We’ve been thinking a lot about clichés. Normally, they’re so embedded in our cultural consciousness we barely notice them. But then we made “This Is a Generic Brand Video,” based on Kendra Eash’s piece for McSweeney’s. Pile clichés up like this, and it’s hard to ignore them. In this video, people see every video every faceless corporation has ever produced — which adds up to a whole lot of nothing. You could drop almost any logo into that video and no one would know the difference.
People fall back on clichés because they’re familiar, comfortable, and self-explanatory. They boil an idea down to a few simple words or one iconic image. The flip side is that clichés are overused, meaningless, insincere, and, yes, generic. Your business presumably has a unique story. You can’t tell it limping around on the same old crutches others are using. Let’s look at some clichés in brand videos, so you know what to avoid.
#1 Cliches to Avoid: A Flimsy Foundation
This is where it starts. A lazy concept breeds clichés. If it’s built on a shallow foundation, your video content has nowhere else to go. Think hard. Dig deep. What makes your brand different? Of course you care about the environment. So do all your competitors. What are you doing about it? Specifically. Take this Suncor video:
First, what exactly is it talking about? Second, could any other energy company have created this video? Probably. As David Brier points out in Cookie Cutters Are for Baking, Not Branding, “If your brand is using clichés, you’re promoting your category, not your brand.” Worse, because we routinely hear these nebulous platitudes — framed in words like “innovate,” “solution,” “connect,” “next level,” etc., etc., — they begin to sound insincere.
#2 Cliches to Avoid: Literally Being Too Literal
Because tree huggers don’t actually hug trees…..the 'Generic Brand Video' includes a healthy number of visual clichés. Some viewers wondered where the hand gently caressing a field of wheat was. (It’s right here.) Or the puppies and kittens. (Yup.) But you get the gist. People in lab coats and safety glasses = research. A sweeping aerial of a rainforest = environmental responsibility. Even the mighty Apple isn’t above resorting to the tried-and-trues:
It looks and sounds like every other company. See how easily it happens?
#3 Cliches to Avoid: Same Old Soundtrack
Mashable’s 7 Reasons Every Startup Video Looks the Same includes excellent examples of more video clichés. One is “happy claps,” light and breezy music typically involving a ukulele, acoustic guitar, maybe some whistling, perhaps a glockenspiel. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the soundtrack to most explainer videos these days.
In ads, popular choices include dubstep for anything extreme, classic rock for most manly pursuits (cars, beer, video games), and rapping about such dissonant subjects as minivans, feminine hygiene, and going back to school by the last people you’d expect to see rapping.
#4 Cliches to Avoid: Using Mr and Mrs Generic
When trust, authenticity, and relatability are so critical to brands, it’s no surprise we’re hearing a lot from the guy next door. He’s your regular Real Person. He’s casual, he speaks your language. Why, he’s just like you!
On the other hand, in ads, we have kids speaking like adults — about kid stuff or more grown-up topics like dating and insurance. And adults are talking like kids in actual children’s voices, about candy and chicken marinara melts. We’re better than that.
#5 Cliches to Avoid: The Guys Next Door
Meet Joe. This is Jim. Meet Chris. Just like our Real Person voiceover, this device gets mileage because it’s relatable. But with so many of these guys kicking around (and they often are men), it’s easy to lose them in the crowd.
#6 Cliches to Avoid: Put Down the Whiteboard Marker
You probably already glimpsed this one in previous examples: whiteboard animations. Here’s another for good measure. This technique has a friendly, hand-hewn charm. Plus, it can be less expensive than other video undertakings. But we’re thinking it’s time to step away from the whiteboard.
In Fast Company, Jeff Beer writes, “We’re surrounded by this meaningless tripe all the time.” But people need meaning. They also expect sincerity and authenticity from brands. Clichés accomplish none of that. So do yourself a favor: avoid these clichés like the plague.
Bonus Cliche Material
These hilarious parodies summarize an assortment of cliché abuses: