At this critical time when the value of the library is often questioned, libraries and librarians must learn to better promote ourselves to our potential users. Using online promotional video is one good way to achieve that goal. The idea of this Screenwriting for Librarians series of blog posts is to share some screenwriting and storytelling techniques that I think might help fellow librarians who are interested in utilizing this medium to attract more users.
Go to youtube and search for library promo and there are more than 2000 results. That number will no doubt increase as video technology becomes increasingly accessible. You don’t even need a proper camera these days. Anyone with a newish cellphone can shoot and put a video up online in no time. However, learning and using the technology is the easy part – just like learning how to use a pen to write – the tricky part is to create something that captivates your audience.
A common mistake non-pros make when creating promo videos is to cram a ton of information into a short period of screen time. Or worse – reciting a laundry list of info in a long video. Web viewers have extremely short attention spans. Studies have shown that people usually just watch mere seconds of web videos, and most people do not finish even a 3 min video. A long video (that’s anything longer than 4 mins in the online world) better has an intriguing hook, otherwise most people would not even want to press play.
The nature of online library promotional videos share a lot of similarities with TV commercials. Both are (and should be) short (usually 30sec – 1 min), both try to “sell” something, and both want the audience to “take action” to buy/use the products. A lot of good TV commercials are good short films, which means that a good script is essential.
The purpose of the promo is to get your audience to use your libraries/products/services. So, 1) we must figure out what we have, what’s unique about us, that would be attractive to our potential users. This is really the first step of any marketing plan. 2) Distill that into one easy to remember message (a slogan). 3) Then craft a memorable and entertaining short story (video) that shows, not tells (that’s the golden rule of screenwriting) the audience our message. Simple, right? I can’t help you with the first 2 steps, but hopefully I can give you better ideas of how to achieve step 3 by sharing some of what I have learned in screenwriting.
The most memorable commercials tend to deliver one simple message that captures the essence of the product/service/company/person that it promotes. Think Nike’s “Just Do It”, or Apple’s “Think Different”. Now compare them to those local (let’s say, furniture stores or car dealerships) commercials where someone just stands there and “tells” you all the facts and information he can fit into that 30sec – 1 min time slot. Which one creates more impact? Obviously a Nike commercial has a multi-million dollar budget that a local business simply can’t match. But creativity can overcome financial limitations. Many great commercials do not cost a lot of money. They are great because of their clever ideas. And we will see an example of that in the commercial below.
This funny AT&T commercial most likely didn’t cost much to make. There’s no fancy CGI, or spectacular car chases. There is only one office location, and only one speaking actor. We can all do that, right? Yes!
The simple message here is “Don’t get left behind. AT&T – The nation’s fastest mobile network is now getting faster with 4G”. Instead of just “telling” us that, the humorous story is a wonderful way to “show” us the importance of having a fast connection, or rather, the danger of not having one. The story has a proper structure. There is a beginning, middle and end. The beginning (the set up) is the guy (who doesn’t have AT&T) notices that there’s a taco party and he thinks he’s not invited. The middle (the confrontation) is him mouthing off to his co-workers. And the end (the resolution) is him realizing that he’s actually invited but his phone was just too slow *oops*. Then there’s the call to action – “don’t get left behind” – what are you waiting for? Get AT&T now!
Seeing something like this gives us hope that we don’t need millions of dollars to make a good promo video for our libraries. My next post in this series will talk about story structure in more details.