As someone whose past professional sins have damned him to watching an inordinate amount of web video, I've started to compile the definitive, more-authoritative-than-anything-Walter-Cronkite-or-Morpheus-have-ever-done list as to what works and what doesn't. What works can be boiled down to either "says/shows what has to be said/shown, succinctly and without artifice, and gets the hell out of the way" or "makes lots of fart jokes." What doesn't work is a little trickier, because there are any number of shoot-self-in-foot tactics, most related to prioritizing entertainment over information: Wearing one's viral aspirations on one's sleeve, hiring a cinematic auteur to do a pitchman's job, etc.
But the dumbest, most self-defeating tactic any brand can employ in a web clip is faux authenticity. Which - segue alert! - brings us to Intuit's new campaign for its GoPayment mobile credit-card reader.
The GoPayment tchotchke itself, a mobile credit-card reader that attaches to phones and tablets alike, is pretty darn neat-o. It allows card-swiping on the go and, as such, will eventually revolutionize the way interpersonal commerce transpires at strip clubs. The way that Intuit has chosen to showcase the technology, however, emphasizes duh-really relatability over the ever-quantifiable cool factor. Intuit, it seems, doesn't trust small-business owners to figure out the technology on their own. As a result, it resorts to canned-sounding testimonials to render GoPayment more easily imaginable to tech dummyheads.
In a series of clips, all heaped beneath a "Get Business Growing" banner under which Intuit hopes small-business owners will cluster, the company hooks up quirktastic businesses with pop-up storefronts in busy commercial thoroughfares (New York City, Austin, Seattle). In a brisk 105 seconds or so, it tells us their stories and shows onlookers reacting to what they see with befuddled amazement: "Derrrrr, Auntie Lou, look at the nice man bumping the phone with the credit card! Derrrrrr! Derrrrrr!"
[Quick rant here: The press release announcing the GoPayment clips refer to them as "video stories," which is like referring to inchworms as "celestial beings." Producers of brand-boosting web video: for the last time, you aren't storytellers. Rudyard Kipling and Errol Morris are storytellers. You, on the other hand, create Internet-optimized ads designed to provoke viewers to deploy their wallets, and thus have more in common with members of the industrial-tubing sales guild than you do Harry Chapin. Okay?]
Where were we? Oh - the fake authenticity. My big problem with the "Get Business Growing" brand-video operettas is how they manufacture reaction from the proverbial man/woman on the street. Take the campaign's lead video, which shows how New York Dog Nanny took their puppy spa treatments and schnauzer-scrotum depilatories to the mean streets of midtown.
It's not enough to show impressed/bemused onlookers shooting footage with their phones ("mom, check out these oblivious dog-pampering dumbasses. New York City is officially less dangerous than Busch Gardens"). No, the clip gives viewers even less credit than that. Even after an establishing shot of the Statue of Liberty, it flashes "New York City" on screen, ostensibly to educate individuals laboring under the belief that the statue welcomes immigrants on their way into the port of Botswana. Then there's the so-casual reaction from the Man On The Street: "This is crazy. Pop-up like this? In Madison Square Park? It's pretty impressive." Who talks like this? Who gives quotes like this for attribution, besides the proud parents of grade-school hoofers?
There are two other video-marketing Citizen Kanes as part of the GoPayment campaign, one chronicling the on-the-go adventures of a golf coach and the other sitting in with a pair of slacker barbers. They follow the same formula: quick establishment of the scene, five-second injection of personality, fast-motion pop-up shop assembly, close-up of random being shooting cell-phone footage, I-have-seen-the-future-of-mobile-commerce-and-its-name-is-That-Phone-Thingie testimonial, fin. Each is more simple-minded than the next.
In the wake of these columns, I'm often asked, "What would you have done instead, Jerkface?" So to save everyone's time, let me field that one in advance. Ever the gritty urban realist, I would've ditched the set-up and camera testimonials, then just gone with unnarrated footage from the ad-hoc shops. We'd see GoPayment in action. We'd see the favorable consumer response. The clip would end without a moral or an explicit, rousing call to action. It wouldn't linger on the Eiffel Tower to establish that we're not in Kentucky or waste valuable screen time on the minutiae of the business owners' relationship.
More show-me. Less set-up. You can tell a story without Telling A Story.