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5 tips for using stock footage effectively

Stock footage is a powerful tool for brands and marketers, especially if you’re in a situation when you can’t shoot original footage. However, as with any tool, it’s only effective when used properly.

How to use stock footage effectively, especially in B2B marketing videos:

Write your script knowing the limitations of the tool.

Budget for high-quality stock footage.

Keep it short.

Consider mixing in existing footage or archive b-roll.

Work with a professional colorist to give everything an even look.

Write your script knowing the limitations of the tool.

If you stop reading after one tip, I wanted to make sure to get this one front and center. When working with a stock footage video, keep the limitations of the medium in mind when writing the script.

For most people, that means remembering that stock footage, by definition, is not specific. You need to expect the footage to be vanilla. That doesn’t mean the footage is not beautiful or well-shot (see next tip for more), but it does mean that the footage was created to be a blank canvas for many users with many different purposes.

For example, say you want to create a customer testimonial for a client that manufactures pillows. You’re thinking you can write a script showing off all the efficiencies your product brought to their manufacturing processes and then pair it with stock.

The problem with this approach is that you will not be able to find stock that represents that exact client or your exact product. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to find stock footage of a pillow manufacturing line. You’ll be able to find lots of great factory footage, but the lines may have food products or toys or plastic storage bins on them. The footage won’t match the script talking about how your product increased pillow production by 12%. Because of that disconnect, the testimonial won’t feel authentic.

To avoid this problem, plan for the limitations of stock when you plan the creative, and see tip #4 below for a combination approach.

Budget for high-quality stock footage.

Stock footage is not always the cheapest option, at least not if you want the best quality. While stock footage sites will entice you with banners that say “Clips from $29!”, you’ll find that the best quality footage will run closer to $100 per clip, with high-end options going up to $800 or more depending on your usage.

The number of clips you need in a video will vary based on the creative idea, but assume your editor will not keep any one clip on screen for more than 5-10 seconds, and often much less than that. The length of your script can clue you in to how much you need to include in your budget.  

We recommend Dissolve for high-quality clips at reasonable prices. Film Supply is the best quality with a wide variety of footage, but you’ll pay for it. For budget options or basic clips, Pond5 or iStock have solid options. Remember to filter by commercial use, not editorial, if you are creating marketing materials.

You can sometimes save money by purchasing lower definition versions of a clip. Determine your usage for the video before creating it, and talk to your agency or production company about whether high definition rather than 4K is acceptable for your needs.

Don’t try to get away with buying a lower usage license than you need to save money — they have fancy ways to catch you. Plus it’s not nice. Be nice to content creators.

Keep it short.

Keeping your stock footage video short has two benefits: one, you save money. Score! Second, it keeps your audience interested and engaged.

Usually the length of a live action video doesn’t drastically impact its cost. Going from 90 seconds to 75 seconds of something you already shot is just editing time. But going from 90 seconds to 75 seconds in a stock footage video can save you hundreds in licensing fees.

More importantly, the longer your stock footage video is, the more obvious it often becomes that you are using stock. Viewers likely won’t notice or care that you’re using stock footage (assuming the voiceover content is well-written and relevant to them) up to a point. Once you start getting longer than about a minute and a half, the limits of stock footage are likely to catch up with you. The “general-ness” of the footage may start to leave a bland taste in the viewer’s mouth. It becomes forgettable.  

Keep your script short and sweet to keep your audience engaged.

Consider mixing in existing footage or archive b-roll.

A great way to personalize a stock footage video is to include some existing footage from a previous project.

To go back to our pillow manufacturer example, a video about them won’t feel authentic if you aren’t showing what the company makes. Repurposing existing footage of their factory along with supporting stock footage will give the video an air of authenticity, while the stock can breathe new life into the old videos.

Don’t worry about viewers remembering a specific shot of your factory from a previous shoot, even if you still use that video. If they notice, which they won’t, they won’t hold it against you.

Work with a professional colorist to give everything an even look.

We always bring in a professional colorist to finish our videos and make the colors pop. A colorist makes corrections to exposure, contrast, and a clip’s color tones to give a video an even, natural look.

The lighting in this shot was originally warm and yellow-tinted (left). A colorist made it look natural (right).

A colorist is arguably even more important when you are working with stock footage. By its very nature, the stock footage clips you use will have different lighting temperatures (some clips will be warmer, some cooler), color tones, and feelings. To make your final video feel cohesive, bring in a colorist to even it all out.

Looking for more guidance on using stock footage in your marketing videos? Contact us today.





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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