little screen, it won’t get better when you look at it later. Cut it from the finished video.

6Humor and music, done well, always work. People will sit through tons of drudgery for a good laugh (see the 35-year track record of “Saturday Night Live” for example). Nobody ever said about a video, “It’s too funny. I hate it.” Yet cause marketers especially shy away from humor. Don’t. The right music can be just as visceral, which is why you almost never see an unscored movie. Always try music when you edit. It’s easy enough to take out if it doesn’t work. More often than not, it will be the magic ingredient that pulls your video together.

7Keep your video short. That movie trailer you hated because it showed you the whole movie? Two minutes and thirty seconds long. Your favorite Super Bowl TV spot: 30 seconds. Average time spent looking at a Web page? 15 seconds. How long should your video be? First, this question: Does it star the Victoria’s Secret models and is Martin Scorsese directing? No? Then take the length you intuitively think it should be, and cut by two-thirds. That makes your 10 minute video more like three minutes. Which will still be too long if it isn’t great.

8You know in your heart when the shooting is bad. Your brain will try to convince you it’s OK. This is normal. Nobody wants to throw away a shot that took time to shoot or money to pay for. Trust your gut. If it feels wrong, it’s wrong. Stop. Think. Fix it. Re-light, rewrite or reshoot — whatever it takes.

9Don’t strive to go “viral.” A viral video is a response by an audience that’s so excited by your video that they urgently and quickly share it with everyone they know; or, in other words, it’s a hit. Hits take skill, vision, artistry, marketing savvy and a huge amount of luck. You can hire all but the luck — but it’s expensive and still may not work. Best not to base your strategy on going “viral.” You can still be good, though.

10If you don’t love video, don’t shoot it. You wouldn’t have people who suck at sales run your sales department. You don’t want the guy who’s bored with brain surgery cutting into your head. Add your own metaphor here … and then apply it to video.

But don’t worry! You may already have other video enthusiasts in house that you didn’t know about. For every 50 people in your organization, I’m guessing there are two with a knack for video. Since you didn’t hire them for that, you’re going to have to figure out who they are. Easiest way: Just ask! If your organization is too small to have a video hobbyist, or they’re too busy with their real jobs, hire pros. For big important projects, call the big expensive pros. (Note: Socialbrite’s new in-house expert, Lauren Major, specializes in video and multimedia production for nonprofits — and isn’t expensive.)

For day-to-day stuff, you may be able to make do with a talented recent graduate or intern from the film department of a local college. If you have a very video-centric organization and a strong website, you can train your entire staff to do videos for fun and to build community.

Steve Stockman is a writer, producer and director at Custom Productions, Inc. in Los Angeles. His new book, How to Shoot Video that Doesn’t Suck, is available now wherever you buy or download books. He also blogs about video at
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.