If anyone claims your business video is worth 1.8 million words, run for the hills
Wednesday, April 1st, 2015
Beware the digital meatheads misleading you about the power of moving images
AS THE old saying goes, if it looks like a rat, smells like a rat and scurries like a rat, then it’s almost certainly a rat.
And boy, did I smell a particularly unpleasant, sewer-dwelling rodent in a recent email which crossed my desk from a video production agency (which shall remain nameless).
Without a trace of irony these camera-wielding ne’er-do-wells have been touting for business by declaring: “Studies show that one minute of video has the same impact as 1.8 million words.”
Erm, naw. Studies most definitely do not show anything of the sort. For anyone with a functioning frontal lobe, the claim will immediately set alarm bells ringing.
Why should you care? Because whatever business you are in the use of video, photography and other “visual communications” will become an increasingly important part of what you do every day to stay ahead of your rivals.
Yet your need for the highest quality written content will remain. You need both. It’s a case of ‘with’ not ‘instead of’. Understanding the power of video is important, but not by sacrificing the power of the written word.
To use video successfully, you need to be free from misleading and shoddy claims that a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. Let me take 1000 well-chosen words to explain why.
No, Google isn’t always right.
There are a lot of stupid people out there. You aren’t one of them. Pity those poor, soft-headed people, because they are easily swayed by “facts” that live on the interweb.
A Google search for “1.8 million words” brings back a lot of results (1.57 million at the last count), most are posts and articles proclaiming the amazing power of 60 seconds of web video.
Unfortunately to digital-era meatheads with the combined brain power of a low watt lightbulb, that means it is now an inarguable reality. The kind of meathead-friendly “fact” worth putting on an email flyer.
So here are some more credible insights to put this in context.
How many words are there in the English language?
Not 1.8 million, that’s for sure. Despite its place as the global lingua franca which oils the wheels of international trade, commerce, transport and travel, our centuries old tongue has just over a million words to its credit, according to the best estimates.
English only passed the one million word mark in 2009 – but that does not mean there are a million English words in circulation. Nope.
It means that language geeks who have collated and archived every word recorded in the history of the language (all of the long dead words, slang terms, regional variations, as well as obscure or specialist technical, scientific and medical terms) reckon that just over a million English words have existed. Ever.
New words are being invented every day, yet the best English dictionaries contain around 170,000 words. An average native English speaker will have a vocabulary of around 20,000 words, while the most articulate may know up to 35,000 words.
Which means our meathead friends claim 60 seconds of video is worth almost double every word every known to have existed in English. Or that it has ten times more impact than every word in a decent dictionary – or 50 times more power than all the words you’ll ever know.
Gee whiz, that really is an impressive minute of YouTube goodness.
How would 60 seconds of video fare against our literary heroes?
The greatest and most popular English language writers in history – the likes of Joyce, Hardy, Dickens, Wordsworth, Orwell, Dahl, DH Lawrence and JK Rowling – probably each had 35,000 different words available to them.
The greatest of them all, William Shakespeare, used fewer than 32,000 different words across his entire collected written works, which have endured, entranced and entertained for 400 years.
Think of the works of fiction, the biographies, the scholarly histories or even the self-improvement tomes you have read. Think how those books stirred you, moved you and inspired you. Reflect on the emotional dividend you get when you read a book.
Now think of the last 60 second video you watched on YouTube. No comparison, huh? The average book is between 100,000 and 150,000 words, so with this 1.8 million word “statistic” in mind, 60 seconds of video would be worth 18 novels.
Let me ask you a simple question. If that’s the case, how is it that so many of us sit down to watch a two hour long movie only to be disappointed that 120 minutes of video wasn’t as compelling, entertaining or enriching as the original book?
Beware lazy arithmetic and no scientific backing
Where did this figure come from? Turns out is accredited to Dr James McQuivey of Forrester Research. Oooooh. A doctor! Who works with a respected research organisation! Surely that involved decades of study, complex science and lab-based testing, right?
Wrong. It involved the equivalent of licking a finger and holding it in the air. First you take the unscientific (but widely quoted) concept that “a picture is worth 1000 words”. Then you came up with a very large number to multiply it by. So where did that number come from?
Most of us watch video on a TV screen. In the US a television runs at 30 frames per second (in Europe it is 25). What this means is that each second of TV footage is made up of 30 separate still images run together in a very fast sequence to create the illusion of movement.
Now you have 30 x 60 x 1000 which, rather conveniently works out at 1.8 million. A crude, unscientific, Frankenstein of a number that has created a lazy online meme, which is gradually appearing as a “fact” on the internet.
Why you should love video – AND the written word
At our Scottish public relations agency, Holyrood PR in Edinburgh we love video. So much so that we have in-house video production and even produce our own weekly video, Holyrood PR TV.
We believe that stories are at the very heart of every successful business and when they are well-told to the right audience, they help make businesses more profitable while creating better places to work.
Virtually every story can be better told with the addition of photography and video. Done well these are all incredibly powerful and can help your business reach the right audience, so it’s crucial you get a mix, to appeal to as many different people as possible.
The written word underpins many of the videos you will watch. The script will be carefully crafted, the running order meticulously planned and written down. Why? Because the best video tells a story – and the best stories start with the best writing.
Unlock the true power of video for business with our Scottish PR agency
Whether we are writing for the media, for websites or for video projects, we make every word count. As wordsmith’s we won’t stamp bogus “facts” across our work, because accuracy builds credibility and credibility helps build the most important business currency of all – trust.
If you’d like to work with proven public relations experts who deliver credible results through business storytelling, then choose a company you can trust: Holyrood PR in Edinburgh. Phone us on 0131 561 2244 or fill in the simple form, below and we’ll get straight back to you.
Scott Douglas is the co-founder of the multi award-winning Holyrood PR, renowned public relations agency in Edinburgh, Scotland.
As well as providing expert PR services in Scotland and the UK, the former journalist heads a team which offers a host of other professional media services.
Those include crisis management PR, photography for business PR, affordable business video, social media campaigns and strategic content planning and delivery for businesses of all sizes.
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