Friday, January 27, 2012

Update on Case Study: the video has changed!!!!

I realised this morning that the link to the long EIB video, I had uploaded on my previous post, did not seem to work anymore. It had actually been removed from YouTube... and it has been the 5 minute one! Fantastic news! Well done!

Here it is!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A case study: the European Investment Bank...yes, you read correctly!

During my research of websites of European institutions and their use of visual communications, I was on a mission: looking for a homepage with a good video that explains in a simple and interesting way what the institution does and how.

The European Council homepage has a video (but you need to install a particular Microsoft programme to watch it! now what?) and a Newsroom mainly aimed at journalists, as are aimed at journalists (desperate times call for desperate measures ops, sorry, just came out!) the rather dusty audiovisual services of the Commission (EbS). And of course, there is the European Parliament's EuroparlTV (a rather unappealing name but hey..). Plenty to see though, if you want to: news, interviews, plenary sessions etc...

But what I was looking for is not a TV channel nor an archive of video clips, so I kept on searching. And I finally found one.

You might be surprised but the one is......the European Investment Bank! Not to be confused with the European Central Bank. Little digression: I am fully aware that Mario Draghi and his team are pretty busy these days, but at some point in the future the ECB website will need to be redesigned because as it stands now it is ...unwatchable. But ok, not now....prioritise, I say. End of digression.

So, as I was saying, the European Investment Bank. Check out their homepage. A five minute video, called "EIB: who benefits?', on who they are, how they invest their money and who benefits, as the title says, with real examples, interviews and a nice music. Well, I was impressed. I actually understood what the EIB does. In five minutes. But then here is the problem: I wanted to share the video and post it here.

But how? I saw that on the top-left side of the screen there was a small writing: 'The DVD can be obtained free of charge by filling out the following order form'. So in practice, I would need to fill out a form, send it, wait to receive a DVD, download it on my computer and then share it. It's a joke, right? I know that there might be all sorts of copyright and other types of issues, but still. What is the point of spending a substantial amount of time and money to produce a video that no one can share? I truly believe that in today's world, visual communication can be an extremely effective tool. But the whole point is to 'communicate', i.e. sharing with others. If you have produced something that is worth watching, then you need to make sure that as many people as possible actually watch it!!

And there is another interesting side to my 'case study': since I did not want to give up on the idea of finding a way of posting the video, I made a search on YouTube to see if, by any chance, the video appeared there - and prove me wrong: and it did! But it is not the same video! Oh no! The five minute one has been 'transformed' into two separate videos of ten minutes each: the extra length is due to a long interview with the Director General that appears throughout the videos... And guess what? The views for part 1 are 327 and the views for part 2 are...81. What happened to the nice 5 minute one? Well, that is sad.
Here it is by the way, but I would rather go and check out the shorter version on their website (now I get it! That is the strategy! Yeah, right!)

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Bark Side!

No EU today!
Back to the ingredients for 'virality' for a minute: remember animals and familiar tunes? Well VW has done it again! 2.5 million views in one day!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

The 27 European Commissioners: the visual bunch?

Whether you like it or not, politics today is more and more about people and less about policies. A politician can be called successful, and hence reelectable, if s/he has the ability to convince voters of the importance of his/her policy decisions, not the ability to make those important decisions in the first place; to do this s/he (am I starting to be boringly PC here?) will need to be personally appealing, persuasive and understandable. Ultimately s/he (last one, I promise!) needs to be...a good communicator, because if you don't say what you do, others will do it for you and not with the same intent!

And all of the above is even more true for politicians that are NOT elected. As they cannot be kicked out at the next elections, frustrated voters will simply stop caring for - or worse become hostile to - the institutions they represent. Guess who I am talking about?

Yes, the lovely European Commission. So now, time for some Commission visual maths. Ready?

Of the 27 Commissioners, 9 have some sort of a video on their homepage.

Of those 9 videos:
3 (Barroso, Vassiliou, Geoghegan-Quinn) are, can I say it?, incredibly tedious speeches or even more tedious press conferences in some institution or another. Is it possible that the Commissioner (Vassiliou) that deals with education and youth cannot think of a better way to show the advantages of 'Erasmus for All' than a press conference about it?

1 (Kroes) shows the Commissioner sitting at a desk - with a beautiful European flag backdrop, original, don't you find? -and talks to camera on the digital agenda; 4 different videos, different lengths but she is always there, talking to the camera, nothing more, nothing less. Ok. Couldn't the Commissioner in charge of the EU's Digital Agenda try to be slightly

2 (Rehn, De Gucht) have clips of interviews they gave to journalists, appearing in the news section of the homepage. Not super exciting but at least they are answering some difficult questions.

1 (Potocnik) has what I think is a video - possibly amazing- in the centre of the page but I could not open it for the love of God, so cannot speculate (although, not very effective if is unopenable!). Can someone who manages to open it, tell me if it's any good?

and 2, yes 2 (Andor, Hedegaard) have videos that show in an appealing way what they do, or at least part of it! Andor is (ok, I will tell you as I doubt you remember), Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion; his homepage has a nice simple video that launches the 'European Year for Active Ageing'. I am pretty sure that the video was commissioned for the campaign and not for the website but they had the smart idea to put it also on the website in a prominent position.

