When we start to make a video for a product or service these days, the same question comes up nearly every time. Five years ago it sometimes came up, but now it nearly always does:
“Should we use a voiceover, or should we just have animated text with music?”
The reason this is a regular question now is clear: over the last five years video on mobile has become more viewable because data connections have become faster.
The effect of this is that more people see video on their phone. And when people see video on their phone, perhaps around 92% of the time they have the sound off. When a narrated video loses its soundtrack the narration is lost, but animated text can be read even without sound.
Does that mean that if you make a video with a voiceover – and people see it on mobile with the sound off – that your message is lost without hope? Not at all. You can add captions to a narrated video, so that viewers can read what the narrator is saying, even if they can’t hear the voiceover. Take this video we made for LendLedger, for example (turn the subtitles on by pressing CC on the playbar):
While captions like these can be turned on or off by the viewer, mobile audiences often lack the inclination or technical facility to take advantage of this option.
TIP: If you have a video that is narrated, and a separate mobile version of your page, it’s probably a good idea to create a video with burnt-in subtitles for the mobile version of your page. That way, subtitles will appear for the mobile viewer automatically, without their having to opt-in.
However, you can see the downsides of the narration-with-captions approach when you compare it to a video with animated text, like this one which we produced for Slice:
This video is made to be read. The text is larger and easier to read than captions and part of the appeal of the video itself. The text is animated, designed, and timed so that our eye easily alternates between reading the text and viewing the actions of the characters. Additionally, this video can still play very successfully on a desktop.
Why isn’t animated text always the winner, then? There are a number of considerations that could make voice over narration a more effective choice.
Below are the key aspects to consider when deciding between narration and text:
Density of Information
When you make a narrated video, you’re utilizing two channels to convey information: audio and visual. Narration is sometimes necessary to cut through dense information and communicate in the pithy way today’s viewers demand.
Why do two channels provide more information? Aren’t they working together?
Yes, but that doesn’t mean they are redundant (although sometimes they might be for the sake of emphasis or variety.) Usually, the information on each channel complements the other. For instance, in the LendLedger video, the visual channel is not only providing the narrative of the shop owner (our protagonist), it’s also providing textual examples (not mentioned in the voiceover) of the kind of digital records LendLedger draws upon to provide credit. This allows critical information to be absorbed more quickly and easily.
Video Use Case
Mobile isn’t the only place where picture has an advantage over audio. If you have plans to use your video on a trade show floor, for example, chances are that it will be quite noisy and nobody will be able to hear your video or its beautifully wrought narration. Some trade shows restrict or even ban the use of audio on the exhibition floor.
Another place where animated text might be preferable is Facebook. Video ads on your timeline will usually start playing without sound as you scroll by them. If your Facebook doesn’t get clicked (and that probably happens around 99% of the time) visitors will still be able to see and read your animated text. That’s an important advantage for your awareness or brand-building efforts.
On the other hand, B2B decisions are usually still made at desks, whether that be company offices or home offices in these days of social distancing. That means key views will probably be on desktops.
Pictures can spark emotions too, but nothing makes a beeline for our heart quicker than a strong piece of music. If you are going for the heartstrings, it might be best to get the voiceover out of the way and let the music do its thing.
There are many examples of this, but here’s a classic, produced at Curious Pictures eight years ago now:
Sometimes voiceover is an integral part of the storytelling. Voiceover doesn’t always have to be a God-like commentary on the action; it can also be a single character’s perspective on the story. Using narration this way can add human texture and personality to a video in a way that animated text cannot match. Here’s a broadcast spot we made for Dare Breton gluten-free crackers that includes a first-person narration.
Recently we were asked about making a video for an app that is used mainly for outdoor concerts. Our immediate recommendation was to ditch the voice-over and go for just text and music. Why? Because this is a product for people that love music, so you need to highlight the music by getting the voiceover out of its way. This is probably not a lonely case – there are some brands (usually youth or lifestyle brands) that need music before you can feel their pulse.
Mobile or Desktop?
This brings us right back to where we started. Perhaps the most important consideration of all is: will your video be seen mainly on Mobile or mainly on Desktop? There’s no reason to make suppositions here – consult your analytics and find out what devices your pages are most frequently viewed on.
But don’t let a single dimension prescribe your decision. There might be some desktop uses where sound is useless: a product for bond salesmen is probably going to be seen on a noisy trading floor where audio might not be easily heard. (Bond people are rarely off the floor during work hours.) On the other hand, even if a product for a retired audience or a work-at-home audience is seen mainly on mobile, it’s much more likely that people will turn the audio up on their phone in the privacy of their home than on the train ride home, or in a café.
Choosing whether to use voiceover or animated text with music is a complicated decision. If you need a sounding board to bounce your thoughts off, we are just a phone call away!