The Pros and Cons (and Hows) of Using Stock Video

The Pros and Cons (and Hows) of Using Stock Video

You’ve probably heard the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” more than a thousand times.

It’s true; imagery can explain in a heartbeat what it could take paragraphs or pages to explain or imply. It carries power, and elicits emotions and reactions from audiences. And we’re used to taking those emotional cues, having those reactions, and forming decisions and judgments about what we see pretty much immediately.

That includes photography and graphic imagery of course, but it also includes video. So what am I trying to say here?

When you’re creating a video, it needs to feel authentic.

Whether you’re shooting your whole video yourself or looking to include stock video to add that special something, you need to consider what the goal of your video is, the feel you’re going for, the time, effort, and money you have to spend, and more. Because at the end of the day, the point of your video is to connect with your audience and get them to take action.

Both footage you shoot yourself (or with the help of an agency) and stock footage can help you achieve a strong video if you know how to use it correctly. So with that in mind, here are a few pros and cons to think about when you’re trying to decide if stock footage is right for your project.

Take stock of the downside of stock footage.

Stock footage can get pretty pricey.

Check out some of the sites that offer stock video footage. We’ve seen 20-second video clips for $80USD and $180USD (and if you’re wondering if the cost goes up for better, less ‘cliched’ shots, yes, yes it does). That bill can add up if you’re looking to include more than one stock shot in your b-roll footage.

Speaking of cliches…

Stock video footage can be quite full of cliched, or overly staged shots. Stock video can often pander to the most requested footage, like street shots or office meetings. And because they’re so often searched for, that means everyone is using the same boring footage.

Take this image, for example. Would you want to watch a video filled with these kinds of scenes? They feel too staged, set up, and unrelatable, with everyone wearing similar expressions and outfits, in a perfect setting of a cool, clean, glass office building.

What are they always so creepily happy about?!In comparison, check out this video created by our friends at George Briggs Media. The office space in the video definitely isn’t staged – in fact, it’s Vidyard’s very own office! Whether you use a production house to shoot your video, or you film it yourself, you can end up with an atmosphere, and a ‘feeling’ of your video that feels much more authentic and inspiring.

Want a different image? You might not be able to find it.

With stock footage, you’re stuck with what you can find. If you want an office scene, you might just get similar results to that footage, or the same buildings in the same cities over and over, or the same demographic group sitting at a bar or coffee shop. If you want something really specific that fits perfectly with your target audience, you would probably have to shoot something yourself.

What if you want a downtown city center shot in your video? Well, here’s an example of a cityscape image. Pretty generic, eh? And maybe a little hard to tie in with the feel of the rest of your video (more on that below).

If you choose to shoot the video yourself or with the aid of a production house, you could use your own city, and take shots that feel so much more authentic and relatable, like this video from George Briggs media.

Stock footage may not jive with the rest of your video.

Our in-house video experts are adamant that using stock footage well isn’t an easy task. It’s difficult to match the visual picture style with the rest of your video. What if the lighting is different, or the colours don’t contrast well, or the focus or blurriness of the background scenes isn’t consistent, or even the quality of the equipment you’re using differs? Even if you find stock footage that you think looks “cool”, might indeed make the rest of your video look poorer in comparison.

The story you’re trying to tell might get lost in translation.

If part of your video feels too posed, too staged, or inconsistent with the rest of your video, your audience will have a harder time feeling like they’re a part of your story. The video won’t feel candid, and will lack a sense of authenticity. A highly polished stock video scene isn’t always the best way to tell your story and share your message because, as Mat King, our Video Production Manager put it, “High production value does not equal a real moment.”

Without a strong story, engagement will slide.

Need I say more here? You want people to watch your video and then take action because of what they saw, so they need to experience an authentic story. Stock footage has an upward battle to fight if it wants to feel as authentic as footage you shoot yourself (or through an agency). As Alex Marshall, Founder of George Briggs Media, puts it, “If a video can’t affect your audience, there was no real point doing it in the first place. Working with a video agency [or shooting footage yourself] is like performing an operation with a scalpel, whereas sometimes stock footage can be like trying to perform the same operation with a bat.”

Well, that was blunt.

There were supposed to be “Pros” in this list, right?

Okay, I didn’t mean to scare you. But now that you know how stock footage can go wrong, you’re better prepared to make it go right! Stock footage definitely has its place in the video marketing landscape, and here are a few solid reasons for using it in your video.

You can’t get the shot.

What if you need to include footage of your server room in your video, but it’s in a different location, or locked down for any reason? What if your video has a space theme but you aren’t an astronaut so you can’t take video from your rocket ship as you shoot into space? What if you want to promote an event but you don’t have the right footage with the necessary feel or branding? That’s when stock video comes into play. It is a good source for getting the shots that would otherwise be impossible (or very expensive!) for you to get.

Our video promoting our presence at this year’s Dreamforce event included stock footage of coffee being made. Why reinvent the wheel? Our coffee makers don’t look as great, and this footage gave us exactly the feel we were going for.

It might save you money.

I know I listed the cost as a con. Which is true. But sometimes stock footage can also save you money. How? Well if you only need a short shot of stock footage, that can be cheaper than having your whole video shot by a production house. Before you start your video project, you may want to consider how many shots (and what shots) you want in your video, and how best to achieve those goals.

It can save you time.

It takes time to source a great stock video footage, but it can take even more time to set up production, film, and edit every single shot. Sometimes stock video (when it’s blended into the rest of the shots well) works perfectly under tight timelines.

If you choose to use stock video for your project, how should you use it?

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to go the stock footage route:

Look for shots that are consistent with the look-and-feel of the rest of your video.

Look for similar colour tones, angles, background treatment, lighting, and more so the whole video feels like it belongs together rather than hacked together.

Look for stock footage that doesn’t feel as posed or set up.

Search for video that feels candid, like it was simply a moment in time that happened to be caught on film. After all, this is what people relate to these days – content that’s shared all over social media is shared because it feels real. And that’s because it is real. People don’t want to see a guy in a suit smiling like the Cheshire cat at his computer screen.

Make sure footage is complementary to the script.

What is your script talking about? Don’t have your actors or voiceover talking about what it’s like to work for an innovative company and then show shots of the outside of a building. Stock footage shouldn’t be used simply to give someone something to look at while your script drones on. Footage should always bring  your script to life, and if it isn’t doing that, rethink your footage (and potentially, your script!).

Establish a story or journey.

Use stock footage carefully to connect what happens in scene A to what happens in scene B to what happens in scene C. You can do this through using footage that includes the same characters, for example. That way you’ll follow one person (or group of people) through their journey (like in the George Briggs Media video above, which includes the same woman throughout the story) rather than feeling like a bunch of random scenes were glued together in post without any real sense of purpose.

There you have it! If you’re considering using stock footage, just keep in mind what your goals are, and make sure you’re using it (or not) to make your video as strong as it can be. Your audience will thank you!

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