When Lady Gaga released her newest music video for Stupid Love “shot on iPhone,” the Umault team started thinking about the role of user-generated video in marketing. I personally live by the motto “If it’s good enough for Gaga, then it’s good enough for me,” but that’s probably not true for all brands as well. 

However, user-generated and self-taped content does have a role in the current media landscape, especially in times when shooting a live-action production isn’t an option.

Listen to the episode, read the transcript, or check us out on YouTube to learn:

    • Why the camera — iPhone or film — is only one tool in the filmmaker’s toolkit, and how a professional can adjust to fit the limitations of the tool
    • That every medium sends a message, and what messages you send by using iPhone, webcams or other self-taped options
    • What considerations brands should make when thinking of both short and long-term content strategies in the current climate 
    • What the most important consideration for all content should be (Ok fine I’ll just tell you this one: It’s having a good message that’s worth saying, regardless of what medium you choose to present it.)

Key quotes

Right now most of the music videos and things that are normally higher end production, no one’s shooting it on an iPhone and then not telling people that it’s shot on an iPhone. It’s almost like this little caveat. It covers you just in case it’s not as good as it would have been with more equipment and a nicer camera. If people start doing it and not telling everyone that it’s shot on an iPhone, then I think there’s some credence to okay, maybe it doesn’t really matter.

Tory Merritt

Yeah, now’s not the time to be worried about being perfect, video quality-wise or anything. Now’s the perfect time to just say what you want to say.

Guy Bauer

As a different way to allocate your budgets, it’s looking at spending the time and the money on the strategy and the creative to make sure that you still have a really strong message that’s worth putting out there. It needs to be something that’s worth watching to ask people to be willing to watch you with a mediocre microphone or a webcam.

Hope Morley

Not everything should be user-generated. Not everything should be off the cuff. But for the things that are, social media is not expecting it to be high quality. It can be authentic. Finding those uses in your media mix and in your plans for the year can save you some money, which is a good thing so that you can ship those funds to those larger things, the things that are riskier, things that do require more precision in the messaging and the look and feel.

Tory Merritt

Resources, videos, and other stuff we talked about

Just Lady Gaga, of course

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode transcript

Hope Morley: Hello and welcome to So You Need A Video, the only podcast-

Guy Bauer: That we’re aware of-

Hope Morley: About simplifying your brand’s sales message with video. I’m Hope Morley.

Tory Merritt: I’m Tory Merritt.

Guy Bauer: I’m Guy Bauer.

Hope Morley: As everyone can see, right now we are recording from the comfort of our own homes for this episode. We are not in our usual studio, not using our normal cameras. We’re all using webcams and different microphones and all that kind of fun stuff that we had at home. We’re doing that because we wanted to keep this content coming out and it actually ties directly to our topic for this podcast today. I promise all our listeners that we actually planned this episode weeks ago and then it has actually, out of everything become more relevant in these times that we’re in now. I’m looking at an outline in front of me that the edit for Google says last edit 10 days ago. We did have this episode before. It’s even more relevant, so we wanted to record it and get it out to people.

Hope Morley: Enough teasing. What is our topic? Our topic is why can’t we just record everything on iPhones, in short. And talking about user-generated content. We originally got this idea when, was it last month?, Lady Gaga released her new video and it was all advertised as “shot on iPhone.”

Tory Merritt: Yeah.

Hope Morley: Usually when things like that happen we get more requests from clients asking about shooting on iPhones, so we wanted to talk about some of the pluses and minuses and now in this day and age that we are restricted from doing live in-person production, how we can maybe use self-filming, iPhones, webcams, to continue to make content. To kick us off, let’s start talking about what our typical arguments against self-shooting are.

Tory Merritt: I’m looking at Guy. I’ll let him go.

Guy Bauer: I’m usually the biggest creative snob about it. When Apple says, “Shot on iPhone,” yes, the camera was an iPhone. But what they’re leaving out is that while the camera was an iPhone, if you look at the behind the scenes video it was mounted on a Steadicam and that Steadicam operator is making something like $3,000 a day. Then if you go back even further, there’s still lights on cranes and still plenty of crew. While yes, the end camera is an iPhone, they actually I would bet had to use more crew and had to control the scene more because of the limitations on the camera.

