Avoiding the Corporate Video Cliche

It’s time we had a talk about – *gulp* – the corporate video…

Corporate videos have actually been around for many years, even pre-dating the web. The purpose of these videos was usually the same: to illustrate some kind of corporate vision or strategy, often for an internal audience, often distributed on VHS.

Fortunately, along with the emergence of Youtube, a lot has changed. So what works for ‘corporate’ video today?

Out With the Old

Check out this example below from 1998. It’s from Enron, and it’s called “Vision and Values”.

This video is a perfectly preserved fossil of 1990s corporate video cliches. It contains:

  • Low angle shots of sleek corporate towers
  • Black & white footage and honky-tonk piano music to demonstrate the company’s historical roots
  • CEOs seated in plush chairs, discussing entrepreneurial spirit
  • Stock footage montage of happy people in idyllic settings
  • The ‘Magic Formula’ of history / values / diversity / ethics / culture

Overall, the video paints a picture of a healthy and thriving company – one with purpose and integrity, and on the cusp of great things. Well, I don’t know about you, but for some reason I’m not buying it.

To be fair, it’s not that the video is inherently bad (for its time, the video was probably on the cutting-edge, and may have been a huge success). The point is that this video is dated. Today’s audiences see this type of video as a transparent piece of corporate propaganda – so much so that the video is actually laughable today, much like cigarette ads from the 1950s.

Luckily, since the 90s, things have changed a lot for video. The emergence of the web and mobile video, combined with dramatic changes in the economy of film production, have made video more accessible than ever – and audiences everywhere are tuning in. This presents a huge opportunity for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and opens up an equally huge range of creative possibilities for delivering a message.

So we must ask: what works for “corporate video” today?

In With the New

Well, in order to understand the answer to that question, consider that today’s most forward-thinking companies have tended to drop the word “corporate” altogether when they talk about their video strategy; now they just make “videos” – usually stories about real people, in real settings, saying real things.

The reason for that is simple: if you free your mind of the idea that your video is, by default, “corporate”, and really think critically about what your communications goals are, you will probably discover that Enron’s “Vision and Values” is not necessarily the best model on which to base your new video project.

Time and experience have shown us that the more people think of video as a tool for telling relatable stories about their brand or organization, the more engaging (and therefore more valuable) their videos ultimately are.

The big-picture lesson here is simply this: it’s important to respect trends in video. Never assume that the old way of doing things is the best way of doing things. If you’re starting a new video project, go in with an open mind. And please, no more honky-tonk pianos.