The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Video that scales (on a horse, backwards)

How do you square the appeal of super-high production values with the reality that, on the internet, what tends to work is lots and lots of content? (See: Demand Media, Huffington Post, YouTube, etc.)

Is it crazy to say that this ad campaign from Old Spice suggests a possible solution?

Wieden+Kennedy is producing super-short, snappy videos—all in basically the same format—in response to @replies on Twitter and comments on YouTube. You can click through to watch a bunch of them here. They’re funny, and I like the length; they’re video popcorn. (Er. I just watched five.)

Why isn’t there more video like this? Imagine a tumblr that posted three or four new videos every day, of about this length, at about this quality. Always the same characters, always the same background—easy to set up! Maybe it’s fictional; maybe it’s not. Maybe the videos respond directly to The Internet the way this Old Spice campaign does; maybe they don’t. Over time, it builds up a blog-like archive of hundreds, eventually thousands, of super-consumable little snippets. It also builds up a voice, tone, and style—a familiar, comfortable universe—in exactly the way a good blog (or webcomic) does.

What do you think? Plausible? Has it been tried before? (Don’t say The Show with Ze Frank; though sublime, it was a very different format. Each episode was a multi-minute, highly-edited bespoke daily creation. Too much work for not enough content!)

Is this related to what’s next for TV?


Tim Maly says…

If you extend your gaze to animated video, you’ll see this has been done to great success. Homestar Runner for instant.

Re: Homestar Runner—yes and no. Even when they were templated, e.g. Strongbad’s email, they always blossomed into gloriously strange situations that were different every time. That’s a lot of work to animate, & HR was a labor of love crafted over many years.

My hope/suspicion is that this new format might deliver a much better input/output ratio than we’re accustomed to with video.

Tim Maly says…

Early SB emails didn’t blossom. They were pure text based gold.

Second prior art nomination: All the popular webcam youtubers that made YouTube YouTube. I.e. the pro, lonelygirl17

Ah, you’re right re: early SB email.

Re: YouTubers—yes, but I think they’re all too long! It takes guts (and good writing) to make a 15-second video.

Tim Carmody says…

I think there’s something to what Tim M says — these Old Spice videos are to Strong Bad emails what Arrested Development was to The Simpsons. In particular, Arrested Development’s use of cheap sound-stage sets and handheld, cinema-verité cameras let them be cheaper, faster, more immediate and topical than The Simpsons, but they kept the innovations to the idea of the sitcom.

Plus, yes, great writing.

I believe this is almost what you were suggesting that I do with The Atlantic tech channel. Maybe you’re right… On the other hand, I’m neither the Old Spice guy or The Most Interesting Man in the World. Plus, I like not shaving, so being in front of a camera every damn day could get tough.

Hmm, is there the requirement that you put yourself (or a person) in front of the camera at all? Seems like this could totally work with a hand puppet, people moving plastic toys around the desk, or even random kittens and puppies as long as you had audio that tied it together. (Ooh, random kitties… could one do a video version of A Softer World?)

Tim Maly says…

Without actually knowing what Robin proposed, I think you should go for it. Slightly scruffy Alexis is plenty handsome and it’ll just add to your science-credibility.

And small fast SHAREABLE video content seems immensely powerful.

I think one of the reasons this works is because it’s funny. It would not fly if you were, say, answering serious science and tech questions via 30 second video clips. Unless you were also half naked and have ripped abs.

There’s definitely something about the tone & talent here that works particularly well, but I’m not ready to cede the format entirely to jokes.

Although now you’ve got me thinking of the super-short Seth MacFarlane animated clips on YouTube… and while they fit some of my criteria, they’re not as interesting/intriguing to me. I’m not sure why.

On Twitter someone suggested that the Old Spice commercials are actually a lot like a webcomic. There’s something appealing about the same figure on the same background… hmm. No conclusions yet.

Tim Carmody says…

I’m wondering whether we can port the concept of an arbitrary constraint. Here, the best/most relevant analogy would be Twitter. Maybe something like: I’m going to tell you everything you really need to know about ____ (with varied topics, both obvious and nonobvious) in thirty seconds / five sentences / whatever.

Sometimes it might be breaking down a problem, other times it might be an insight or observation. It could/should definitely be framed by questions/suggestions from the audience. “Tell me what you think about the iPhone 4.” “What’s next for TV?” “What’s your favorite movie and why?” “Why is energy effeciency important?” “What’s the secret to good risotto?” You could imagine lots of different topics/formats.

Hm, I think a good web analogue to what Tim describes is a version of It’s open-ended for people to submit any kind of question, which you can answer. Perhaps a video form of Formspring would be the solution, so that we can all be the Old Spice guy?


On a slightly different note, I think the timing of the Old Spice twitter campaign is perfect. Launched right after World Cup, when people are trying to fill the void left by end of the games.

Matthew Battles says…

I like all the ideas thrown out here. Tim C.’s strikes me particularly, though, because constraints are fun. It could be a mini pecha kucha kind of thing—give someone fifteen seconds to hold forth on a topic (maybe arbitrarily thrown at them, maybe one they hold dear). And then animate it.

Animated tweets could be fun, too.

Tim Carmody says…

Doing it interview-style is potentially pretty amazing, although that goes against the idea of great writing. Maybe both could work.

These videos are longer, but I also think “Drunk History” is a potentially instructive series. Non-animated, but similarly acts out someone’s speech, with hilarious results. And even though it’s longer, edited videos, with big stars, it’s clearly got a throw-it-up-rough-and-make-it-work ethic.

Tim Maly says…

Twitter, the Criterion Collection. Exists.

Tim Carmody says…


Tim Maly says…

If you google twitter the criterion collection you will find a pair of videos that consist of short films where the only dialog is the text of a tweet. Which is what Matthew Battles wanted more or less.

Also we should maybe be taking a look at Radiohead’s short video bursts around Kid A’s release. And maybe the video edition of layer tennis.

For some reason Eric Conveys Emotion comes to mind. It was done with photos, but really quick videos could have worked for this too.

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