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How “corporate video” became a dirty word

“It’s fine. It just feels a little... corporate.” Can you hear it? Can you hear the disdain that drips from a person’s mouth when they describe a video as “corporate”?

“Corporate video” was once a neutral descriptor for videos made by corporations. But now it’s become a dirty word. No one wants their video content described as “corporate” anymore.

How did the phrase “corporate video” develop this negative connotation, and how can you make sure your content won’t get slapped with this label?

Listen to the podcast, watch the video, or read the transcript below to learn where we think the term “corporate video” originated and what the main tropes of corporate video are.

Fear not, there are a few things you can do when creating video content to make sure your videos are never labeled as corporate:

  • Tell a story.
  • Be authentic.
  • Take a stand.
  • Empathize with your viewer.

Give us a listen to learn more about each one.

Key quotes

"A corporate video is really just a lack of empathy. It plows through what it wants to broadcast and yells at you with no real thought of, “Well, who is the audience and what do they want? And will they find this interesting?” A corporate video ignores their audience, doesn't really care and it just barks." - Guy Bauer
"Take the time to dig into strategy because yes, it takes time, but once you can find that key differentiation or that key insight that's different about your people, your company, your customers, you can build out a creative concept that is different, that isn't a trope, that isn't stereotypical, that isn't quote-unquote corporate." - Tory Merritt
"It's as simple as that. Don't do videos about issues, do videos about people swept up in the issues. And that quick tip will really save you a lot of worry." - Guy Bauer


How to use stock footage effectively and avoid the corporate video trap

For more on developing a video strategy that is decidedly non-corporate, visit our B2B video marketing guide. Or review our video production buyer's guide to help choose a video vendor who won't get all corporate on you.

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode transcript

Tory Merritt: Corporations can make videos. They don't have to make corporate videos.

Hope Morley: Hello and welcome to So You Need a Video, the only podcast-

Guy Bauer: ... that we're aware of-

Hope Morley: ... about simplifying your brand’s sales message with video. I'm Hope Morley.

Tory Merritt: I'm Tory Merritt.

Guy Bauer: I'm Guy Bauer.

Hope Morley: And welcome to another episode recorded under our stay at home orders here in Illinois so you get another great shot of all of our work-from-home setups for those of you who want to watch the video.

Tory Merritt: I'm in my home studio.

Hope Morley: And please excuse the audio quality as we're all talking on our computer mics today. But today we're going to be talking about the word “corporate” as in corporate video. Corporate video is still a descriptor that's used all the time but nobody wants to make a corporate video.

Guy Bauer: Yeah.

Hope Morley: So getting into that, Guy, do you want to talk a little bit about kind of the history of the term corporate video?

Guy Bauer: Yeah, and really it all started, and this is just from what I think. We did you know…

Tory Merritt: No direct experience.

Guy Bauer: Yeah.

Hope Morley: This is a personal history.

Guy Bauer: I did no research, right? Yeah.

Tory Merritt: It's anecdotal.

Guy Bauer: It's anecdotal, which is the most overused word now in 2020. Everyone is coming out with that word. It's like it's a panacea for all the-

Hope Morley: A panacea for a word when you don't want to say anything on the record.

Guy Bauer: Well yeah, and that's the thing. Anecdotal gets you out of any sort of accountability and that's all.

Tory Merritt: I use it all the time. But I use it all the time. We're talking about research and it's like, “we did the best we could” but sometimes it's like my experience, anecdotally speaking.

Guy Bauer: Get out of anything.

Tory Merritt: We all do it to get out of jail. Like don't hold me to it. I'm going to say what I want to say but noting this isn't fact.

Guy Bauer: But anecdotal also means that you had a conversation with someone and that person told you something and that's where you're getting your thought from. Right?

Hope Morley: It comes from an anecdote.

Guy Bauer: Okay. So my evidence isn't even anecdotal. This is just from what I think about in the shower about corporate video. Okay.

Hope Morley: Or it comes from your years of expert opinions and experience.

Tory Merritt: Expertise and experience, Guy.

