A Television Commercial Without Video? Yep.

June 19, 2009

We're big proponents of emerging technologies here, especially those that help shake up a medium—like television—that has been done largely the same way for decades. But as much as things change, the more they stay the same. After all, when was the last time you saw something truly different on TV?

That was our challenge in creating Glass Chalk's first television campaign to promote their WHATUP banner kit and markers. We wanted to show how easy it is to use the product, but we didn't want to just grab a video camera, film an ad-hoc artistic moment, and slap it on screen with an "As Seen on TV" sticker.

Making compelling video without ... video

The solution? Timelapse photography. We put a banner on the wall, set up a camera to take a shot every few seconds, and let one of our team members have at it. One of the 1,300 shots (ok, 1,282) we took is to the right—Kathryn's moving so fast, she's just a blur.

Those pictures were strung together into a 15-second bit of footage that served as the basis for our commercial. In addition to showing the product in action, this method freed us from having to find room in the budget for expensive filming, tedious location scouting, and talent selection.

It also allowed us to bypass video editing and correction and move immediately to our next step: motion graphics. One of the great things about the WHATUP banner kit is its simplicity, and we wanted the screen menus, overlays, and typography to reflect that. Even the transitions needed to be understated, though appealing.

This was accomplished by using Adobe AfterEffects, one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. Granted, AfterEffects can be used to produce multi-million-dollar screen epics; the interface is pretty daunting, as you can see below.

Still, its advanced features and ability to seamlessly blend video, audio, and graphics made it a perfect choice for bringing the WHATUP kit to the screen. Ultimately, I used about 30 different elements—footage, type, voiceover, sound effects, overlays, and more—to build this one, 30-second spot.

Audio is just as important

Choosing and creating sound elements for a television commercial takes just as much time and effort as the visuals. For Glass Chalk, we wanted the voiceover, music, and effects to reflect those traits that mark the product: simplicity, friendliness, and fun.

Moreover, the voiceover had to convey a good deal of information in, oh, 20 seconds. Interestingly, this is one area in which broadcast and web are similar: You have a limited amount of time to make your point, and you shouldn't try to cram in too much. Our script reflected the major themes of the campaign in a small package.

Voiceover was recorded by the very same Kathryn who starred in our timelapse footage (A star is born!) and mixed and cleaned up using Audacity (a great, open-source tool) and Adobe Soundbooth. I then grabbed a couple of stock sound effects to help illustrate some transitions and edited as necessary.

After that, it was simply a matter of dropping it all in and syncing up the audio and video elements—but background music was another matter. There is no shortage of stock music sites on the web, and they often can be a good source for cheap background. The downside is that you have to search through them all to find the perfect tune and pay at least some kind of licensing fee.

Well, one thing you may not know about the Digett team is that we've got enough musicians here to play the county fair circuit (the guitar in my team photo ain't just a prop, folks). As I couldn't quickly find the perfect music selection on stock sites, I decided to fire up my home studio and create something custom.

I started with a simple, soft jazz drum beat and added a walking bass line, which almost sounded like it was enough. But I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing, so I tossed in a staccato piano melody—and that brought it all together. I affectionately titled the final composition, "Glass Chalk Walk." It was simple, subtle, and fun, and once I married it to the video and changed some levels, we were set.

Out of many elements, one commercial

After everything was assembled just-so, I rendered the commercial in a format suitable for television networks. One could only wish the networks were as picky about content as they are about technical specifications. Still, I know what you're thinking: You went to all this trouble to carry a unique marketing message, and to get it front of people, you had to use old-school methods.

Wrong, Mr. Bond. We deployed this commercial as part of an integrated online/broadcast campaign using the Google AdWords system. We've previously blogged about the basics of this system and how it has the potential to really shake up television advertising in the same way it did online advertising, so I'll spare some of the details. Suffice it to say, after using AdWords to launch this campaign, I can honestly say that Google has created a great tool to get people on the airwaves.

It's almost a wrap

Now, you didn't really think I was going to end this without showing off the final product, did you? I'd rather you first read about the details of Glass Chalk's campaign, but since you're twisting my arm, grab your popcorn, turn up the volume, and enjoy: