The Importance of Visual Storytelling in Short-Form Video Content


On the average day, we are exposed to a smorgasbord of video advertising – anything from food, clothing, vehicles, services and more. Our exposure and introduction to these advertisements are all very visual.

We are presented with filmed content that suits and looks the part of the brand’s style, and that content should be edited to match the brand’s energy – perhaps slow and silky with transitions, or fast, loud and action packed with cuts galore.

The editor has a huge responsibility in creating advertisements because not only does he/she have to cut to a rhythm, they also control the final content delivered – a good advertisement shoot will have lots of coverage and it is up to the editor to pick not only the most attractive looking shots, but the most relevant to create a STORY on the visual level.

And that’s where knowledge of silent film will truly elevate your ad to the next level – because creating an advertisement that works without sound is a tricky beast – but ultimately, it will increase the longevity and accessibility of your advertisement and brand in the long term.

Marketing firms often forget the importance of this aspect in advertising – our exposure to muted advertisements are plentiful – anywhere from banner advertisements on websites, to muted televisions in clubs or bars. These settings definitely account for a significant portion of advertisement exposure and a good spot will be able to function in multiple mediums.

Take this example of a Charles Schwab advertisement:


This advertisement is actually quite an interesting example because it challenges the viewer – it uses a situation as a proxy for asking the audience if they’re truly confident about their investment strategies before advertising their own brand. It doesn’t try and sell you a product from the start and the cinematography / color scheme / editing is not indicative of a particular brand.

It is perhaps a risky approach – but overall, it should resonate with the viewer and target a specific audience.

Pretend you’re seeing this advertisement on a banner ad on YouTube. The volume is muted and there is a lot of other content surrounding it on a page. That is how I stumbled upon the advertisement – not even as a pre-roll advertisement.

Without sound, this advertisement is almost completely ineffective. The cinematography shows the talking duo, but even if you were an experienced lip reader, you wouldn’t be able to comprehend what they were talking about because the subjects are bobbing up and down with too much motion blur. You would have no idea what the spot was actually advertising on first watch until you saw the ending tag with the Charles Schwab logo. It may even appear confusing or misleading to some – if you glanced at this advertisement, you might even think it was for a lifestyle product like sportswear.

There are a few things editors can do to remedy ads like this one.

First, you can incorporate text or motion graphics to directly target your desired demographics – show statistics or even convey elements of your script so that your advertisement makes sense without audio.

Secondly, you may want to re-analyze the content you are given in a soundless environment. If the script and ad is driven by dialogue, you may opt for steadier shots that show clear articulation of dialogue, or stabilize certain shots in post for clarity. You may also reflect upon a tagline as a mantra for editing – e.g. if you wanted your audience to “see the bigger picture”, show that in editing – start close-up with subjects and move to a wider, more expositional frame.

Of course, the biggest factor in making an advertisement work without sound is to aim for this goal during the script stage.

A good director will try and identify the visual aspects of a script as a story in itself. It may even be a good idea to get an editor involved at this stage – a director’s storyboard is often indicative of how the advertisement will function in an edited piece – if the story makes sense there, then it will more than likely work that way as a finished product.