Posted on January 03, 2018
“Do you make normal films…?”
That question, “Do you make normal films…?”, is taken verbatim from a conversation I had with someone recently who had been browsing the ‘front line’ of our online portfolio of film work we’ve done within the Education Sector. If I’m honest, it threw me a bit to start with. We’ve been working with schools, colleges and universities since 2007 but have always looked to innovate in the ‘types’ of films we’re producing. It got me thinking, though, about what prompted the question, and the result of those musing is this blog…
The first point to make is that we are a business, and to keep the lights on we have to sell stuff. As such, we put the shiniest, prettiest and most fancy ‘stuff’ in our shop window - which in our case is the front page of our sector-specific website (affixxius.com/academic). There’s some incredible work on there that (more importantly) has achieved incredible things for our customers, but they are all of a ‘sort’; what we would term a ‘brand film’. These films, that look to engage on an emotional level with audiences and act as the ‘big hitter’ of a marketing strategy, are akin to the high-end, above-the-line adverts we see on broadcast and digital platforms for the highest brands, especially at Christmas. If you’d like to read more about our thinking on these films, have a read over this. affixxius.com/academic/schools-modern-buying-audience
Nonetheless, you’ll note my use of the word ‘strategy’. Film is an extremely flexible and useful tool in different areas of audience engagement, and often that ‘sharp end’ of the ‘brand film’ is a very good use - but it’s not the only use. The “…normal films…” of which my enquirer spoke are the more descriptive ‘communications’ films. Often these pieces are driven by naturalistic footage, “talking heads” (I hate that phrase, but it seems to be common parlance) and divided into particular subject matter. For instance, we are often asked to produce films that focus on specific areas of school life such as sport, the arts or boarding. Equally, we might produce a ‘Meet the Head’ film, or something specific on the school’s history.
I will never unilaterally rule out the production of such pieces. Everything, in this regard, is about context. Why are you producing a film on sport, or a ‘Meet the Head’ piece, for example? Independent Schools (in particular) are shockers for believing their own hype; “The thing about sport here is it’s for everyone…” or “…oh, the art here really is amazing…” is something I hear at (near enough) every single Independent School. Sorry to be so blunt. It’s not unique, it’s not even close. Most of your messages are generic in a school - you just have to command that generic better than others do. So the answer to my above question is simple - produce an individual content film on something specific only if you have something genuinely interesting to say.
That ‘genuinely interesting’ is often down to context, again. ‘Meet the Head’ could be extremely useful, for instance, if you’ve had a couple of short-term Heads and people are concerned about the longevity and commitment of your new one. ‘Sport at St. Someone’s’ could be useful if you have genuinely different facilities, coaching staff or niche sport operations that others don’t. Please don’t produce ‘normal’ films that could have your logo taken off the end and someone else’s added.
There is an underlying reason why these films are so often turned to by marketeers - they’re easy. They’re easy to get commissioned because the aren’t going to upset anyone, they’re easy to sell because they’re fairly cheap and cheerful and they’re easy to get signed off because they make the school look great. Who wouldn’t love something that made you look great? The question is whether or not they are effective. There is no question, on statistical grounds, that ‘content’ films of this type have far, far lower engagement rates than ‘brand’ films (around 10 to 1 in terms of online views, from our experience). Still, they can and do work where there is good reason for them.
I almost always bring my thoughts on the Education Sector back to a parallel in the commercial world. Regular ‘content’ is one of the biggest trends, at present, in the commercial world - put out plenty of film about plenty of stuff. But in this regard the commercial world has every reason to do so, with clear focus on definable differences between product x and product y. Where there aren’t those demonstrable differences and the message is more of brand, we see the top-line pieces come out. Waitrose and Marks and Spencers, broadly speaking, sell the same stuff - so their aim is to make you love their brand. Schools should take note of this distinction.
Do we make ‘normal’ films? Of course we do. But only when there’s good reason for a customer to part with their hard-earned money.