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Using Video To Create Brand Empathy - Pt. 1 Locations

Video is the strongest tool in the marketing toolbox to create empathy for a brand. Stills, GIF's, cinemagraphs, and meme's are also very effective, but none of those elements can create the depth of viewing experience that video can. Video, due to the fact it's affecting multiple senses for the viewer, allows for a greater emotional experience in its viewing.

Video is also a more robust medium for storytelling. And ultimately, it's the story created around a brand, or product, that will hook the viewer/buyer/user. Storytelling within marketing has seen a significant expansion over the past 5 years as web based viewing has grown to rival TV. That growth has allowed for traditional video marketing, ie. commercials, to grow past 15 or 30 second spots. We're now in a time where major brands are telling stories over more aggressive timelines. We're seeing stories unfold over multiple spots, cross platformed to the web, finishing on Instagram and even brands buying a full 2 minute commercial block for a single spot. 

We were recently tasked with creating a 90 second video for a not-for-profit foundation. The video needed to touch on the work the foundation does, while also getting the viewer invested in that work. We felt the best way to achieve these goals was to create a story that grew out of the work of the foundation, but also spanned a journey that the viewer could relate to on a deep, intuitive level.

After a few weeks of brainstorming, writing and rewriting, we landed on a story that both our team and the client was excited about. At that point we shifted gears, moving into preproduction to find a great cast and locations that suited the story.

As we dove into location scouting, it became apparent that our first location in the video, a town that has a quaint urban feel but is a bit down on its luck, would be vital in setting up our hero as her hard work pays off and she rises up out of her circumstances. We're very fortunate that our partner and co-founder Shawn Willis got his legs in the industry as a location scout and manager on the Law & Order shows. His knowledge and approach to finding locations is invaluable. It's also a great help in the way Shawn communicates what he's looking for as the director of this spot.

 Director Shawn Willis and DP Nick Sherman working out a shot on the location scout.

Director Shawn Willis and DP Nick Sherman working out a shot on the location scout.

We brought a camera and shot video on each of our scout days. That proved vital as we got back to the office and were able to look at the locations on the monitor and see what kind of texture the location was giving us. In comparing locations we were looking to see what story the location inherently told. 

In creating the the shot list and storyboards for the spot, we wanted to start with a shot of the neighborhood that quickly and efficiently communicates the environment our hero has grown up in. Having a location that could do that became paramount.

What we realized, through experimenting with the video we shot on the scouts, was that the first location we see gives legitimacy to the entire story and, conversely, the brand. If the location was not believable, we didn't believe what the brand was pitching. Because it was the first thing we would see, the location is the conduit to creating empathy for the brand. Believability of the place and circumstances directly influences how we see the story and the brand.

Considering this is a 90 second spot, and we would only see this location for about 15 seconds of screen time, it seems like we spent an outrageous amount of time finding this location. But towns and neighborhoods are places that we all instinctively know and have our own associations to. As opposed to a location like the galley of a spaceship which the majority of people have never seen before.

The location we ended up deciding on felt right. You could stand at the house and feel something in your gut. Of course that intangible and hard to describe, but those intangibles end up making their way into the images. Finding the perfect location upped the value of the spot, brought a weight to the story, and ultmaitely, gave the viewer a way to relate to the brand.