Do's and Don'ts of Video

This section of our knowledge base elaborates about video content in a broad sense: what works and what is possible?


1. Make the video intensely emotional
2. Focus on the emotion, not the creative device
3. Activate more positive than negative emotions
4. Fear appeal works, but only if it gets solved
5. Humor creates involvement, but beware of Schadenfreude
6. Make the brand integral
7. Let actors look at what’s important
8. Everything that moves attracts attention
9. Beware of conceptual closure
10. Come straight to the point
11. Keep it short and sweet
12. Be effective without sound
13. Use mental simulation
14. Always show the moment of pleasure
15. Match images and sounds
16. Be creative with the call to action
17. Facial expressions affect behavior
18. Communicate the right social standard
19. Be aware of the principles of social persuasion

1. Make the video intensely emotional

It is not enough to make viewers smile, you have to let them roar with laughter. Research shows that there is a direct link between the intensity of the emotion perceived by viewers when they watch a video and their intention to share the advertising, to review it again and to buy the discussed product (see bullet points).

Emotional videos generate stronger memory structures in our brains. That is why it is important to pay a lot of attention to the emotions that you want the viewer to feel, and how you make them as intense as possible. Because then viewers will remember your video content earlier and act accordingly.

  • According to a Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience study, emotional advertisements (ads with an above-average EEG score) result in a 23% increase in turnover.
  • According to the Field, IPA and Gunn Report 'Selling Creativity Short', emotional expressions are 10 times more efficient than non-emotional commercial expressions.
  • Binet and Field also conclude that expressions that provoke intense emotional reactions significantly increase the likelihood of business success compared to "rational" expressions.
  • Research by Unruly shows that emotional videos on average lead to an increase of 80% in purchase intent, 74% in brand preference and 15% in completion rate.

2. Focus on the emotion, not the creative device

Research shows that creative devices that you use in a video, such as famous people, babies, cats, music, and so on, do not individually determine how successful the video is. Adding a cat to a video will not make your video more successful. It is about whether the cat (or other creative devices) can evoke an intense emotional response that builds memory structures in the mind of the viewer. So first think about the emotions, then the creative tools that can strengthen these emotions.

Besides emotions, use the power of audio, increasing the pace and breaking the fourth wall to increase watch time. Also, make sure, narration mirrors on-screen action. Otherwise, it can distract viewers.

3. Activate more positive than negative emotions

According to extensive neurological research by Neurensics, the most effective commercials generate positive brain reactions, such as desire, expectation and credibility. These commercials are the most capable to activate consumers (orientation and purchasing behavior). This conclusion is the result of analyzing brain activity while watching hundreds of video ads that have proven sales value (Effie-winners). This created a neural pattern of effective commercials, a sort of benchmark. 

Sales effective commercials (blue, Effie winners) have an above-average high POS / NEG ratio and also a relatively high commitment. Thick black line = average TV commercial (100 points). Source: Neurensics.

Zooming in on buying emotions, effective advertising focuses mainly on the positive emotion of desire rather than making an impact by creating attention and novelty. The research also shows that Effie-winners are a lot less loud/noisy than amusing commercials (Gouden Loekie-winners) or irritating commercials (Loden Leeuw-winners).

Effective ads also succeed in making the brain believe that using the product in question will generate a strong rewarding feeling.

After analyzing how our brain responds to hundreds of commercials Neurensics concludes that the balance of positive and negative emotions is what matters in the end. It should clearly lean towards positive. A reward works better than punishment, so it appears. Or as parents of children have known for a long time: by rewarding you can change behavior in the desired direction. With penalties, you can mainly ensure that certain behavior is not shown.

Watch the two versions of this Kärcher commercial and experience how crucial the balance of positive and negative brain reaction is. The short (20 sec) version of this Kärcher commercial has a better positive and negative ratio than the longer (30 sec) and is, therefore, more effective!

4. Fear appeal works, but only if it gets solved

We already wrote that an effective commercial activates more positive than negative emotions. Does this mean that you can never use negative emotions in an advertisement? The commercial below shows that we must answer this question with 'no'. In fact, positive emotions can become stronger, if a negative emotion precedes it (contrast-effect).

This Febreze-commercial, which won an Effie (prize for effectiveness) in the US, starts with a problem. But the video ad ends with a solution.

This expression is a classic example of the so-called Fear-appeal. The generated fear is used to achieve the desired behavior. Essential for this strategy is that the negative feeling can easily be solved by the viewer.