Connie Hedegaard's video section wins hands down. There are nine different ones, all visually interesting. The first - that is generally the one that people would watch, and continue to the others if they liked that one - is an interview with the Commissioner, a very good talker, with good pictures and great music. A passionate plea for climate action. Nothing too fancy, or expensive, just effective visual communication.

A couple of thoughts on some of the other 16 (some of them will have to get a special post!): Dalli has a home page that is slightly different from the standard Commission one (and actually so do Kroes and Potocnik): one can tell that some thinking and effort went into it. A prominent media corner and a simpler structure.
And Piebalgs' one does not have a video and is very wordy, but it has a great interactive map of 'Development in Action'. So you see that I am not obsessed with videos?

Of course, if you start going beyond homepages and into the websites of each individual policy area, provided you manage and survive, you can find videos and some of them are better than the ones posted on the homepage. How effective is that?

And for those that will say: 'What did you expect? European Commission, exciting? Forget it!' I leave you with a video, sent by my friend Daphne, produced for the Commission: viral, not sure, but still, quite funny...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Europe, or making an offer we don't understand. (Updated)

An African diplomat, that will remain anonymous, once said: 'Some countries make us offers we can't refuse, Europe makes us offers we do not understand'.
There. I think it says it all. Why everything coming out of the institutions needs to be so complicated, unfathomable - used difficult word on purpose!- and ultimately...boring? Read the acronyms, the press releases, the titles of legislation, and watch the websites and the videos. I realise that is a big generalisation but pretty close to the truth....Why, I ask?

A couple of possible answers:

IGNORANCE. The European institutions do not care much about communications and do not know how to do it, because many of the people working in communications do not have the expertise. (Ah, as you have been so effective as an expert on competition policy, how about working in communications for a while?)

ARROGANCE. The European institutions actually do not want to be understood; a 'keep them guessing' or 'it's complicated' attitude. The idea is that making things simpler and understandable means diminishing their importance, devaluing the serious work being carried out by its officials.

While there is something to be said for both answers, especially the first one, I think that there is another, more subtle one, that is probably at the root of the problem:

GENETICS. The European Union's DNA does not allow directness and simplicity: the history of the EU is full of grey compromises that cannot be totally clear; a careful desire not to offend anybody and a lowest common denominator way of making decisions and communicating them.

There are countless examples of this make-up, if you have the strength to go through the material.

Some time ago I had a look at the webcasts portal of the European Commission to check out the latest podcast. On the left here, the screen shot I took then: would it make any sense to anyone that does not work here in Brussels? Gosh, I am really upset to have missed the.. CALL FP7-SME-2012 - Evaluators' one! You will say, it is not fair to go and pick only on the difficult acronyms, incomprehensible wordings and so on. And maybe you are right. There has been some improvement: for starters, those webcast titles seem to have gone - maybe they read my post? - and the whole of the European Union website ( has been trimmed and it looks much better than it used to; the words and sections are easy enough to understand; but it is SO full of words and only words that after 2 minutes one switches off.

And ask anybody who has actually been trying to find something specific, well, good luck, you probably won't be able to talk to them as they are still busy looking! And I am told that EU officials themselves use Google to find EU documents in the Europa website. If you enter the main newsroom site of the EU and you want to have a look at the latest videos, the first one appearing is called: "Adoption of the A items, Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, (audio) 999999999999 - Council of the EU and European Council": not a great title, you will agree, but then again, we are not in the entertainment business; you decide nonetheless to click on it, what pictures will you see? Well, one: a still picture (the title did say it was an audio piece - but then why under the 'Videos' section?); and what will you hear, if you are still keen to continue? You will hear - for roughly 8 minutes - the voice of a translator starting to talk about phosphates and household detergents (sorry, is it just me not understanding the connection with the beautiful title?). Of course, maybe one needs to hear the whole thing and something will start making sense...but will anyone have the will to do it? Need I say more? Sometimes I despair.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A compelling story (part 2)

What is a compelling story? A story that sparks interest, attention, or admiration. A story that is hard to refute (and this is key in videos made for organisations, companies, institutions who rely on credibility). A story that inspires you and makes you want to know more and do something - even if you end up doing nothing most of the times (sorry the cynical side of me just comes out like this, can't help it)!

It is easy to look at NGOs campaigns - at least some of them - and take them as the examples of compelling story-telling. Their preferred technique - and they might not like the military reference - is 'shock and awe': "Let's show things that will scare people, make them cry, make them feel angry with others and bad about themselves; then we will have them in our hands and they will be compelled into action".

Here is an example from, you've guessed it, Greenpeace (do I need to put a disclaimer for disturbing content here?):

Apart from the fact that it is quite disgusting, this video is pretty powerful no? Yes, it is. But I also find it simplistic (simple is good, simplistic isn't) and somewhat patronising: it is assuming that people simply do not understand and do not care, hence you need to force them to, by shocking them.