Guy Bauer: Then also if you just zoom back a little bit more they also had to have costumes, makeup. If you look at the Lady Gaga video it’s not like she’s in her living room singing. They have a set design. There’s Chromakey in the background. 

Hope Morley: Shot in a studio.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. Actually I don’t know if they shot in a studio. I think they actually did shoot it on location, but the background was CG’ed with these diamond patterns.

Tory Merritt: Yeah. The thing that came out of it that’s interesting to me is right now most of the music videos and things that are normally higher end production, no one’s shooting it on an iPhone and then not telling people that it’s shot on an iPhone. It’s almost like this little caveat where it’s like, “We did all this, and it was on an iPhone.” It covers you just in case it’s not as good as it would have been with more equipment and a nicer camera. I find that interesting. The trend of that, if people start doing it and not telling everyone that it’s shot on an iPhone, then I think there’s some credence to okay, maybe it doesn’t really matter. But the fact that we have to call it out still, “Oh it was shot on an iPhone,” is like, “Well, just in case it’s not quite what it could have been.”

Hope Morley: Yeah it’s a little asterisk.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, it’s a piece of marketing.

Hope Morley: One thing I would also add is that the person behind the camera makes a really big difference. I think we’ve all seen professional photographers on Instagram or just like even all those Shot on iPhone billboards of these gorgeous photos that you can take with an iPhone. And it’s like I have a great camera on my phone. I’m just not physically capable, I don’t have the eye for those things. I can’t edit my photos that way. So yes, I have an incredibly powerful camera sitting right next to me, but I don’t have the technical skill to use it up to that level. And so people can be, in a way a good person is more expensive than the gear too. You need a good person behind that camera to be able to get that quality.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. The old adage is it’s the archer, not the arrow. Right?

Hope Morley: Yeah.

Guy Bauer: Yeah.

Hope Morley: Exactly.

Guy Bauer: Put the best arrow and the best quill or whatever into a mediocre archer, you’re still not going to hit the target. Yeah. What Apple did was they shot this on an iPhone so they basically said, if I was a carpenter, they’re like, “We want you to build this whole house using only this very small screwdriver.” The carpenter can do it, it’s just going to be a little more challenging. What they did was they took the small screwdriver and mounted it to a power drill and they just used their expertise using other tools to get around the limitation of that not ideal tool. They’re just tools.

Hope Morley: Well that kind of segues into if it is just a tool, when is it an appropriate tool? What are some of the advantages that we can use for iPhone self taping? 

Tory Merritt: The type of house, the type of structure you’re building, to go back to Guy’s example, if you just need to build a temporary shelter for a weekend of hunting or something with that, then maybe it is fine because it’s accomplishing what you need it to accomplish in that moment for that purpose. If you’re trying to build your forever home that needs to last 200 years, then the tools and the supplies that you have may need to be a little heftier.

Guy Bauer: Oh, love that metaphor. Yes.

Tory Merritt: Yeah.

Hope Morley: Let’s think about what specifically in terms of video. When is it appropriate and what does self taping iPhone shots, using webcams like we are right now, what does that lend to a video project?

Tory Merritt: Well first you need to have a selfie light like this one to make sure that your redness is covered.

Guy Bauer: Well I think if we look at where we are in life right now with the crisis and everything going on, if you think about it now’s the perfect time and actually it’s one of the only tools available right now, is to use your webcam and iPhone. If you think about it, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, everybody is doing their late night shows. I watch CNBC, they were all in their home offices. Now the playing field is leveled. Really now is the perfect time to be breaking out the iPhones and webcams. All of my creative snobbery rules have been suspended because, and I always go back to the medium as the message, right? Right now if you were to have some kind of professionally filmed thing you would look very tone deaf.

Tory Merritt: People would be questioning your ability to follow the rules that everybody else is following too.

Guy Bauer: Correct. Right now the fact that now is the perfect time to test out user-generated content because we could still talk to each other, we can still give everyone a shot list and say, “All right, go around your house and film everyone’s morning routine in your kitchen and just use your iPhone,” or your Android if you like technically inferior products. I’m just kidding. It doesn’t matter if the audio quality is bad. It doesn’t matter. Right now what’s killing me is Tory is way too warm. Her white balance I’m not a fan of right now. But it doesn’t matter. Our audio quality hurts me right now but it doesn’t matter. It just shows you it’s the message is more important than how it’s delivered right now.

