Video Killed the Video Star: When Does Quantity Trump Quality?

Evan Zall

The multimedia floodgates are open, and for good reason. Audiences are eager for short, playable, sharable content, and the playing field of PR has evolved alongside it. Where there was once hesitation about marketing videos with a low-grade feel to them, clients now clamor for what has become a widely accepted tool. There is still a fine strategic balance, however, between lower budget, higher volume video campaigns and more traditional high quality programming.

The embrace of low production value shouldn’t be a surprise. Look no further than the second-most popular search engine. YouTube tells us that viewers watch more than six billion hours of video each month, and they aren’t the teenage celebrity-hunters and vloggers they used to be (not all of them anyway). According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more US adults, ages 18 to 34, than any cable network.

This YouTube generation is coming of age, and it expects quick, entertaining, insightful videos to populate their screens. They want to be able to find content easily and they want each video to open a new window into something else. It’s a tremendous audience that represents the next wave of consumers, business leaders and PR clients.

Traditional marketing philosophy calls for professionalism, slick branding and a crisp, sophisticated look and feel. iPhone videos of experts yakking in front of their logo were shunned two years ago, but the industry is in the midst of a full turnabout. The consumer appetite for quick and easy videos is trumping the call for high quality production, and with that comes a raft of questions for PR professionals and their clients.

When is rock-bottom production value okay?

The acceptance of low production value does not come in a vacuum. The demand has shifted away from clean, visual aesthetics to a much greater emphasis on content.

Simply put, audiences care more about the substance than they do about which HD camera was used and who wrote the script. Does it make them laugh? Does it lead to another video? Is it worth sharing?

This is a wonderful thing for up and coming brands; just as smart social media opened inexpensive marketing doors for limited budgets, smart video can do the same. Once again, it’s a new tool for creative PR minds to play with, and the right content can bring a brand to life.

On the flip side, low quality production is still high risk in some sectors. Financial services, professional services and consumer industries that cater to a largely conservative or wealthy base need to stay above the fray.

Their brands (with notable exceptions) have less flexibility than many others, and low quality can turn off their core targets more readily than it can attract new and exciting buyers.

What’s the budget?

Knowing that production companies will bill anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 for short, high-end video content, pricing is tough. As with most initiatives, budget depends on your market, your reach, your scope and your confidence.

Start with the low end of a production company’s budget and think through the man-hours you’ll devote to the campaign as a whole. In the end, you’re charging for the full breadth of the initiative, not the production alone.

Whatever price you quote, prepare for the pushback. Clients may believe that this is “easy and anyone can do it,” but they often forget that weaving their brand into creative content is a complex exercise.

Who can do it better?

We all have relationships with vendors that can knock the cover off the ball when it comes to video content. Production houses from one-man shops to multi-location studios can provide a clean process, high end product and a flourish to the brand that will be difficult to achieve without their expertise.

When the budget is flexible and a sophisticated message is in order, defer to their services. This is where the line is drawn between risk and reward of “down and dirty” and “high and mighty.”

Video is still evolving, just like blogging, social networking and, frankly, everything else in the media. There is valid concern that high quality video providers will continue to struggle against a quick, low-budget fix.

In the end, the industry will once again be reinvented. In the immortal words of the Buggles: “We can't rewind we've gone too far. Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VTR…”

“VTR.” Wonder if YouTube will have the same camp value in 30 years?

Evan Zall is president of Ebben Zall Group.