Will video kill the copywriting star?

In the age of social media, everyone’s an author. From bloggers with millions of followers despite no professional writing training or expertise, to the most innocent Twitter update going viral; text is anybody’s game to win – regardless of platform, length or (much to the displeasure of grammar aficionados the world over) errors.

However, in 2017 the written word has a new rival. And it’s one that’s not all too concerned with syntax, spelling and synonyms. Back in the 80s it point-blank shot the radio star, but in the 2010s video is on a vendetta of a different kind. And, according to some, it might just be a sword mightier the pen.

It was once said by Dr James McQuivey that a minute’s worth of video is akin to 1.8 million words. And, while his reasoning of a picture being worth a thousand words and video shooting at 30 frames per second was (you’d hope) said somewhat flippantly, recent statistics on the topic aren’t a million miles away from confirming his sentiment. With a third of all online activity already spent watching filmed material, Cisco predicts that 80% of all internet traffic will be video by 2019. While, forgetting the fall of some of the best-known print magazines and papers (and the restructuring of those who still remain to account for digital video), perhaps the biggest coronation of all came from Nicola Mendelsohn (Vice President of Facebook across its European, Middle Eastern and African Operations) famously declaring that the world’s largest social network would “probably [be] all video” by 2021, with 100 million hours of film currently watched on it each and every day and a “year-on-year decline of text”.

So if content’s the king, is it video alone who wears the crown?

Not quite. Video is undoubtedly one of the most important weapons in any marketer’s swiss army knife. However it’s precisely that – one tool in a selection of many, with a purpose and reason for use. No matter how useful they are, you wouldn’t choose scissors over a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine (well, maybe on a really stressful day). So how too can video take the place of other utensils?  

Mendelsohn’s reasoning for Facebook’s shift to moving pictures was in its skill to be “the best way to tell stories in the world”. And it’s here where video makes its mark; our brain processes film 60,000 times faster than text and the mirror neurons in our premotor cortex (or a part of your brain to you and I) mean that when we watch video we actually experience (in very small doses) the same sensation of pain and pleasure that we would were we experiencing the emotions for real.  

Video was the best way for us to work with client Marketing Edinburgh in telling personal stories of how residents became involved in the creation of Trainspotting 2

However, it’s all about the right medium for the right need and while it provides perfectly for emotions, it can’t beat text for certain needs. Video allows us to digest information in an easier way than the written word and showcases the visual far better than copy ever could (read a transcript of a cat video and see if it has the same effect). However, try searching a video for the one key point you need when writing a still-impossible-with-all-the-coffee-in-the-world last minute piece and you’ll have lost an hour rather than five minutes. The activities require two completely different brain processes, fulfilling cranial cares in completely different ways. When we’re watching a video, we’re passive and allow information to be presented to us as the maker(s) intended. When we’re reading, we’re active; giving each piece an individual voice linked to our experiences and thoughts, encouraging us to make decisions on what we read. We might look for keywords, relevant to what we’re after or re-visit areas particularly useful to us, or we might choose to digest the article as a whole. Regardless, we’re in control and making the decision to do so. With video, it’s difficult to do the same.

This is where Mendelsohn’s point makes a huge amount of sense for Facebook; to relax, the not-quite-so-academically-obsessed of us may not want to read an essay and, with so much going on, a social network isn’t the best place for us to notice one. While it was once the home ground of personal opinions and long (un)thought-out statuses and despite a continual growth in the number of daily active users, the number of original posts on Facebook are down. We’re no longer using the channel to share things from our own lives, we’re using it as an entertainment channel to digest information from others. Video is, without doubt, one of the best ways to do that.  

However, when we’re actively looking to engage and create our own opinions, it’s not video that best fulfils that need. In a(n ever so slightly subjective) piece titled ‘Why I hate Video, Part 548’, Michael Drum comments “I can read the transcript of a one-hour speech in about five or ten minutes and easily pick out precisely what’s interesting and what’s not. With video, I have to slog through the full hour”. It’s this control that makes text so resilient; as a reader, we have the power and can access what we need as soon as we need it.

The wide-scale availability of video is a game-changer. It’s added a tool we can adapt and use to engage with audiences in completely new ways. The progression of it into virtual reality and live filming furthers this even more. However it’s a tool, not the only tool. Tim Carmody sums it up in an essay on kottke.org as “nothing has provided as invincible as writing and literacy. Because text is just so malleable”. It’s just that while the pen (or keyboard slightly more accurately today) is mightier than the sword, it wouldn’t come in quite as handy on a battlefield. Success revolves around different mediums at different times, not the outright death of older methods.

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