Guy Bauer: We'll delete the part about the shower. By the way, all the best thinking happens there.

Hope Morley: That's actually scientifically proven.

Tory Merritt: We did. Yes. One of our friends at Deloitte who is very experienced in these things, anecdotally and non anecdotally, was able to say that there are studies that show some of the best ideas do come from out of the shower.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, it's the massaging. It's the warm, but yeah, every time I'm stuck I go take a shower and I get... anyway. Okay, we're digressing. Hello.

Hope Morley: Hello. So we're talking about the history.

Guy Bauer: Yes. Okay. Okay. So this is anecdotal but not even anecdotal. This is shower, but you're saying it's expert. Okay. This is my expert opinion analysis is that the word — How did corporate video come about? Where did that term come about? And I think it's probably from the eighties and nineties when corporations started making video; meaning on video cassette using video cameras because before the eighties before the dawn of really ubiquitous video camera technology, if you wanted to make something, it needed to be on film. And most likely you needed to involve an agency of some kind, a very expensive agency. And that film was going to cost lots and lots of money.

Guy Bauer: But as the advent of video technology came about in the eighties and nineties well now it was much cheaper and corporations themselves didn't have to go to an agency, right. They didn't have to engage any outside people. All they had to do was get a video production company to do it for them. So meaning people with a camera on their shoulder that recorded to video tape. So no longer was the visual motion picture stuff coming from just the marketing department. Now the HR department can make their video and the sales department can make their video and yada yada yada right? Down the line. And so corporate video was exactly that. It was video made by the corporation usually for internal use.

Tory Merritt: So corporate comms.

Guy Bauer: Right? Very internal, training or maybe like a product demo. But you had to actually mail the videotape around the country. Right? Or present it live at your client. Or show it in like a training room. And so what's wrong with that? Well, back then, nothing, because the video was limited by its container, the tape. Well now in the age of the internet, you can't keep it to a video. You can't keep the video contained. So every video is actually a marketing video. Even if it's an internal video because the ability for it to leave your four walls and leak out online is really high.

And if you just go do a search on YouTube and type in "internal training video Blockbuster", "internal training video Apple", whatever. You'll see all their internal videos pop up. And I'm sure you know, all these companies are doing copyright claims, but then you know, it's like whack-a-mole, right?

Tory Merritt: So like you said, only certain people had access to be able to make a video. So corporate video is coming from the corporation. So the message is it's been strategized. It's been filtered. It's not necessarily authentic. And I think that also was, is what comes into the corporate video is it's not coming from the outside. It's coming from within and the message has been dictated.

Guy Bauer: It's the difference. It's, you know, I use this metaphor but I mean I can't think of any more PC way to say it, but it's like North Korea, you know what I mean? It's any time you see, you know, you've seen these videos. They're like, “I want to be a good employee, how do I do that?” “Well Shelly, you know, sign up for the HR plan.” “The HR plan! That was easy!” And that's where the word corporate is starting to become an insult because like one of the worst things, one of the worst pieces of feedback we can ever get as a creative video agency is “That feels corporate.” And so what do people mean by “that feels corporate”?

Hope Morley: I think that Tory was kind of getting at this, of getting into one of those qualities of corporate video is that corporate video is devoid of emotion, right? Like that example that Guy just gave of just people like...

Tory Merritt: Propaganda.

Hope Morley: Reading lines, not having any sort of authenticity or emotion coming through. And along those same lines that it also tries to appeal to everyone. You want to be as non-offensive, as generic, as safe as possible.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, and it's that bland feeling and that kind of like, overly perfect. Everything is perfect. No conflict, no drama, just like you know, North Korea message of everything is perfect and happy that then leads humans to have this reaction of, “Well, life is not like that. This is not real. This feels corporate.”

Hope Morley: And an example that we've used before, a good metaphor for this is that corporate video assumes that people go to sleep in their suits every night. That they just go from work and they have their work life and then they're always a work person. They never are a normal person who just goes home, sits on their couch and watches Netflix and takes their business hat off and puts their person hat back on.

Guy Bauer: It's a corporate video is basically taking a white paper and just copying and pasting the words over into video form and it assumes that that's going to be more engaging. But in fact...

Tory Merritt: Or doesn't care.

Guy Bauer: What's that?

Tory Merritt: Or it doesn't care if it's engaging. It's just like, these are the boxes we needed to check. This has done this. Like Hope said, no one's going to be upset by this. No one can, like you were saying, send us out and we have problems. It takes no stance. It's not engaging, but it's done. I think is part of that as well.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, it's like you know how they always say that in an animation if the characters look too human-like people don't like it because it starts to look, the word is uncanny.

Hope Morley: The Uncanny Valley. Yeah.

Guy Bauer: Right. And it's the same thing. When you just know what a corporate video is. Just like I gave that example like, “Well the HR system sure is convenient, Bob.” “That's right, Susan. And did you know?” You know what I mean?

Tory Merritt: Yes.

Guy Bauer: I mean come on, we've all seen a million of these! Why do companies keep making them?

Tory Merritt: Safe, safe but not effective. Right? Like it's no one's getting in trouble. It got done. You know, it stayed on budget, it stayed on time and you can move along versus, like Hope was saying, trying to take a stand on something. Obviously if things are going to get out, there's still rules. You have to play the game, right? But having the ability to stand out and still, you can still stand out without upsetting everyone, right? You can still differentiate yourself without saying something that you shouldn't have said and that's how you start veering off of the corporate path, right. Is being willing to stand for something.

Guy Bauer: If marketers out there know that corporate is bad because we know that because...

Tory Merritt: It’s a dirty word.

Guy Bauer: It's a dirty word, right? Yeah. Just feels corporate to me. So we know why potentially corporate video gets made because it's safe. Right? And so I guess, so how is it perceived as safe and who is deeming it's safe? If we all know that it's bad?

Hope Morley: Well, safe and bad don't, they're not opposites. Like you can be safe and bad at the same time. Because a safe video is just something that your boss is fine with. Everybody is fine with. It got made. They can see like, Oh yeah, we needed to send a message to the team about the new health care plan. Yep. We explained that topic thoroughly! You know. And there's nothing to be said or not said like you can all, just like Tory said earlier, you can all just move on with your lives and be like, yep, we explained the new process.

So just because something is bad or corporate doesn't make it not safe. So I think if we want to encourage our clients who are listening or marketers who are listening to take a stand to not be corporate, that would be something that they can do to make sure that they're not making a corporate video to make a stand with something. Like instead of just explaining a topic, maybe you tell a story.

Tory Merritt: Yep. And considering too, what are the things that you're besides for someone like, okay they watched it, but if your message didn't get across well or they don't retain it, then your folks in HR are getting nonstop emails at 11 o'clock at night because people didn't understand the changes in the policy or they didn't watch it at all and didn't retain it at all.

So even for internal things, the metric of success is not just, okay, like we forced everyone to watch this video or they don't get paid next week. Great, I watched the video, but if I didn't retain it, then your folks— The whole point of trying to circumvent your HR people being overwhelmed, you didn't end up doing that. So in that case it was safe but bad. And you wasted a bunch of money and time of those employees who now have to go through the emails anyway or more emails cause you made it confusing than they would have before.

Guy Bauer: And that's and I think that's the internal side, right?

Tory Merritt: Yeah.

Guy Bauer: But I've seen plenty of corporate video that's actually meant and destined for an external audience to grow a business. In fact, I probably see more corporate video that's actually meant to talk to an external audience.

Tory Merritt: Purposely out there.

Guy Bauer: Right. And I always wonder like, how the heck does that get made? And I think,

Guy Bauer: My anecdotal, no, that's not the right thing— my theory is that really the label of that feels corporate. That's a corporate video is really just because there's a lack of empathy. There's the video just plows through what it wants to broadcast and yell at you with no real like, well who is the audience and what do they want? And like, will they find this interesting? Do they have the time to watch this 35 minute thing, right. A corporate video just plows through and just ignores their audience, doesn't really care and it just barks. Right?

