Multimedia Modeling and Vicarious Observation
Albert Bandura, distinguished psychologist and expert in the field of social learning theory, points to television commercials as an important influence on social learning through multimedia modeling and vicarious observation.
We often forget that like all creatures human beings are subject to our hardwired instinct for survival, one of the most important being our ability to learn through vicarious experiences rather than just direct encounters. We may learn not to touch a hot stove by putting our hand on a hot heating element, but it is far less dangerous to learn the same lesson by watching someone else do it, even if that observation is simulated as in a commercial.
Marketing Campaigns Are Learning Experiences
All marketing campaigns are learning experiences for the target audience in that advertisers are attempting to manipulate viewers' behavior by vicarious demonstration of brand benefits resulting from product or service use.
Cost has limited the use of broadcast television commercials to all but the most deep-pocketed of advertisers, but the broadband Web and digital technology has changed all that. The means to produce reasonable-cost Web-video is at hand, witness the explosion of numerous video sites like YouTube and Google Video, plus the advent of Web-commercial venues like Google Video Ads. Unfortunately many businesses cannot see past the proliferation of uneven quality viral videos that lack any serious commercial purpose to see the real opportunity that exists.
It is inevitable that a period of DIY (do it yourselfers) will ensue, as businesses that don't understand the medium will try to implement video campaigns without taking the time to learn that mastering the technical use of software and hardware is not what makes vicarious-experience video-observation work.
The Four Communication Elements of Web-Commercials
If businesses are to be successful in getting people to do what they want them to do through the implementation of Web-commercials, they will need to learn that success ultimately depends on an understanding of the psychological influences behind the four communication elements that constitute effective Web-presentations: scenario, sight, sound, and score.
Scenario: The Brand Story
Every business has a brand story to tell, but often that story gets lost in the minutiae of product specifications, service details, and self-congratulating biz-speak. There is no point in spending time telling your audience that you have the highest quality, lowest price and best staff. Nobody cares, and if they do care, few will believe you, and if they do believe you, your competitor is saying the same thing. Have you presented anything that defines you, makes you different, or provides something memorable?
People remember stories, linear narratives that are constructed with a beginning, middle and end. This enables an audience to process the information and retain the essence of the message for future reference. In developing your brand story, less is always more. It's your brand story that creates the position you will hold in your audience's mind.
Sight: Visual Context and Reference
A moving picture conveys a depth of information that cannot be delivered with text, no matter how clever, or with a still image, no matter how skillfully composed: the nod of the head, the folding of the arms, the look in the eye, in fact, every subtle movement of the presenter communicates something. These subliminal subtleties make it vital to have a professional presenter who understands how to act in front of a camera. Business executives familiar with face to face selling, or even speaking in front of a large audience may think performing for the camera is easy, but it is not.
Audiences are experts at decoding video presentations; we have all learned from years of watching television how to detect deception and fear in a performance. Acting for a camera requires what Marshal McLuhan called a "cool" personality. Howard Dean's bid for the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination was disastrously stalled when a speech he gave in front of a large boisterous audience was captured by television cameras and broadcast on the small screen. When transferred to television, his attempt to speak above a thunderous crowd of supporters made him sound like a wild man, an unfortunate situation that would make one wonder about the integrity of network broadcasters who understand the medium and decided to misrepresent the circumstances for affect. In delivering a commercial message, it is imperative to have professionals who understand the psychology of small screen presentation.
Sound: Sonic Familiarity and Personality
If what people see on screen is important than what they hear is profound. The audio portion of a Web-presentation can be broken down into three separate elements: the on-screen actor's voice, the voice-over announcer's voice, and the music and sound effects.
The sound of the human voice provides focus, emphasis, familiarity and personality, all of which are necessary in the creation of a meaningful, memorable experience: the ultimate goal of any Web-commercial or presentation.
As much as the business focus of advertising is to motivate people to act immediately to buy, you are bound to have more people view your presentation than will respond to it. If your message is constructed only for immediacy, you are losing the vast majority of potential customers. The more memorable you make your presentation the more likely people will ultimately contact you when they are in need of your product or service.
It is the sound of the human voice with its quality of tone, cadence and delivery, combined with a finely crafted script that emphasizes rhythm, rhyme, and repetition that gets embedded in people's minds.
Score: Music, Emotion and Focus
One of the most important, but perpetually misused elements in Web-video is music. Often music is just slapped onto a finished video as an after-thought without any real meaningful purpose or design.
A musical score creates an appropriate emotional atmosphere providing audio cues that direct attention and re-enforce memory recall. When we watch a television show, movie or commercial we are rarely cognizant of the music, but the musical score has an enormous impact on the viewing experience: it not only creates the mood and sets the emotional context, it tells the audience what to pay attention to and how to react.
An Example of How it Works
The best way to understand how scenario, sight, sound, and score affect an audience's experience, memory and reaction to a Web-video is with an example. To illustrate the importance of these elements we've taken a video and presented it in three ways: video only (no sound), video with voice-over (no musical score), and video with voice-over and musical score. This example can be viewed at http://www.mrpwebmedia.com/SonicPersonality/demowebvideo.html.
Watching the three versions illustrates just how important each element is and how each contributes to the memorable experience you as an advertiser want to create.
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit mrpwebmedia.com/ads, 136words.com, and sonicpersonality.com. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (905) 764-1246.