At the beginning of the commercial, fear and aversion are generated by the dirty images of the waste container. Then Febreze offers the solution, namely by praising (not entirely surprising) Febreze. In the temporal results (see second video), in which the balance of positive and negative emotions is shown, the course of this mechanism is clearly visible (0-line is neutral and everything above it positive, everything below it negative).

The commercial starts out neutral, but quickly activates negative emotions. Then the solution is shown, we see a happy user and the guests can appreciate the fine smell.

We also see a dip at the end of the commercial. This has to do with conceptual closure. Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Febreze, decided to add another product at the end of the commercial. However, this is a hard break of the story we saw before, so the viewer needs a long time to process and save the information. This creates a drop in attention and an increase in fear because the viewer is temporarily confused.

Procter & Gamble often uses Fear appeals in their advertisements. And almost always in the same way: induce fear or negative feelings at the beginning and then solve this in the same commercial with positive feelings that transcend the negative. Scientific publications show that the second step (solving the problem with positive feelings) is essential for the operation of the technique. Febreze understands exactly how this works, and with the fear of dirty smells makes it possible to activate their promise: 'Breathe happy'.

5. Humor creates involvement, but beware of Schadenfreude

Analysis of funny commercials (Gouden Loekie-winners, that were chosen as most funny by viewers) shows that these are often based on failure, shock or problems with the main characters. Just take a look at the two examples below.

Malicious pleasure, or Schadenfreude, as the Germans say, is the basis of a lot of humor. It makes us laugh. The failure of another attracts attention on the one hand and on the other makes us laugh. This happens regularly in the context of advertising.

fMRI tests show that this type of commercials mainly elicits negative brain reactions as danger, fear, shock or disgust among viewers: the brain cannot move around what it sees and reacts reflexively.

If you also show the solution for the suffering in a way that produces positive emotions (e.g. desire, expectation, credibility or added value/reward), there is little to it. As long as they are able to sufficiently compensate negative brain reaction. If this is not the case, then you will have a funny commercial, but brain reactions such as danger, fear or disgust will act as negative reïnforcers: viewers will avoid showing behavior that is linked to them.

So, Schadenfreude is not the best form of humor for a funny commercial: instead of 'approach', it leads to 'avoidance' response. We like it, but we wouldn’t want to be part of the situation shown! Other forms of humor, if functional (meaning: not only the joke is remembered), can indeed work.

Funny commercials generate more negative emotions than effective commercials. Brain activation of an average TV commercial (bold black = 100 points), with funny commercials (green, Golden Loekies) and with sales effective commercials (blue, Effie winners). Source: Neurensics.

6. Make the brand integral

It happens too often that you’ve seen the most beautiful (online) commercial, but can’t remember from which brand the ad actually was. A crying shame! Because, if the viewer doesn’t know who the video is from, then they cannot make a connection between the brand and the emotions they feel. In fact, too little branding can also confuse viewers, because they try to find out who the video is about, rather than being transported by the emotions that the brand presents to them. In short: make the brand integral to the video. And preferably to the concept. So that the film no longer works for another brand.

Use big and clear logos to boost brand awareness. And keep in mind the visibility of the brand on smartphones. Show logos and brand icons early on in the video. If a viewer stops watching your video – for instance after three-quarters of the video - which is a good completion rate – and he didn’t see anything from your brand, it’s a missed opportunity. Ensure maximum exposure!

7. Let actors look at what’s important

By nature, we read the faces of actors who play in a commercial, we automatically look at the emotions they communicate. As babies, we already learn to find out what the other person is planning or wants – even without words. Likewise, viewers at a commercial automatically follow the viewing direction of actors. This principle can be seen in the Mercedes-video ad below.

You can use this principle to bring the viewers, in a natural way, to a specific image element, e.g. a product shot, a text or a brand name.

This also ensures focused attention, which means that the image element in question is even better processed. You can also use this principle well in an online environment. For example, by having a face look at a call-to-action button.

The man's viewing direction is being followed.

The man's viewing direction is being followed.

8. Everything that moves attracts attention

Eye-tracking shows that, in a static image, the eye is automatically attracted by (fast) moving elements. You can use this to draw attention to something that you want to focus on, for example, your product.

In the example of Oral B, you will notice that your eye will remain fixed on the rotating brush as a result of which the surrounding text will receive less attention (see the central eye fixations, the red dots in this eye-tracking analysis).

