Business Management

Rant: The Dismal, Clichéd World of Corporate Videos

Have you noticed that infuriating thing they all do on the telly? If you haven’t, I’d skip this paragraph and save yourself a world of pain. The thing is once you’ve seen That Annoying Thing they do, it’ll to bug you too.

I’m talking about hand-waving. No war reporter, news presenter or interviewer is ever allowed to sit still and talk to you. No matter how life changing and gripping the story is, broadcasting’s condescenti have decided we’re too stupid to stay with the narrative. So to keep our limited attention spans ‘engaged’ in the news ‘content’ (as it’s now called) the presenter has to make a series of extravagant gestures.

Once you notice these displays, you can’t help being massively insulted by the patronising logic they represent. Now, every time I see Nick Robinson standing outside 10 Downing Street on BBC News I rage at his stupid digital contrivances, which have become a massive distraction. So much so that I can’t absorb any of the news about today in Parliament – I’m too busy grinding my teeth. Ultimately, this animated wavy-arm nonsense has detracted from the storytelling. Which means the BBC has spent millions of pounds on stupid hand-waving courses for all their presenters, the net result of which is a staggering insult to our intelligence and a waste of the licence payer’s money. Money, let’s not forget, that is torn from our UK austerity-affected grasp on the threat of going to prison. All so some ‘training consultant’ friend of the HR boss at the BBC can make a fortune running useless and unnecessary courses.

Still, that’s nothing compared to the agony that a corporate video induces. Because their logic for engaging an audience is even more bizarre.

At least there’s logic behind broadcast news production values, even if it’s flawed. They make every effort to keep the news watcher glued to the screen and paying attention. So they use all kinds of gimmicks, including cut-away shots, graphics and weird camera angles. Bizarre visual metaphors were big during the Scottish Referendum, so on Channel 4, Jon Snow narrated his story about the day’s polling events, while standing outside a hastily assembled boxing ring. Needless to say the two boxers in the background became a massive distraction. I forgot the West Lothian question and asked myself these: Why were they deliberately not hitting each other? How much did this pathetic stunt cost? And was it really worth it?

It’s odd that they set up these pugilist distractions because motion is a great way of grabbing the attention. If World War 3 ever breaks out, the news will doubtless be broken by a newscaster walking along the street. Well, we’d probably switch over otherwise, wouldn’t we? It’s insulting that they think so little of us that we can’t stay with the big issues. War, death, politics, conflict – these are all issues that BBC luvvies think they need to sugarcoat for us. The implication is that they think we are morons.

On the other hand, technology vendor corporate videos manage to insult your intelligence on many more levels.

Firstly, they assume we share their love of meaningless slogans. Secondly, they don’t seem to give any thought to the audience for these videos. In contrast to the BBC, the producers of corporate videos assume we’ll be gripped by the subject matter. They think we’ll find Big Data so engrossing that no effort is needed to make a presentation visually stimulating. Who needs hand-waving and visual metaphors when we’ve got IT jargon!

The joint effect of this can be seen in the opening shots of a corporate video, which usually opens with a clichéd shot of a city at night, captured using time-lapse photography. As we watch clouds rushing over skyscrapers, some bog standard corporate disco music will begin. Then cue the stentorian voice over artist who tells us: “We live in increasingly competitive times.”

As the city skyline darkens, the time-lapse film shows the lights of passing traffic merging to form pretty patterns, an effect we’ve only seen 500 times before. The voice over man moves up gear now, delivering more unsurprising news about business being global, information being a game changer, commerce moving at the speed of thought and how innovation is the key to survival. Or some combination of those stock words, such as “information innovation has gone global at the pace of the internet”.

Then, somehow it gets even worse. In mirror image to professional storytellers, who work overtime to grab and hold your attention – even when the subject matter would do that on its own – corporate video makers make no effort to engage you. They really ought to because the material is generally hackneyed and the speaker is very unlikely to be someone who captivates a mass audience. He (and it’s almost always a he) speaks direct to camera, in an unwavering headshot that lasts for 25 minutes, but seems like days.

I can’t tell you anything about what he says next. By this stage I’ve usually fallen asleep. The only way to stay awake would be to get someone to wave their hands in your face.


Nick Booth worked in IT in the UK’s National Health Service, financial services and The Met Police, witnessing at first hand the disruptive effects of new technology. As a journalist and analyst, his mission is to stop history repeating itself.


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Nick Booth

Nick Booth worked in IT in the UK’s National Health Service, financial services and The Met Police, witnessing at first hand the disruptive effects of new technology. As a journalist and analyst, his mission is to stop history repeating itself.

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