Corporate editors have committed the sin for years, with photography: Communication clichés like the grip-and-grin plaque ceremony, the ribbon-cutting-with-giant scissors, the ground-breaking with shiny shovels.
When comperterized graphic design took the place of x-acto knives and paste 25 years ago, people went absolutely wild with fonts and for several years corporate newsletters newsletters looked like ransom notes.
You know how these mindless, meaningless practices took hold? Because it was cheap and easy to stage and make these photos and use extra fonts, and they satisfied the box-checking, pseudo-creative instincts of not-very-talented communicators.
Well, you know what's also cheap and easy to make these days?
Which is why we're starting to see videos inserted as a part of nearly every communication campaign, even when the video does nothing to amplify the message.
Yesterday President Obama told followers he's officially running for reelection. He sent a letter, which he interrupts halfway through to say, "I'd like to share a video that features some folks like you who are helping to lead the way on this journey."
So I watch the video. I figure it's important. And I'm curious to know just what President Obama means when he talks about folks like me.
These numbnuts are nothing like me! "I had this perception that politics was all show. It was all soundbites," says one woman in the video. "But politics is how we govern ourselves."
Now you know darn well that this video didn't get made because somebody in the reelection campaign said, "Hey, there's this brilliant woman who recently learned politics is important, and we've just got to get her on camera to tell her story. It would be perfect for the reelection announcement!"
No, it was, "We gotta have a video. How long will it take us to find people of every color and gender to say a bunch of semi-realistic nice things about President Obama in a documentary-style video bullshitfest?"
To say this video did more harm than good for the reelection announcement is to falsely imply that it did some good.
Similarly in the corporate context, the popularity of video was surely behind its use for the purpose of the sharing of the new vision and mission for a credit union.
I mean, can you imagine a less visual story than the mission and the vision for a credit union? Hence, the agonized metaphor of president carrying around the giant puzzle pieces. This should have been a quick-hitting intranet story.
And here's the problem with valueless videos, even if they aren't hilariously campy.
Unlike photographic or design clichés, whose only harm is to tell the audience that the publication is written by dullards for dullards, valueless videos necessarily grab the faithful reader and drag him away from the main message, probably for good.
After being told by President Obama that that the imbecile woman in his video was just like me, do you think I returned to read the rest of his letter, which probably went on to ask for my support?
Hell to the no. I figured the dummies in the video had the campaign covered.
Them, and the dummies who made the video, because they thought, "We gotta have a video."
As Steve Crescenzo wisely suggests in the current issue of ContentWise, do video only if spoken words and moving images are the very best way to get your message across—or the only way to help your readers grasp it fully.
Hey, I love video; I think it's a way to show the flesh and blood behind the corporate life. I think it's an outlet for spontaneous creativity in communication. I think video, for many uses, has the potential to be more powerful than print.
Hell, I run an awards program for corporate videos.
But it's called the Strategic Video Awards.
For a reason.