The Changing Face of Political Videos

An old guy sits at a table. It’s a political video and he really, would very much, like your vote. With the help of some generic stock music, he’s going to tell you all about his life in chronological order. Eventually, at the 2-minute mark, he might transition into some loose policy points which he’ll jam together like an essay with no line breaks, before asking you, very politely, if you would please consider voting for him this September. The video ends, and you’ll realize that, despite just watching it, you can’t remember a single thing that was said.

The reason these videos are so ubiquitous throughout many Commonwealth nations and have been for the past 30 years, is because structurally they’re a no brainer. Why wouldn’t you want to know about the person you’re voting for before they tell you what they stand for? Besides, there’s no rule saying you can’t structure a video like this. But to quote It’s a Wonderful Life director Frank Capra, there are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.

South of the border, the political video landscape has shifted rapidly over the past two years. Pick a video (seriously, pick anything) and you’ll immediately notice a few things. Firstly, they’re often filmed in a wide aspect ratio, with black bars on the top and bottom. They utilize cinematic music and feature dark, gritty colours. Indeed, many articles have been written about how political videos in the United States more closely resemble Hollywood movies than traditional ads, but what these articles miss is that the biggest change these videos have is how they structure and present information.

Today, videos have approximately 10 seconds to hook viewers. For younger viewers, it’s even less. That doesn’t mean video isn’t a useful tool. On the contrary, 500 million people watch videos every day on Facebook, and 64% of consumers take action after watching a video (Animato, 2017). What it means is videos need to be smart in how they engage viewers. In today’s world, an old guy, sitting at a table, talking about his father, no longer cuts it.

Here’s what our American neighbours have been up to:

Ilhan Omar’s video (above) hooks viewers by proclaiming: “This country says it was founded on fundamental values of justice, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But these core beliefs are under threat.”

The video then goes on to list a series of problems the United States is facing. Ilhan Omar, the candidate in the video, doesn’t even appear until nearly one-minute in, where the video then goes on to detail her core beliefs which, surprise surprise, just so happen to be the same ones the video begins with.

By using this non-linear structure, filmmakers are able to organize information thematically rather than chronologically. It’s a technique that not only helps keep things interesting but helps present a cohesive vision – where everything in the video works in service of a single core idea. ¬

Here’s another example:

Above: Bernie Sander’s 2020 Launch Video is built around the premise that Bernie has always been on the right side of history.

By theming videos around a core idea, presenting information in a non-linear structure, and, of course, being willing to cut everything and anything that doesn’t work in service of the story, recent political videos in the United States are better able to engage viewers, and avoid that cardinal sin: dullness. It is this approach to filmmaking we strive to take at Proximis Digital, and one that many in Canada could learn from.

Nicholas Kraak is Proximis’ Director of Video Production. He studied Film and Screen Media Production at Griffith University and is interested in the evolution of storytelling.