Hope Morley: Well I would say there’s two things, I want to break that apart a little bit.

Guy Bauer: Yeah.

Hope Morley: There’s the actual message that’s being sent by the medium. The medium right now for us is a recorded webcam and mediocre microphones that came with our phones. The message that that medium can send, regardless of what we’re saying, is this air of authenticity. It’s a little bit more genuine. People know that this is … They know it’s current. There’s a lot of things that you’re getting just by watching us in this format.

Hope Morley: And then there’s also what we’re saying. Assuming that you have good content that you’re putting out there, that also if you want to be getting that message out and you want to be sending a genuine message to people if you’re trying to talk directly to employees, we’re trying to talk directly to clients and people who are fans of our show. Hello Eddie.

Guy Bauer: Hi Mom.

Hope Morley: We can still send that message and reach out to those people even in a time when we can’t be in the studio.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, now’s not the time to be worried about being perfect. Video quality wise or anything. Now’s the perfect time to just say what you want to say. Make sure you put the same effort, so just because the camera rules have been suspended, just like how lighting rules have been suspended, just like Lady Gaga, it just puts pressure on other things. It puts pressure on the actual message you’re saying, why you’re saying it, the strategy behind the message. Not to say that you shouldn’t speak now, but it just puts a little bit more pressure on that. It has to be something good. Again, right now the rules are suspended but they will come back.

Hope Morley: Let’s talk about that. If anyone wants to be making content right now, when the rules come back how do we make evergreen content right now? Or are we just at a risk of everything that’s self taped is going to be stamped as “created during COVID” forever?

Guy Bauer: I’ll let Tory take that one. I think she has stronger opinions than me.

Tory Merritt: Maybe you don’t use filming at all. Animation gives you opportunities to still make something and execute a concept as you were planning to do and a message as you were planning to do without having to give up the level of production that you were looking for.

Tory Merritt: Guy, I’m looking at your face. Do you have something? You want to jump in?

Guy Bauer: No.

Tory Merritt: No? Okay.

Hope Morley: That’s his listening face.

Tory Merritt: Yeah. We talked about I have one too. He always makes it. He’s like, “You have your concentrating face on.” Like we talked about with self filming or virtual shoots, it’s just setting our expectations. I do think you have to set your expectations differently for the situation and that’s okay. I don’t know that it’s always going to be stamped as COVID-19, but if you’re going to film something I think it will always have a little bit of the COVID feel to it. I don’t know that you can get around that right now, so be honest about it. My thoughts would be it’s okay to let people know that, like we are, “Hey, we’re all filming and Tory’s apartment is super warm and there’s nothing we can do about it,” but making sure that you’re putting the effort on the creative and a strategy for this time.

Tory Merritt: Like we talked about, being tone deaf and just marching forward as if nothing’s happening, I don’t know that I would personally recommend doing that. There’s options. Be honest, be authentic. People are open to that right now. Use that opportunity, especially if you don’t normally have access to a lot of production equipment or crews. This is your time if you’ve got great creative and maybe not the budget for big production. Use it. People know what’s going on.

Guy Bauer: Yeah.

Tory Merritt: Do you want evergreen right now, is my question.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, that’s a great-

Tory Merritt: I don’t know that you do.

Guy Bauer: Well because we don’t know what it’s all going to look like when we go back to normal. We don’t even know A, when the new normal is, and then B, what the new normal is. Yeah, I agree with that. You may not want to be making evergreen stuff right now. Yeah, just because we just don’t know how the severity and the length of this whole thing is.

Tory Merritt: It may not age well down the road.

Guy Bauer: Yeah.

Hope Morley: I think almost every business for both your internal and external messaging, we’re all adjusting what our messaging is right now. Whether we’re being quieter than we normally are, or whether you’re just saying things a little differently, you’re dropping off some of your messaging, you’re focusing on other things, so yeah, maybe this is an extraordinary time and maybe it’s not the time to be making big general evergreen content.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. I was talking to someone and they were like, Usually in business we want to have these yearly strategies broken up into quarters. That’s how we work. Or you work backwards from even a five year strategy and then a three year, then a yearly, then broken into quarters. I was talking to someone and they were like, “This is week to week, month to month right now,” and in some cases, depending on the news cycle and what we’re hearing is sometimes it’s day to day. Yeah, I agree with that, Hope. It may actually I think … It’s okay if you’re not thinking so long term right now. If you’re just being honest and saying, “This is what’s happening.” And I think going back to our discussion is these are the perfect tools because, and if you think about it, usually when we edit this podcast it takes us around two to three hours because we use multiple cameras and there’s trickery if we flub and then we cut to another. Right now there’s no editing potential with this form of podcasts because Google is doing the camera switching for us. The editing is literally taking 20 minutes to do these podcasts now.

