This Is a Generic Brand Video: context is everything

Why would we make a video that makes fun of brand videos?

We’re making fun of ourselves.

We’re making fun of our own products.

We’re making fun of our customers.

Or are we?

There’s nothing inherently dislikable or cliché about the clips used in TIAGBV. Only the most jaded, soulless jerk would avoid beholding sunsets, laughing babies, attractive young people, or the sight of an eagle soaring. “Too cliché for me! Give me something edgy!”

But using clips like these to evoke the empty claims of faceless, generic corporations — that’s what leaves a bad taste in your mouth. That’s the hypocrisy that Kendra Eash called out in her original piece for McSweeney’s, a masterpiece of self-referential parody (with many precedents).

In fact, the sheer beauty of many of the clips amplifies the disconnect between the claim and the corporate reality, between the signifier and signified. Despite our movie being a parody, I can’t stop watching designer Drew Ng’s beautifully edited clips of the world, strung together like a scene from a Godfrey Reggio movie, set to swelling rhythmic piano. It’s why we can be moved by even the most transparently manipulative ads for insurance, medicines, or financial services, despite our cynicism. And it’s why we feel so icky afterwards.

AdWeek’s Tim Nudd got it right:

“You’ve seen all of this footage in ads from major brands. It’s everywhere. And it’s great that a stock video house would so gleefully celebrate the soul-sucking manipulations for which its offerings are generally used.”

Jared Spool got it wrong (even though he liked the video):

“Proof that Brand agencies are just self parodies.”

No, only the worst brand agencies are self-parodies. That’s why it’s funny. It’s no more a proof than Saul Goodman is proof that all lawyers are slippery weasels.

If your brand agency, ad agency, or video editor wants to use stock footage in such predictably cliché ways, get rid of them.

… Unless of course, their work is so overtly cliché that it calls attention to its own clichéness, and you can find a way to make that work for your brand.