So take into account that movement can also distract views from what you want to show. How many people would still process the text "check" correctly in the outro of the Tele2 commercial?

9. Beware of conceptual closure

When looking at a commercial, the brain will automatically try to divide it into compartments. This is necessary in order to be able to process and store information quickly. Conceptual closures are called the transitions that arise this way. This can happen at the end of a TVC (e.g. after a 'punch-line'), but also during the video. For example, due to a changing environment: a just married couple gets together in a car driving away (engine noise). Then we see how they sit with a baby in the garden years later.

Other transitions, e.g. in music, background color or characters, also contribute to the formation of a conceptual closure. In short, everything that makes the brain suspect that a story might end. At the moment of conceptual closure, the brain literally has to switch: the previous scene is closed (and saved) and it jumps to the new context. However brief and unconscious this effort is, this means that the attention temporarily weakened: this 'attention drop' typically lasts 1-2 seconds.

The clearer the conceptual closure, the stronger the 'conceptual closure' and the resulting attention drop. If you share important information in this short period, it will certainly not reach the viewer! Typical consequences are e.g. not being able to follow a storyline, or a bad brand linkage (brand logo directly after a punch line). 

An example of conceptual closure can be seen in the commercial below. Take a good look at what happens from 15 seconds. After we see Hazes performing at different venues we go back to the party. Then we see - in chronological order and in quick succession - the neighbor who talks unclearly - Hazes - solar panels - app – Hazes and then the neighbor. Scan results showed a low score on Attention and a high score on Fear - this combination indicates that the conceptual closure caused uncertainty. This transition was adjusted later on the basis of neuro research.

So make sure that the first two seconds after a clear conceptual closure does not contain information that is essential for following the storyline or the effectiveness of your commercial! Make sure the viewer has time to process separate scenes/messages with quiet transitions so that our brain does not lose attention.

10. Come straight to the point

Do you have an important message? Tell it immediately. The first three seconds make or break the success of a video. So capture attention early on. Integrate compelling images and cool content in the first seconds. Make for an explosive and impressive intro, because your video has to fight against countless others. The beginning should attract attention, pack the viewer with a strong message or beautiful images and immediately make clear what it is about. If you're going to talk about a bear, bring on the bear.

Creative concepts that lean on a 'big revelation' may work on television, because the audience is leaning back, but are counterproductive for online video. Leave aside the slowly constructive format of traditional storytelling and immediately provide added value or a catchy pay-off. Front-load your story arc.

Not convinced? Consider the time in which the average viewer decides whether a video is worth his while: 1.7 seconds on mobile and a forgiving 2.5 seconds on a desktop.

11. Keep it short and sweet

70% of mobile users think the ideal length of a mobile video is 20 seconds maximum. And that applies to all age groups. When the viewer is further along the customer journey, a video may often be longer because the viewer is more engaged. But still: the shorter the video, the greater the chance that the video will be completely viewed, and that all the information you provide to the viewer will be consumed.

12. Be effective without sound

It’s common nowadays to scroll through your feeds in public. Then it is very annoying when a video with sound automatically starts playing! At least, that is the opinion of 46% of Europeans who view mobile video ads. In fact, 73.9% of mobile viewers stop the video immediately if the sound is played automatically. Therefore it’s not surprising that 76% of mobile viewers want to have control over the sound of a video advertisement (Unruly Mobile Video Survey). And that 85% of the videos on Facebook are viewed without sound.

Have you ever thought about how hearing-impaired people experience your online videos? It’s more important than you think! In the Netherlands alone there are 495.000 deaf people and people with severe hearing impairment. On a total of one and a half million hearing-impaired. That’s 8.7% of the population.

In short: make sure that your video content can also intensely inspire viewers without using a voice-over or music. That the message still lands! By using (smooth) image titles that summarize the message or by including subtitles in the film. Did you know that subtitling can extend the viewing time by 12%? By making subtitling descriptive, your video can be better understood without sound. Think of describing the kind of (background) music that plays, important ambient sounds or the intonation of a voice, such as joy, panic, et cetera.

13. Use mental simulation

Research shows that when we see someone consuming something, that behavior is mirrored in our brain. A 'mental simulation' takes place in our brains. This happens even if we see a product or object that is not used but that we can use (such as a cup of tea). But generally speaking, the clearer the behavior is shown, the easier the simulation.

