(This is the second post in a two-part series on soundscapes in animated promo and product videos. Read the first here.)
We’ve discussed how two elements of soundscaping, music and SFX, can be used effectively alongside animation to produce excellent app promos. We deliberately excluded voice from that discussion, as we think it is a topic worthy of its own post.
Voice in film is usually in the form of dialogue between characters (or subjects, in the case of documentaries), and it is always the role of voice to represent and convey certain ideas. In a film or TV show, dialogue might be used to push a plot forward and reveal to us the inner states of the characters. Obviously, this is not necessarily what you are looking for in a good promo or product video. Plot can be used extremely effectively in promotional content (see: every John Lewis advert) but instead of trying to represent abstract ideas, the aim of voice in product videos is to convey information about the product itself, or, at least, represent certain ideas or philosophies behind a product or company, as we’ve discussed. The two types of voice many promos and products use are what I’ll call single-voice narration and conversational narration.
A one-way conversation
Single-voice narration is quite simple, and involves, as the name suggests, a single speaker talking about something directly to the viewer. As you’ll see with many animated promo videos, single-voice narration is not actually used that often – when it is, however, it is often used creatively through techniques such as unreliable narration and metareferencing. Generally speaking, single-voice narration tends to feature more prominently in formal product videos or demonstrations.
One thing you’ll notice about the narration is that it works with the animation: “It’s very thin”, the narrator says, just as the animated phone models rotate to meet the camera and show that they are indeed thin. When discussing the sharpness of the screen, the narrator says “We introduced an advanced process called photo alignment”, accompanied by a visual representation of that technology. It might seem obvious, but single-voice narration should primarily be used to give extensive information about what the viewer is actually seeing on-screen. A product video is used to sell indirectly, but its focus should be to inform and explain the features and history of a product. The visuals and the narration should co-operate with one another to achieve this.
Conversational narration is now an extremely popular form of voice in both digital promotional content and product demos, to the point of saturation. It usually involves documentary interview-style voices talking separately about a products, overlapped to create a sort of conversation between the different speakers. It seems like every other app video or demo now takes the form of a conversation about the product, and when you see something like the Introducing Jelly video, you might feel like you’ve seen it a thousand times before. There’s good reason this technique is so popular, however, and if it’s done well, your video will still manage to stand out from the crowd. One way of doing this is by inverting the conventions of conversational narration.
A good example of this is the Day One Journal promo. At first glance, it is a hugely generic promo video: there is clean, minimalist text; happy, rhythmic percussion-based music; and speakers speaking, presumably about the product. As it is quickly revealed to us, though, each speaker is telling us a funny or unusual anecdote about something they witnessed or experienced. The voices overlap more and more in a disjointed and confusing way. Through the accompanying animation, though, we come to realise that the narrators are not discussing the product, but rather, they are physical representations of the input data for the app – a journal / notebook style app. Whereas single-voice narration uses animation to support the aural information, here conversational narration is used to support the animation, and to great effect.
It’s therefore worth thinking about the conventions of narration when planning a product video or promo. Think about what works, what doesn’t, and most importantly, how you can play with those conventions to make your video stand out as unique.