Guy Bauer: Same thing, the great part about this is that there’s very low post-production. All of these devices have editing on them on board and you can just literally hit a button and send it out to YouTube, Facebook. I think really now more than ever the tools are suspended.

Tory Merritt: I think that’s applicable for the future as well. We’ll see as we come out of the current pandemic, but I think we’re going to see people realizing you don’t need, everything doesn’t need to be high production quality and that’s okay, because that allows you to shift your budget for the things that do need to be. Like I said, when you’re building your forever house, those are the things you do need to be top notch quality because it needs to be able to go on TV or be used on big screens and big production. The resolution and the type of camera that you’re able to the “Ks” that you’re able to capture are all really important based on the uses, but I think it’s okay. This is a good moment in my opinion in this particular realm of thinking. It’s the authenticity. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money all of the time to make things. You can make things on your iPhone. You need to put the thinking into the strategy and the creative all of the time, but you don’t necessarily need to spend on the expensive equipment and tools. Save that for things that do require the specs and the cinematography that come along with higher spend in production and post.

Hope Morley: I was going to say, so as a different way to allocate your budgets, it’s looking at spending the time and the money on the strategy and the creative to make sure that you still have a really strong message that’s worth putting out there because if you’re asking people to watch something that’s traditionally lower quality. Think about the popularity of TikTok right now. It’s all self-taped, user-generated content mostly. Not everyone is centered on their camera, whatever, but you watch it because it’s engaging and they’re doing something entertaining. Same thing goes for your message. It needs to be something that’s worth watching to ask people to be willing to watch you with a mediocre microphone or a webcam.

Tory Merritt: Not everything lends itself to user-generated content and that’s okay too. I think organizations especially now, I think we’re actually seeing some of the chaos when everybody can post their opinion on healthcare but maybe not everybody is a healthcare expert, versus being able to put something out that’s a little bit more produced that is scripted, that does follow the rules of your risk or your legal department. There’s still a place for that and I do think it’s important in your messaging scheme to keep that in mind. Not everything should be user-generated. Not everything should be off the cuff. But for the things that are, social media is not expecting it to be high quality. It can be authentic and finding those uses in your media mix and in your plans for the year where this works and can save you some money is a good thing so that you can ship those funds to those larger things, the things that are riskier, things that do require more precision in the messaging and the look and feel.

Hope Morley: I really think that the sum up of this entire episode is just what are you shooting? Think about what your message is and then you can determine whether, based on what the message is, when it needs to go out, what your strategy is behind it-

Tory Merritt: What gap are you trying to fill?

Hope Morley: Exactly. You can look at whether user-generated content, iPhone shooting, webcam shooting is a good option for you and it very well might be, especially in this current climate. It might still be, as Tory said, it might still be afterwards. Once we can go back to doing live production there might still be a broader place for user-generated content in what we would consider professional communications.

Hope Morley: Thank you everyone for listening to this episode of So You Need A Video. For more information, for links to what we talked about on this show, you can check us out on our website at umault.com. U-M-A-U-L-T.com. Do we have a question for our YouTube listeners to leave us a comment about today?

Guy Bauer: What are you doing to keep sane under shelter in place? Because it’s very hard.

Hope Morley: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It is. For me-

Guy Bauer: We’re safe though. Go ahead. Sorry.

Hope Morley: We’re all safe, but for me it’s getting out to walk the dog every day and trying to do some at home workouts so I feel like I’m moving and not just spending all my time sitting.

Tory Merritt: Eating really just keeps me going.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, I walk the dog in the morning which is nice.

Tory Merritt: I should have gotten a dog before this, clearly.

Hope Morley: All right, thanks everybody for listening. Thanks Guy and Tory.

Tory Merritt: Stay safe. Stay healthy. Thank you.

Guy Bauer: Thank you.

Tory Merritt: Bye.