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The 7 immutable laws of successful video ads

Much like the laws of physics, video ads are all subject to a handful of immutable laws. In our experience, all successful video ads have followed these laws. Break any one of them, and you set yourself up for failure.

The 7 immutable laws of video ads

  1. You can't edit a bad idea to be good. And you can't edit a good idea to be bad. 
  2. All videos need to have a distribution strategy and a release plan.
  3. Subtlety is for amateurs. (Thank you George Tannenbaum)
  4. Video is just a medium for a message. 
  5. No one will notice the things you notice. 
  6. The success or failure of your video ad is not based on the production day. It's all what happens on paper beforehand. 
  7. There are no asterisks or pharmaceutical disclaimers at the end of a spot. People will only judge based on what’s on the screen.

Hear more about each law by listening to the episode or reading the transcript below.


Hope Morley: You have to remember that the people watching this video ad likely don't know half of what you're trying to get at them. So if you're trying to share a marketing message, you need to make sure that you're talking to an audience and not creating something for yourself. 

Hello, and welcome to Death to the Corporate Video, a podcast with tools and advice for how to make B2B videos your prospects actually want to watch. I'm Hope Morley.

Guy Bauer: I’m Guy Bauer.

Hope Morley: Today, we are talking about the seven immutable laws of video ads. So in our experience over the past, gosh, 10 plus years at this point, there are laws of video ads that cannot be broken no matter what you try to do. If you're going to make a successful video ad, you need to follow some of these laws, no matter what.

Guy, why don't you start with rule number one? And as we get into this, please note, these are in no particular order.

Guy Bauer: All of these before they were laws were theories.

Hope Morley: And mistakes.

Guy Bauer: And that yeah, basically. Yeah. All of this is exclusively from pain. So the first immutable law video ad is you can't edit a bad idea to be good and you can't edit a good idea to be bad. If something is not working in post there's no amount of lifting that is going to make it good. You really have to kind of just take it behind the barn and do you know what with it? 

Hope Morley: That’s a terrible thing to say.

Guy Bauer: That's what, that's my Mr. Wonderful. That's what he always says, but it's the same thing. Like Mr. Wonderful. When he evaluates business ideas, he's like, no, that's a terrible idea for a business. It doesn't matter how much you optimize this terrible idea for a business. You need to take it behind the barn and put it down.

Same thing with a bad idea that's just not working in post, no amount of manipulation. Now sometimes just release it. Sometimes you don't need to pay to redo it. It's just a bad idea and learn from it. Right. And it's just not going to work. Release it, you never know. And why is so much bad advertising done is because advertising even bad advertising is still better than no advertising.

So don't be too precious, but don't be fooled into thinking that if we just do another 80 rounds of revisions, you know, at some point you have to, you know, the rule of sunk costs, you have to cut this thing off. No amount of editing, a bad idea is going to make it good. Alternately. No amount of editing is going to make a good idea bad. I find that anytime we have a really solid idea, no matter what the edits are, it doesn't fundamentally change the effectiveness of the idea. So don't get too precious about stakeholders wanting to weigh in and edit something. It's really not going to affect it that much because it's fundamentally a good idea.

Yes. You know, you could be a little looser. You don't have to be as aggressive, if it is a solid idea. Obviously you want everything to be as good as possible, and you're going to need to pick your battles, blah, blah, blah. But in essence, you can't really edit a good idea to be bad. So that's it. Immutable law. Number one, full stop. You got to say full stop. 

Hope Morley: After every one?

Guy Bauer: Yeah.

Hope Morley: Alright. Immutable law number two. 

Hope Morley: Video released without proper fanfare will never make a splash. You know, it's a tree falling in the forest doesn't make a sound. If you drop your video into a forest all by itself, no one's going to see it. All video ads need a proper distribution strategy.

And this is not necessarily paid advertising. If you don't have the budget for paid, I'm not saying that everything needs to have paid media budget behind it. But what I am saying is that you need to put proper thought into the container that goes around a video. So that includes where the video goes.