Tory Merritt: Or it's too safe and it's completely avoiding saying anything at all. Or it's relying on stereotypes or tropes to get something across because you're like, well, everyone's okay with this. You know what I mean? Like, we'll just, everyone works at a desk. Everybody does this. Like just keep it, keep it in, make it, or like Hope was saying, make it wide ranging, make sure everyone is covered with this. But when you have that wide, you say nothing at all.

Hope Morley: And that's what we mean when we say that something is safe, right? Like you're talking about something, it's become so generic. It's just become a trope that we can all watch a video that starts with earth rising and then it goes someone's eye and there's data nodes in there and you're like, okay, this is like a tech video. Sure.

Tory Merritt: Right.

Hope Morley: You're going to tell me about how I can optimize my server transformation, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And maybe I'll care and maybe I won't. But the lack of emotion is what makes it safe. The lack of doing anything interesting is what makes it safe because nobody's going to watch that and come for you. No one's going to get mad about it and get their pitchforks because you showed the earth and you're talking about technology.

Tory Merritt: Right?

Guy Bauer: But also no one's going to, on the other side...

Hope Morley: [inaudible 00:15:24]

Guy Bauer: Yeah, you broke up. But I think you said also no one's going to care.

Hope Morley: No one's going to care. Yeah.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. And it's like, I don't know if this is too much of a sidebar, but you know, we did a podcast or we did blogs about stock. But it is really dangerous playing with stock video because it isn't your brand. You didn't film it. There is no energy from your brand. Right? Stock by definition is...

Hope Morley: Generic.

Guy Bauer: Generic, right?

Hope Morley: It is filmed to be generic.

Tory Merritt: So they can make as much money off of it.

Hope Morley: It can be applied to anything.

Guy Bauer: Right. And so when you do that, when you fill a video filled with that, what are the odds that you can say something unique? Now we wrote a blog and you should check it out: umault.com/insights. I think there was really good advice and know the limitations and stuff. But I think that's just another sign of a corporate video is where there's no brand essence, but there's no heartbeat. There's no voice, right? There's no, that's, that's what I'm trying to say.

A corporate video has no voice. If it's filled with all the tropes, if it's filled with the earth rising, cut to that intersection in Tokyo, Shibuya Crossing, and then a single camera interview with the CEO looking like a deer in the headlights.

Tory Merritt: We are so grateful to all of our employees.

Guy Bauer: Our customers are leading the world.

Tory Merritt: We put our customers first.

Guy Bauer: Right.

Tory Merritt: If you can cover up their lower third and you could put any company in there. You know, you've not done a great job of differentiating. You can just write in anything.

Guy Bauer: By making a corporate video, you're pretty much guaranteed to not do anything. To not make any mark. Zero. Might as well just gamble it.

Tory Merritt: That's our advice.

Guy Bauer: No honestly.

Hope Morley: Well that's your advice. That's one option. But other options...

Guy Bauer: That's my anecdotal advice.

Hope Morley: If you want to make a good video that is not a corporate video, what kind of steps should people be taking? What should they be thinking about when they're reviewing their video marketing plans to make sure that they're not falling into this trap?

Tory Merritt: Strategy! Take the time to sit down with your team and potentially your customers, your potential customers. If you're making it your marketing team, if you're working with an agency, your agency, take the time to figure out who you need to talk to, how they feel right now, what you want them to feel like, what the barriers are to them getting there. Take the time to dig into that because at once it takes time, but once you can find that key differentiation or that key insight that's different about your people, your company, your customers, you can build out a creative concept that is different, that isn't a trope, that isn't stereotypical, that isn't quote unquote corporate.

Tory Merritt: I think, and Guy you've experienced too, like when people get corporate, it's most of the time because they've skipped that first step or they haven't gone deep enough into their strategy and research to come up with something. It's like, Hey, we just need to make it like, I need B roll of a factory here and a field here and a store here. Just put it together, make sure that it feels, it goes fast and I'm engaged through the whole thing. It has energy, but it's not just...

Hope Morley: It has happy music, full of energy.