An example comes from the research Neurensics did for Smint. The moving storyboard below was shown to the respondents in the MRI scanner. The video shows an applicant getting a fresh feeling after taking a Smintje and then entering the room for his job interview full of self-confidence. The fMRI examinations showed that the moment someone gets a fresh feeling after taking a Smint should be communicated very clearly, perhaps even a little exaggerated, because of mental simulation.

Mental simulation ensures that your brain imitates the experience of taking a Smintje. This boosts involvement, but it also activates positive feelings that are associated with this. A little later in the storyboard, we see that the man enters the room full of self-confidence in which the job interview will take place. This also makes it possible to activate positive emotions, because the good feeling of regained self-confidence is mirrored. The joke at the end of the moving storyboard, where the man slips down in his seat, was removed. It was supposed to be funny, but it actually gave the feeling that the gained self-confidence of the man was immediately brought down.

The process of mental simulation is automatic, often without us knowing. Research even showed differences in effectivity between ads that held a product in the left hand or in the right hand. Because more people are right-handed the latter scored better on mental simulation and effectivity.

So, mental simulation, is a good way to make people - at a distance - virtually acquainted with a product or service. 

14. Always show the moment of pleasure

Advertising is intended to introduce people to the advertised product or service. But how do you ensure that people become sufficiently motivated to use a product or service? Research based on more than 50,000 MRI scans gives us the answer: through the good feeling that arises after a product (or service) is consumed.

Let’s compare two coffee-commercials. One for Nespresso, one for Douwe Egberts. Let's start with the first mentioned. There are several things going well in this Nespresso advertisement:

  • The look and feel of the video signals status and luxury.
  • George Clooney as the ambassador of Nespresso. Men want to be him, women want to be with him.
  • The cup of coffee is nicely filmed; we see a small drop in the cup and then bounce back.

Everything ensures that you feel like drinking a cup of Nespresso. And then we see the woman at the end of the commercial enjoying, in the setting sun, her cup of coffee. fMRI results show that the advertising activates an above-average desire, expectation, but also a direct reward.

Then, let's take a look at Douwe Egberts. A sympathetic story, that's for sure. But the commercial is actually a few seconds too short. The advertising stops just when the father wants to enjoy his coffee. As a result, the good feeling that must result from the use of Douwe Egberts is not activated. Brain data confirms this: unlike the Nespresso-commercial - the Douwe Egberts ad wasn’t able to activate those positive emotions.

If the feeling that must result from a product or service experience is not communicated, then this has a negative influence on the pleasure areas in the mind of the viewer. And it is precisely these areas that are largely responsible for consumer behavior.

The learning is clear: always ask yourself how your product or service should give the user a sense of reward or pleasure, and make sure that you show that in advertising.

15. Match images and sounds

The fact that a lot of users watch without sound, doesn’t mean it isn’t important. It can make a huge difference, knowing that emotions drive our actions.

While watching a commercial you see visual input and hear voices of actors, background sounds and music at the same time. The brain can quickly process all this input if these elements form a 'whole' - a context that can be easily remembered. For example, a commercial for a luxurious armchair with a protagonist who talks in a relaxed tone of voice, while we hear trees rustling in the background and soothing music.

Auditory information is processed and stored separately, except when the voice seamlessly matches what we see. The OHRA-commercial is a good example. Watch the first version.

At the end of the video we hear the voice-over say "with OHRA health insurance, you choose who treats you ... and who does not." This is matched with images. We see the (unwanted) doctor appear and with the words "... and who does not," we see an empty chair. The protagonist has left. So far nothing wrong.

Then the commercial jumps to a screen with only text, saying: “Vrije zorgkeuze. Altijd. Overal.” Best translated into: "Freedom of healthcare choice. Always. Everywhere." However, we don’t see this in images. The last image that lingers is that of an empty chair: with the health insurance of OHRA you can, therefore, leave when you want, but the free choice-part itself is not in the picture.

fMRI data showed that this TVC is fun (humor), but generates little desire. No Value is triggered (the rewarding feeling that’s triggered by showing someone using the product or service) Both ensure diminishing effectiveness in terms of behavioral influence.

Based on these results an add-on was created as shown in Version 2 of the commercial. This makes the messages much clearer.

So remember: images that strengthen the voice and vice versa ensure the strongest effect in our brain. Other sounds, music, for example, should also match the imagery. If the music in the background doesn’t emotionally and associatively fits the concept, it’s less effective in our brain. For example, imagine a Greek commercial for Ouzo with Greek folk music in the background. Now replace the Greek music for a random song of Andre Hazes.