First of all, is it on your website? Social? YouTube? But also things like captions and titles and YouTube descriptions. The thumbnail that you put on YouTube, it really makes a difference when people are searching. You know, there's a reason that all those YouTubers have those same cheesy thumbnails with the title of the video and their face on it, because those work, you know, that style might not necessarily work for a B2B video ad, but they're putting thought into it because when people are searching you want to catch their attention. You want them to click on your video. You need to give them a reason to click and to watch. And the reason for that comes from the title, the description, the thumbnail, all those engaging things to get people to the point where they're actually going to watch the spot.

Because even if it's a fabulous spot, if you put it up on your YouTube with the title 30 second brand spot and no description, no one's going to find it.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, and we found time and time again, when we drop stuff without an intentional plan, it never works as well as something with an intentional plan. And we don't have a lot of money to, it's not like we're talking about million dollar ad buys on our stuff. We're talking about just think through.

Places which venues, blogs, news sites, social channels would be interested in this thing. And if you just spend like an hour brainstorming, you'll create a list and you'll get real clever. And, and we've seen time and time again that effectiveness goes up when we've been very intentional about how is this thing being distributed.

Hope Morley: Full stop. 

Guy Bauer: Full-stop boom. Okay, so immutable law, number three. subtlety is for amateurs. And this one I can't take full credit for, A writer that I respect named George Tennenbaum and by way, uh, and then he learned subtlety is for amateurs from legendary director, Errol Morris. So I believe Errol Morris told this to George, they were on set and it was, they were trying to decide between like a more obvious.

Or a less, more subtle and Errol Morris went for the obvious and he said, subtlety is for amateurs. And I agree with this. And every time I am trying to be subtle or like, Ooh, you know, like you'll have to figure it out. You'll have to, when you get it in the editing room, you're like, oh God, no, one's going to understand this.

And that's why when you look at spot. When someone's on their phone, the text messages, huge. Right. It's unrealistically huge. You know why? Because it has to be that big or else they can't see it. That's why computer screens are over simplified it's because in the three second glimpse that you're showing this, it's not like a 1920s movie when they stop a movie and let you read a letter for a minute and a half, like now they'll show you a screen.

You get three, four seconds. Subtlety is for amateurs. You have to be very obvious. And this isn't just like stuff that you shoot. It's jokes or it's lines or it's concepts. 

You have to be obvious. You have to, again, assume that people have disinterest and assume that people are texting and on their email And on Reddit and on their phones while they're watching this thing.

They're half paying attention, assume lack of interest, lack of attention. And if you do assume that that will. Move you out of the subtlety thing. Now, if you're Quintin Tarantino, you can be subtle. If you're apple. Yeah. You probably have license for subtlety and you can do that because you have a brand, but if you're like 99% of the B2B brands out there that aren't Apple, subtlety is for amateurs 

Hope Morley: And beware of the curse of knowledge when you're trying to be subtle too, you know, when you're making a video ad with you and your team, you've been probably ingrained in this project for a long time, and you're really ingrained in like your industry and your company. So you might be making subtle references or things that your audience just doesn't know.

And you've forgotten, you know, more than your audience knows about your product and your industry. So if you're being subtle. You have to remember that the people watching this video ad likely don't know half of what you're trying to get at them. So if you're trying to share a marketing message, you need to make sure that you're talking to an audience and not creating something for yourself.

Guy Bauer: yup. Full stop subtleties for amateurs, immutable law, number three. All right. Hope what's number four? 

Hope Morley: Immutable law. Number four is that video is just a medium. Video is only a medium for your message. Video itself is it's nothing on its own. The goal of a marketing or an advertising project should never be, make a video. You should never think about a video as some sort of end all be all of a project.

Video is a solution to a problem. For example, bring in more leads, close more sales, get brand awareness. Whenever you're doing a marketing or an advertising project. That goal needs to be set at the outset and video can be an effective medium for sharing a message that can get you to that goal.

What's funny. People rarely set marketing goals around other mediums. You know, I, I don't hear people saying, you know, this quarter, well, let's do an email, you know, but people do say this this quarter let's make a video, 

Guy Bauer: Yeah. 

Hope Morley: But you really like why?

