The case against whiteboard video in marketing

Whiteboard video is a popular video style that’s in danger of becoming an overused gimmick.

Whiteboard can tell a business message in a highly visual, animated way which has won many fans. I think this is because of its novelty value, which for me has quickly worn off.

I don’t believe it automatically wins more incremental business for marketers and MD’s either.

Many of the whiteboard videos I’ve seen are of unimpressively low quality, while trying to emulate the best & most expensive videos in the genre.

But why take my word for it. Here are the points for and against so you can make your own mind up.

Against whiteboard

1: Whiteboard divides the attention
The problem starts when marketers fall in love with the whiteboard gimmick, and forget that the human brain needs to pay attention in order to learn.
I’d suggest the mind can’t learn effectively while doing 2 or 3 things at the same time.

Doing one thing at a time is how we sharpen our focus to learn & absorb.

The Ebbinghaus Effect indirectly supports this by stating that over half of learning is forgotten inside 20 minutes.

By contrast, whiteboard video usually has too much going on at the same time to focus that easily.

Consider: We have a fake, skin-coloured, animated hand constantly dancing and fluttering around a black & white drawing, taking up to 20% or more of available screen real estate.

This is a distraction, especially as we all know the hand is a fake. In fact the whole “drawing process” can look fake if it’s not done skillfully, as it’s really an animation technique that “sort-of” simulates real drawing.

And because of the time pressures in video runtime (where every second counts, and less is always more), the drawing has to develop very quickly, or the video will last forever. So this tends to increase the speed of the busily dancing hand.

After producing 1,000 videos, I believe the mind is less effective at remembering when there’s a constant distraction.

I’d suggest that if you need to promote high value goods & services on your website, the last thing you need is all this potential distraction implicit in your core marketing message.

To be fair, I’m equally sure there are many companies who are very satisfied with their whiteboard videos.

2: Poor branding
Black & white high speed drawings do little to reinforce brand awareness, as they all tend to look the same.

I don’t believe audiences remember the brand well after watching a whiteboard video even though they may be tickled by the effect.

If you’ve spent a fortune developing & promoting your brand why suddenly dump it for a major marketing video project that uses a poorly branded whiteboard?

3: Takes too long to tell the message
The average sentence in a marketing explainer video is maybe 5-10 seconds.

Trying to cram a full-on drawing animation into a 5-10 second window means

> it often looks too rushed or scribbled

> or the video has to slow down, while waiting for the hand to finish drawing.

Some whiteboard videos I’ve watched start to ramble in the script to fill the lengthy time required by the animation.

I personally prefer to find a crisper solution for a serious business explainer video.

4: Clients take a long time to agree images
Most marketers are on tight deadlines to get their videos produced.

Often they have to be delivered in double-quick time for a product launch, a situation where producing any style of video is challenging.

There’s a clear need to be decisive about video scripts, video storyboards, music, voiceover choices, and so on, otherwise delays & panic start to occur.

The problem with whiteboard is that client teams (think approval layers) find it hard to agree amongst themselves what should be in each drawing. Every detail in every picture is often the result of a lot of tiny team decisions. The artist can end up cramming too much in to please a whole body of client.

Let me add that it’s perfectly natural for clients to keep wanting to add more and more bits of drawing, to explain even more. But it frequently eats extra production time that may not be available with a massive deadline.

The take-home is to think carefully if you’re in a hurry for your video.

5: Expensive to get right
Without a doubt there are great whiteboard videos out there. But I don’t believe they came cheap.

This is because it takes a relatively long time to develop a suite of drawings that everyone agrees & likes

– and during all this the designer’s taxi meter costs are running up.

On the other hand, there are many thoughtless whiteboard videos out there, spouting generic nonsense, and generally dragging the whole whiteboard concept down.

I suspect you have to spend more to get it really right, compared to other explainer video alternatives.

For whiteboard

1: Great for education
In a classroom where the teacher has lots of available time, a well paced whiteboard video can do wonders explaining to students “how quantum physics works” or any other tricky topic that needs a strong visual explanation.

Equally, it can explain the basics to young children.

Having the available time means the pace of the video can be stretched to match the rate of learning, while holding the student’s attention in a more natural way that is less mind-dividing. THis is often accompanied by the verbal support of the teacher.

Ie, the videos can run more slowly and be more effective.

2: Great for Facebook, social media and powerpoint
A short no-sound or no-voiceover whiteboard video can work well for a fickle Facebook audience as the style is an attention grabber, even if not such a good long distance attention-holder.

For example, it can show before & after scenarios really well, helping audiences to visualise future benefits inside 30 seconds.

For example: It can quickly explain a tricky concept, like a technology innovation.

For example: It can be fun to watch, which is what fickle FB viewers demand.

Likewise in business presentations, a whiteboard sequence shown as a video or anim gif in a powerpoint can liven up an otherwise dull presentation, while the presenter talks over.

3: Great for public information videos
We’ve all seen videos in council public areas, or doctor’s waiting rooms, where the sound has obviously been switched off.

They’re not very effective, and usually ill thought out. There are lots of other similar situations for cascading information to the public.

Whiteboard eliminates this problem at a stroke, as it’s great to watch while you’re waiting (so long as the screen isn’t positioned too far away 🙂

Summary

It’s only fair to say that I haven’t supported this opinion piece with much hard data, so you’re welcome to disagree with my view, which is all it is – one long time video producer’s view.

Nonetheless, shooting from the hip, here’s how I see it:

Con
1: Whiteboard divides the attention
2: It’s poor on branding
3: It takes too long to tell the message
4: Clients take a long time to agree the content of the images
5: Expensive to get right

Pro
1: Great for education
2: Great for Facebook & social media
3: Great for public information videos

Now it’s time to make up your own mind up about the effectiveness of whiteboard video in marketing.

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