Now, look at this other Greepeace video. You will see that, yes, it had fewer views but it manages to tackle a difficult subject, with a fun idea. It tries to explain the issue and proposes solutions (whether you agree with them or not). Is this compelling? Well, in its own way, yes.

And there are ways of being powerful without being shocking: it is just that is requires a bit more thought.

Here is a video on biodiversity in cities that was produced for the European Commission (I will get into the Brussels scene and the 'beauties' coming out of the institutions in my next posts, as, after all, my main focus is still Europe...) and surprisingly (yes I said it, surprisingly) I find it a beautiful, moving, strong video. You might disagree and please feel free to do so. But for me this is a good example of a video with a compelling, if somewhat mysterious story, that's well told.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Compelling story

Now, the tricky bit: quality. There is a general assumption that quality means expensive. Just look at the big advertising video campaigns: surely they must have cost millions! That is why people are so impressed with viral videos: they are mostly home-made, hence cheap, and yet they can reach the same amount of people of a costly TV ad. Well, while of course I would not say that it is cheap to produce a good video, it doesn't need to be super expensive either.

In my opinion, a good quality video can be described in one simple sentence:


I say preferably (and I will come back to the rest of the sentence later) but not necessarily. One example: TED ( The reason TED is so successfull is because you are listening to great story tellers that inspire you or at least make you think. Some of the most viewed talks on TED are around 20 minutes long and that is a LONG time for an online video. But frankly who cares? On top of this, you are actually watching a video of someone talking, that is it, no visual effects. But still, a compelling story, well told in as many minutes it takes!

Let me give you a couple of my favourites:

So, well told, compelling stories. The question now is to decide what is a story, way before assessing whether it is compelling. When I was working in a PR agency, we were often asked by clients to generate media coverage. Reasonable enough request. So, the obvious question: what is your story? You would be surprised to hear some of the answers (never mind the fact that to generate media you need to have a story that is NEWS, but that is a whole other problem!). There was also the assumption that we, as a PR agency, would have to be the ones 'creating' the story for the client. Well, no. You see, my idea is that you tell me your story and we can make it compelling and well told, pitch it - and generate coverage. If you don't know the story you want to tell, maybe there is no story to tell...then forget a good video.
What compelling and well told mean for a video....coming up next!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The recipe (or why 'virality' and 'quality' are not the same thing...)

So, now, if you want to be viral, here is a list of ingredients you will need to pick from, in no particular order, and mix together. All of the below have been watched by tens of millions of people:

Children (I have chosen this one as an example because I am so bored with the 'Charlie bit me' one!)


Extraordinary people


A little digression. Can someone tell me why this animation has got 58 million views? Thanks.



Shocking (the quality of this one is not great but frankly...just as well...)

A successful mix (children, moving and funny) with a couple of useful extra ingredients such as a very well-known music and a famous film reference...

But before you pick and mix, exactly like you would do before you start cooking, you will need to decide..... which dish you are going to prepare: i.e. you need to figure out whether you really want your video to be a viral video or a good video to post on your website or elsewhere. Ok, it might seem a silly decision - who would not want to be viral? (Have I just written this? It sounds awful!)- but it is not silly at all. And after having seen some of the viral videos above you might NOT want to be viral at all!

And I can tell you why: in a viral video, content, i.e. what you actually say, does not matter much. Honestly, the thought of content not being important was incredibly scary for someone who has spent 10 years at the BBC, where we liked to believe that content was king...but online 'virality' is something else, so...I got over it.

On the other hand, if you want to produce a good, informative video that will be viewed only by the people you care about - and then passed on to other people you care about- then what you say has to be really relevant. Mind you, also your 'informative' video needs to be..ehm.. watchable! So stay tuned for the rules on 'watchability', ie quality.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why the blog?

New Year, new resolutions....

Sharing and expand my love, interest and -why not?- expertise in visual communications.

Everyone is so busy these days; the attention span - especially of young people - is becoming shorter; yet we all spend hours and hours behind a computer screen. What does this mean? It means that visual online communications has become the most powerful and effective way of shaping the way people think, feel and act.

As a European living in Brussels, I also want to give a European feel to this blog: why most of the fun, viral, effective videos come out of the US? Why can't we have good quality videos coming out of the, wait to hear this, European institutions? You hear constantly here in Brussels: why do Europeans citizens not understand the amazing things we do for them? Have a look at this:

Are you surprised that only 441 people watched it so far, and who knows how many of those 441 watched it until the end? And this is actually not the worse video of the lot...and it tackles a really important subject....

And why are so many private companies shy - to say the least - of using such an effective tool?

Trying to answer and address these questions is not going to be easy but I said, New Year, new (and tough) resolutions....

And just to leave you with a graphic video that I really like (because graphics don't need to be tedious!). More than 900.000 views, by the way...

Talking of 'virality'....

Well, not very European but I could not start this blog without posting an amazing viral music video that in a couple of days has got more than 6.6 million hits. Ok, it's a great song and ok it is pretty incredible (5 people playing on 1 guitar)...but gives you the idea of the potential....had anybody actually heard of  'Walk off the Earth' before? Enjoy, and great ingredients for viral videos coming up soon...