Guy Bauer: Because it's expensive. It's shiny. I think video is the crown jewel, you know, uh, in our latest article on our site. Hope, uh, if you go to umault.com/insights, uh, it's how to increase B2B brand awareness quickly. We did some research. And if you look at Adweek top 25 ads of 2021, uh, I believe it's 67% of them are video ads or maybe even more 

Hope Morley: It might've been 70.

Guy Bauer: 70 something. Okay. Video ads are like the shiniest, coolest thing a brand can do. So I think that's where it comes from, it comes from let's do like let's, it's like video, website. These are the shiny, highest, coolest, biggest, most expensive crown jewel things that brands will make. So I think that's where it comes from.

But, but yeah, I think you're right when you make the end goal a video, rather than really, it should be a message by way, by delivered by a video. 

Hope Morley: Yep. And then, how do you evaluate the effectiveness? If the end goal is just to make a video? You can't because the project is over once you make it, which isn't the case at all, you need to make sure it's working for you.

Guy Bauer: Yup. And that's why we like to start all our engagements, not to get salesy here, but you know, when a client says, Hey, I want to make an animation or I want to make a commercial 30 second thing. We don't just take that on face value and go, yeah, let's just do it. It's all right. Let's we gotta step back though.

And like, what are you trying to say? And like who you're saying it to, cause we may reveal a 30 second spot may not be good for this. Let's make a 10 minute TikTok. There's so many different ways to go about this and. I think you need to get it out of your mind. Don't make the parcel of video. The thing, make the message, the thing, and be open to different ways that the medium of video can deliver it.

Hope Morley: Exactly.  Full stop. 

Guy Bauer: Full stop.

I love when people say that. Immutable law of video ads. Number five. No one will notice the things that you notice, in your own ad. There's going to be little things as you review your ad and watch it 5,000 times.

You're going to start to see all the seams. You're going to see all the mistakes. You're going to see all the things that are less than perfect, but the average person isn't even going to watch a hundred percent of your spot. The average person, if you looked on, you know, when I looked up. LinkedIn sponsored posts.

We get excited if it has a 56% view rate view through rate, right? If on the average people watch 56%, if it gets over 70%, it's like, oh my gosh, we got solid gold. So that's the average view length. People aren't going to watch it once on average.

So they're not noticing all the things you're noticing. It's the same reason why a magician never does a magic trick twice because on the first time they have the element of surprise to use against you. On the second time you're not going to be fooled by the misdirection.

You're going to be looking where the magician's hands are before the reveal. And that's how you'll figure out the trick, same thing. Keep in mind. No, one's going to watch it 50 times and no one's looking for mistakes. No one's looking for how the voiceover pronounced something. When I was younger, I would really key into things and you know, make people do 80 takes.

And then when you get into post you're like, oh my gosh, all 80 of these sound the exact same. That all of this was just a waste of time and spinning wheels. And I think, you know, the ad is just, it's worth more to you in the open rather than getting too precious and spiraling into this thing. And a lot of times you get into these existential crises too, of like, why are we doing, what are we here for?

Like, w you know, is this I don't know, this whole message even makes sense. It's cause you've, you've watched it too many times. So immutable law number, what is this five? no one will notice the things that you will notice. It's a magic trick. Don't get too keyed in on any one imperfection. No one's going to notice.

Hope Morley: There's another argument there to give yourself time to sleep on these projects and to step away from them because when you start spiraling and obsessing over like, oh my gosh, is his sleeve too wrinkled? That makes our brand look bad because his shirt has a little wrinkle on it. You know, take a step back, look at it the next morning, you'll realize that you didn't even notice his sleeve was wrinkled until your seventh watch. And like Guy was saying, nobody's watching your ad seven times. No one's going to see that his sleeve is wrinkled. It does not reflect badly on your brand. Let it go, put it out there.

 Alright. Immutable law number six. The success or failure of your video ad is not really based on the production day, the shoot day itself. The success or failure comes from what was written down on paper months before you get in front of a camera. So that's both the message itself. Is it a good idea?