Tory Merritt: I've had a chai this morning. It has to have energy and the music needs to be up beat and you're like, but you'd be better off just doing the research and the strategy and having your foundation. We can still make it energetic with the way that we cut things together. But if you don't have the underlying foundation built, you're going to stand on your porch of a video and you're going to fall straight through because there was nothing to make you feel anything. You're just standing on air basically.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. Yeah. And I also think another way to think about how to make a non-corporate video is usually corporate videos—

Or let me backtrack and I'll say it like this is Don Hewitt, the founder of 60 Minutes. Every time someone would ask him, what's the key to 60 Minutes’s success? He would say 60 Minutes doesn't do stories about the issues. 60 Minutes does stories about the people who are swept up in the issues. And he said, even the Bible, the people who wrote the Bible knew this. You know the issue is good versus evil, but the people who wrote the Bible knew that's too boring if you just do a long white paper about good versus evil. They were smart enough to know that you have to tell the story of good versus evil through the story of Noah. So you do a small story about a bigger issue, right?

Guy Bauer: So how many times, it's so funny as there were so many books and so many things written about the financial collapse of 2008 but it's not until I saw the movie The Big Short that I finally get it because The Big Short did a great job of putting these characters into the issue of the financial collapse.

Tory Merritt: Right.

Guy Bauer: Because the story isn't about the financial collapse itself. It's about just these people. You're like, Oh, now I get like, now I finally understand what happened. So you know, your issue may be automated factory operations, whatever. Right? That's a really big issue and that's where I think a lot of agencies and brands stop is they're like, all right, let's make a video about factory automated factory operations. It's like, no, no, no. Put someone into that story. And then now you'll capture someone's attention by telling them a story about someone in that and then they'll learn about automated factory operations through what that character goes through in the story. It's as simple as that. Don't tell, don't do videos about issues, do videos about people swept up in the issues. And that quick tip will really save you a lot of worry.

Tory Merritt: I think you see that a lot in literature and entertainment as well. Like a lot of the historical, I really like Outlander and for whatever it has good and bad about it, it got people interested in like, okay, I want to learn about what was happening in the 1740s and I want to understand the Jacobite Rebellion and all this stuff because you've got two characters that you're following through versus like, Oh, let's read a book about the second Jacobite rising.

Like it's, it's the difference between those two things of like, can I follow a story or like in a factory, can I follow Frank's story of like, now he doesn't have to spend three quarters of his day doing physical labor. You know, we've set up these systems, help take some of that off of him and he's got this interesting part of his skills that we didn't even know about that we now get to take advantage of because we've enacted AI throughout or whatever.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. Yep.

Tory Merritt: Shout out to Frank.

Hope Morley: Frank, the factory worker.

Tory Merritt: Frank, the factory worker

Guy Bauer: Yeah. So I mean it's really understanding what corporate video is. Corporate video is a lack of empathy, a lack of really any sort of stance on anything. The desire to say everything. The desire to literally copy and paste a 40 page white paper over to a video. By understanding what makes a corporate video, now you can just do the George Costanza rule of just do the opposite of everything of that and your life will be amazing.

Tory Merritt: Well make decisions. Really the corporate video is punting having to make a decision on the important or the significant few versus the important many. And I think that's where we see a lot of trouble with clients is they're nervous about upsetting somebody by like, no, no, no, we need all eight things. And you're like, no, no, pick three. They're nervous about picking three. But at the end of the day, picking three is what makes that video work for those three versus not working for the eight or whatever. I mean like videos, videos by corporations don't have to be corporate videos like by type or by creative. A corporation can make a good video by avoiding the things that we've talked about and really digging in and making decisions so corporations can make videos. They don't have to make corporate videos.

Guy Bauer: I mean, no, that should be like an inspiration poster with like a cat hanging.

Tory Merritt: I have it. I have it up here above my screen every day.

Hope Morley: On that note, thank you all for listening to this episode of So you need a video. For more information and quotes about corporate videos by Tory Merritt please visit our website at umault.com that's...

Tory Merritt: Maybe they'll be made.

Hope Morley: U-M-A-U-L-T.com and if you can, if you like what you heard today, please leave us a review in your favorite podcast app and like us on YouTube.





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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