16. Be creative with the call to action

Show strong call to actions at the beginning and the end of the video. If you only show it at the end, you will miss the viewers who drop out earlier. Make sure the call to action (CTA) lands. Make the CTA visually attractive and auditory! Attention is fleeting, so ensure the viewer remembers your call to action by mentioning it again in voiceovers or supers.

Be clear and direct on what you want people to do, whether that’s clicking out to your brand’s website, watching another video, or visiting a local store. And do not forget to emphasize the CTA in the copy that accompanies the video.

17. Facial expressions affect behavior

Over the years, a lot of research has been done into subliminal influence. This is the influence of the subconscious to affect a person's behavior. We now know that it works. But not always. Only under the right conditions; if the recipient is already open to the idea of using the product.

In 2014 Smarandescu and Shimp published a study about the subliminal influence that revolved around two sports drinks: Powerade and Gatorade. Subjects were given the name Powerade subliminal and then had to complete a questionnaire (again). Thirsty subjects got much more use in Powerade after subliminal influencing.

Then the subjects were allowed to take two snacks and a drink (of course Powerade or Gatorade) afterward - at least, they thought the experiment had already ended. The snacks and drinks were in a rack, with which the researchers had tried to imitate a canteen setup. If test subjects had to choose within five minutes after the experiment, after seeing 'Powerade' subliminal, that drink was clearly taken off the shelf more quickly. But when test subjects were offered fifteen minutes after the experiment to select snacks and drinks, the effect of the subliminal message had already disappeared.

So, sometimes subliminal influence does indeed work. For example, when showing facial expressions subliminal. If you make two variants of a commercial, where in the first video you sometimes install frames with positive facial expressions and in the second film negative facial expressions (see images below), then the latter also actually provokes slightly more negative emotions.

Frame of positive facial expression

Frame of negative facial expression

Subliminal influence is prohibited in many countries. In the Netherlands, the Advertising Code stipulates that influencing technology is not accepted as well. But that doesn’t change the fact that faces and emotional expressions - without us being aware of it - have a direct influence on the emotions of the viewer. We become happy when we see happy people because of our mirror neurons. That goes to show, how social animals we really are.

A great example of this mechanism can be seen in the video. This local stunt was part of the Belgian “choose happiness” campaign of The Coca-Cola Company. With the insight "happiness starts with a smile" the main character turns moody subway faces into smiling ones!

18. Communicate the right social standard

In the video below (on the left) you see the commercial of Blokker, which was broadcast on Dutch television in 2016. In the advertising, Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress known of Sex and the City, gives a product demonstration of stuff that you can buy at the Blokker. Can you spot what’s wrong with it?

Blokker's ad has been investigated with fMRI research by Neurensics, to find out whether the right balance of positive and negative emotions is activated (the neural pattern of effectiveness). The results from the brain examination were very clear; the commercial is not able to activate the areas in the brain that are important for buying behavior. The commercial creates mistrust but also, much more important, too many negative emotions: danger and aversion. Now watch the eye-tracking video above (on the right). These results provide more insight into the cause of those strong feelings of danger and aversion.

Eye-tracking research provided more insight into the cause of those strong feelings of danger and aversion. When viewing video people always look at other people, and then mainly at their faces. This Blokker commercial is no exception and that’s exactly the problem: the behavior of Sarah Jessica Parker is consistently rejected by everyone in the commercial. Just take a look at the screenshots below of the facial expressions of the people to whom the actress shows the products of Blokker.

All disapproving looks. Who thereby dislike, but also activate danger in the mind of the viewer. What these looks are basically saying: I don’t trust you, Blokker and the products you can buy there. The commercial is basically one big product demonstration in which everybody disapproves of the product.

From this research, but also from many other social psychological studies, it becomes clear how great the impact is of the people around us. Our behavior is strongly determined by the good or disapproval of others. In this Blokker commercial, the wrong social norm is communicated: the products that Sarah Jessica Parker displays are unanimously rejected. This has a strong negative influence on the effectiveness of the video ad.

This example shows how important it is to communicate that your product or service is approved by the social environment. So, always show the desired behavior (Sarah Jessica Parker who is happy with Blokker products), and then allow bystanders in the film to respond positively. This increases the likelihood that the viewer will copy this behavior.

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