Does it, is there a good message that we're trying to get across through this video ad and also the writing? Is it well-written? Did you get a good copywriter? Is it an engaging story and engaging voiceover and copy. That's going to lead you through this ad. A very beautifully shot piece that has a mediocre script is not going to be nearly as effective as a great script

that's shot on an iPhone. You can't use production to make a bad thing good.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, it's kind of like, you know, a kid isn't going to make a bad marriage better. Is it going to solve your marriage problems? Nothing will be solved on the production day. Production days are always the day where new problems are discovered. But if you go into the production day with zero concern, right, like you've addressed as much as you can possibly can address when problems do come up on production day, your mental load will be way low and you'll be able to deal with those issues. 

I put everything into either aviation or space travel to put it into NASA terms. Back in the space shuttle days, the pilots would practice and rehearse for every launch like rehearse, like for weeks months, and during the rehearsals they would throw basically every problem that has ever happened that has ever been documented at these pilots and get them to know how to react cold. And the theory was that on the actual launch day, most likely none of those problems are going to come up. There's going to be new problems, but since they're rehearsed and if any of those old problems came up, they'd be able to deal with those cold, but then re then devote a lot of mental energy to the new problems.

Same thing the night before a shoot, when I was younger I would stay up all night worried. Is this going to be right? Is that going to be right? Like, I'm not sure how that's going to work. Uh, I don't think that joke is funny. Like this is the night before the shoot and I'm having this many like issues.

First of all, I'm not getting a good night's sleep. Second, what is the shoot day going to introduce? Chaos on top of the problems that I already have, and that's what leads a lot of productions to spiral and go terrible is because there were too many question marks. Now? The night before we do a shoot, my mind is completely clear.

I get a beautiful night's sleep because everything has been thought of as much as possible. And guess what? Every day problems still come up. But because everything else is like been cleared out and, and, you know, punch cards and everything. There's no issues when one or two minor issues come up on set, or even if they're major issues, we have the mental bandwidth to react.

Let them not ruin the day. So there's that practical aspect of it too. But going into the production, the spot should already be made in everyone's head. There should be no question. Shoot days should honestly be filled with eating snacks and kind of just having fun. it should not be filled with chaos and stress.

Hope Morley: Yeah, no big decision should ever be made on a production day, unless it's, you know, you're reacting to something unforeseen and you have to make a decision to move forward. But there should never be something that when you're in those planning stages, you're like, oh, well, we'll decide when we see it.

You know that? No, no, no. All those decisions, every decision that you can try to make before you show up at the studio or at your location, all those decisions need to be made, vetted, gone through the teams. You know, production should really be paint by numbers at that point.

Guy Bauer: Seriously paint by numbers. And it's not as, I guess, thrilling as when I was a kid and we would, you know, when I was a kid, we would go to the park and write the script as we shot. It's very fun when you do it that way, it's like very thrilling and, you know, You know, it's complete chaos. And obviously that doesn't make sense when you, you know, when you're with your friends and not paying them that's okay.

But when you're paying actors and stuff, that's expensive, you shouldn't do that. So yeah, it should be paint by numbers. The shoot day should be kind of, if you were to be a fly on the wall, on the cockpit of your Southwest airlines flight, I guarantee you it's extremely boring in that cockpit, even when there's like a heavy crosswind turbulent landing, because there they're not freaking out, they're not in chaos.

They are in complete control, which is rather boring. But you know, that's how professional stuff is done. I'll never forget. I was gambling at the hard rock casino in Vegas and, I was watching them a TV commercial. It was like 2:00 AM. So that's when they were doing their TV commercial. And I was looking at the set, just laughing to myself.

I'm like, this looks so boring because they are in complete control. And so everyone's just standing around. They're not running, they're walking to places they're using walkie-talkies like everything. In total control, which appears extremely boring, not sexy, not romantic, not what we think production is of like, oh shoot.

It's just like people standing around eating snacks. That's your goal, is to eat snacks

Hope Morley: Full stop, eat more, eat more, snacks. Make fewer decisions.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, that's it. Alright. Finally, immutable law, number seven, number seven. There are no asterisks available that I know on YouTube, meaning there's not a special box you can put up that lists all the pressures you were under internally in your company or whatever, to get this spot. And explaining why it's less than great.

