Many conventions have emerged within those decades, and although they might now appear to be set in stone, we need to remember that they were born of trial and error on the part of entrepreneurs of an earlier age.
What happens when an old life form, which has evolved into the shape we recognise today, is brought into a new environment? ‘Jurassic Park’ analogies spring to mind, but I will resist!
The environment I am speaking of here is clickable advertising. In this new world, brands seek to reach targeted customers, only paying the digital marketer when there is proven engagement: engagement, which is increasingly validated by performance metrics. In practice, this means that marketers now have to prove that the viewer has engaged with their video for the whole of a specified period (up to 20 seconds).
This is a radically different environment from anything we have been used to. The nature of film needs to mutate to meet the challenge or, like any prehistoric creature, risk extinction.
It is no exaggeration to say that the demands of ‘clickability’ are leading video advertising, to acquire a new identity in the online environment. One aspect of this new identity can be seen in the post-production context. There has been a major change to the speed with which clips are spliced together by editors.
As any film buff knows, editing is one of the key factors used to develop the texture and unique story of a film. The choices of the editor are crucial in determining whether the viewer experiences the film as a masterpiece, or a piece of garbage.
This remains true whether the film is designed to win an Oscar or to promote a brand. There is no one style of editing, but fast-paced editing is now the dominant technique for videos within the online space of clickable advertising, and this time-pressured environment has forced the identity of the video to adapt.
The clock starts, the race is on, the prize is the viewer’s engagement in the video, and ultimately, the purchase of the product or service.
In the worse case scenario, not only does the film fail to engage the viewer, but also the viewer takes the whole 20 seconds to decide they are not interested.
Here the advertiser does not achieve engagement and is still charged for the failed attempt. This double whammy potentially makes online advertising no more attractive than traditional forms of media placement such as television.
Editing styles have changed in an effort to address this challenge. Quick cuts of just under one second allow the advertiser to communicate their story to the viewer concisely.
Crucially, this allows them to condense their message into the first part of the video, enabling the viewer to decide whether this is something of interest before the advertiser is charged. Eureka! Problem solved. Or is it?
Like any medium relying on creative sentiments to carry a business message, business tactics can be damaging as well as liberating, and quick cuts are no exception.
A slavish devotion to quick cuts can result in a uniform editing style. However individual they may be in other ways, online video advertisements are all now forced into the same editing style.
It becomes increasingly hard to make a video that stands out from the crowd, and the result is loss of engagement – precisely the problem that fast cuts were intended to solve. It could be argued that at least advertisers are no longer actively losing money, but that is hardly a convincing argument.
It is ironic that quick cuts can lead video ads to lose their edge, considering that they are traditionally used to produce an edgy and sometimes psychedelic effect. I guess much like anything when used in excess, it is all too easy to create the opposite effect to the desired one.
This is an example of how Twentieth Century Fox Animations, adapted editing techniques to suit this platform in an effective way in may 2013 for the release of ‘Epic’. Combining an initial long take where the animation ‘breaks the forth wall’ and addresses the audience.
Which is followed by various quick cuts to communicate their message in a short period of time. I found this combination very effective and it held my attention throughout:
We need to recognize that the customer knows the difference between exciting content and uninteresting content, which has been edited to give the illusion of excitement.
Quick cuts will not disguise uninteresting video content. The clickable environment is changing the nature of film, but that does not mean it will become mechanistic.
We must be confident in our message and our approach, and put more faith in our viewers if we are to stand out and not blend into the sea of sameness ripe for ‘click to skip’. One of the most engaging and intriguing films ever made was Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’ (1948).
He wanted the film to be one continuous take, but the cameras available at that time could only hold 1000 meters of 35mm film (11 minutes). Therefore the film consists of 11 shots in total, typically the same number of shots to appear in clickable advertising videos before the choice is given to the viewer to skip.
With these long takes, effective story telling was achieved in a concise way and the movie stands out in film history as being ambitious, unique, interesting and edgy, qualities we should emulate in the clickable environment.