There are no features that I know on Vimeo, YouTube, anything! They still don't have a feature that has like a note box that pops up in the middle of the commercial that like explains like, yeah, well, you know, we were under pressure. We had to do this and only six weeks cause we had it, like there's still none of that feature.

So in the meantime, that means that you will be judged just on what is in this video ad you will not be judged. And you will get no points for doing this in four weeks, you will get no points that you did this yourself or whatever, and that, you know, you saved $10,000 or whatever.

Like, no, you only get judged on what is on the screen. With that said like that has to be your litmus test of what is good and how you should make decisions. So if you're being pressured by time, you really have to stand your ground to your stakeholders and stuff. You know, like there's no asterisk.

I, I know I can get this done in four weeks, but it's not going to be effective. No one's going to remember that we were under enormous pressure to get this done. And I did it on time. They're just going to be like, well, that thing stinks and that was ineffective. So there's no asterisk in video advertising.

You just are going to be judged on what is on the screen. And that needs to be the holy grail. That needs to be the thing that you hold everyone honest to. Yes, even your boss. Because in the end they will be judged on the effectiveness of all this stuff. And not that it was done on time. 

Hope Morley: I'm picturing like at the end of a pharmaceutical ad, when they have the long disclaimer, I'm picturing the end of a B2B ad. That's like a whole running list of like, we had to do a new. The CMO and insisted that we say our brand name eight times, and we had to get this actor because

Guy Bauer: That's actually, I mean, I'm going to note that I think that's an Umault parody ad. Um, I think that that's brilliant and like, people are in slow motion climbing a mountain or whatever, while the long, um, pharmaceutical, 

Hope Morley: like you spend more time on the disclaimer then on the actual commercial.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. That's still not, you know, maybe we'll be the first agency to introduce that, but unfortunately now it, uh, does not exist. 

Hope Morley: So at the end of the day, what that means practically is stand your ground, make the effort, take the time to do it right. Not to do it fast or to do it with compromises if you can. Because at the end of the day, the viewer doesn't know. All they know is what you put in front of them.

Guy Bauer: yeah, that's it. All right. Should we recap the laws? 

Hope Morley: Let's go through the seven immutable laws of video.

Guy Bauer: All right. Immutable law. Number one, you can't edit a bad idea good. And you can't edit a good idea bad. Full stop. 

Hope Morley: immutable law number two. A video released without fanfare will never make a splash. All videos need to have a distribution strategy and a plan.

Guy Bauer: immutable law number three, subtlety is for amateurs. Full stop.

Hope Morley: Immutable law. Number four. Video is just a medium for a message. Full-stop.

Guy Bauer: immutable law. Number five, no one will notice the things you notice. It's a magic trick. You know where the seams are. No one else knows where the seams are false. 

Hope Morley: Immutable law, number six, the success or failure of your video ad is not based on the production day. It's all what happens on paper beforehand. Full stop.

Guy Bauer: And immutable law number seven, there are no asterisks or pharmaceutical disclaimers at the end of a spots, noting the pressures you were under yet. Uh, I'm just kidding. 

Hope Morley: Maybe we'll add that, you know, we'll put it in our packages.

Guy Bauer: maybe this has to be taken away from the laws, actually, if we're now questioning this and saying that we're going to do a new product line of B2B ads that have long disclaimers, but, uh, no, you where there are no asterisks in video ads full stop. 

Hope Morley: don't let legal listen to this episode and come to you and be like, I hear you can put a disclaimer on end of ads.

Guy Bauer: That's a great idea. Let's do it. 

Hope Morley: full stop. No disclaimers. 

Thanks for listening today. If you have any immutable laws of video ads that we forgot that you think of in your marketing experience, let us know you can find us across all the social media channels at umami that's U M a U L T a. You can visit us on our website

Dot com or send us an email at hello at dot com. Thanks for listening.

Guy Bauer: Thank you. Full stop. 

Hope Morley: Full stop.





Picture of Guy bauer, founder of umault

Guy has been making commercial videos for over 20 years and is the author of “Death to the Corporate Video: A Modern Approach that Works.” He started the agency in 2010 after a decade of working in TV, film and radio. He’s been losing hair and gaining weight ever since.

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