7 Expert Tips For Creating a Promo Video

The appetite for online video content is growing. In one study, 83% of respondents said they prefer to access informational or instructional content via video rather than text or audio. With surging demand comes increased opportunities for creatives to serve clients with video production needs.

In my more than 25 years as a visual and motion designer, I’ve made promotional videos for numerous industries and big brands, including AT&T, Intel, Microsoft, and Verizon. During that time, I’ve learned how to weave technical, conceptual, and creative elements into cohesive and compelling messages that differentiate my clients from their competitors. Here, I share three formats you can use for almost any promo video project—along with my top tips for creating a promo video that connects with viewers and attracts high-profile clients.

A promo video showcases a product or service to inspire viewers to take action. These videos are direct, with short bursts of easily understood information. While there is no perfect length, a general guideline is to keep these videos under 120 seconds because viewers’ attention spans are limited. The challenge for creatives is to squeeze our ideas, graphics, audio, and animation into this limited time.

One type of promo, a product demo video, demonstrates how a product or service works by focusing on specific features. One example is a demo I recently created for the Stanhope AI marketing campaign. In this video, I attempted to convey a sense of the company’s mission: to build the next evolution of AI technology for military and commercial environments.

Another type of promo, an explainer video, focuses on describing a company’s product or service and can be useful for showcasing a complicated technology and delivering short narratives. For most explainer videos, I use the following process:

  1. Visually present the problem.
  2. Offer a solution to that problem.
  3. Present various outcomes as a result of the solution.

I used this format when I created an explainer video with motion graphics and character animations as part of a branding package for the digital health company Prescryptive Health.

Demo reels, or teaser promo videos, are collections or series of your best videos and are an essential component of your portfolio. The challenge in putting together a demo reel is cutting longer projects into short video clips of just a few seconds. Demo reels are a great opportunity to implement a less-is-more approach to creating promo videos.

Promo videos encompass many elements, including color, tone or value, lighting, shapes, space, texture, typography, timing, and sound. Creating a compelling one involves combining these elements effectively to enhance the intended message. The following tips will help you do just that.

1. Limit your project’s color palette. To paraphrase American design legend Ivan Chermayeff, using too much color is as bad as using no color. Leveraging color well can be especially challenging if your content focuses on complex topics, such as scientific information. In such cases, I often employ a limited palette.

For instance, when I created an explainer video for SandboxAQ, the subject matter—cryptology—was complicated. I knew that an elaborate color palette could distract viewers and make them less likely to follow the narrative. My strategy was to focus closely on the messaging instead of lavishly colored animations. To limit the number of colors introduced, I focused on the brand’s primary colors—orange and black. I also used simple iconography to keep viewers’ attention on the topic.

SandboxAQ hired Toptal designer Danny Rubyono to produce a explainer video for its Quantum Threat to Cryptography online course.

2. Focus on realistic effects. Designers have an array of powerful tools, such as Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D, which enable us to apply amazing effects to videos. The challenge is picking the appropriate effects for the job.

Stanhope AI’s mission is to build the next level of AI technology that can be used in military or commercial settings.

I aim to choose effects that reflect what we experience in everyday life. Here’s an example: About five seconds into the Stanhope AI video, you’ll see a black, square-shaped computer chip with the letters “AI” printed on it. The chip splits into two parts, revealing spider-web-like strands that are highlighted with tiny droplets of light—reminiscent of spider silk with dew on it, something we have all seen in real life. To give this animation a more organic quality, I used a visual effect known to professional photographers: a shallow depth of field effect, which blurred most of the strands and droplets. Such blurring helps the eye focus on the most important visual elements in the frame, in this case the strands. I find this technique works well with product renderings.

Drawing inspiration from the real world doesn’t only apply to visual effects: It also works for audio and sound. For instance, about 25 seconds into the Stanhope AI video, you hear parts of the drone joining together, using various clicking sounds. This is a subtle use of sound design that reinforces the believability of the animation. The clicking sound accompanies the clip of the drone and accurately reflects how a drone being assembled would sound. When video animation is supported by good sound design and audio, it makes the project much more credible.

3. Produce unique textures. Much like color, materials and textures can evoke certain emotions. Whether you choose a metallic material with high specularity for a glossy look or a matte finish for a softer feel, the key is to align your design with the brand’s tone and language.

Computer-generated textures and materials can often appear cold or plastic. But adding noise or grain to materials and textures creates a subtle imperfection that mimics how our eyes interpret light in the real world. You can see this treatment in the product demo video for my ModBand project. Here, the products have a rubbery, graphite appearance which suggests to viewers that the band is soft and comfortable.

In this video for ModBand, Rubyono added a subtle noise effect to make the band appear soft and comfortable.

4. Experiment with typography. Often, the most logical choice of font for video text is a sans-serif typeface, which is easy to read. But, for many projects I work on, I try to pair the typography with the video’s tone.

Consider my Conscious Planet project, which involves several complex layers of animation, including clouds and a birds-eye view of a landscape. In the animation, you zoom through the clouds down to the level of the trees (which includes a view of the underground root system). There’s also an additional layer for an animation of a gridlike pattern, which represents the NFT digital component. With so much going on visually, using a sans-serif typeface was essential to make the messaging readable.

The Conscious Planet intro landing page that Rubyono’s company, Duro Compagnie, designed for Artema Labs.

5. Use timing and tone to connect viewers to your video’s messaging. The timing or pace of a video can make or break a project. For instance, consider how long a subject is on screen. The amount of time a particular subject appears in a video allows you to emphasize or diminish its importance. And when it comes to individual animations, the actual timing of each animation is crucial because it provides an overall rhythm that supports the project’s intended messaging.

In my Prescryptive Health explainer video, I divided the project in two. The first half of the video visually presents the “problem”: that consumers lack choice regarding prescription medications. The second half focuses on how Prescryptive Health provides consumers with more options for prescription medications. I used two key elements—timing and tone—to enhance the composition’s emotional impact.

In the first half, the movements of individual animations are slower. For instance, the woman (who appears 25 seconds into the video) walks slowly and looks down at the ground. I added various dark gray subjects to enhance this gloomy atmosphere, including a cloud above the woman, shadows, dollar symbols, and a large, ominous figure.

When it was time to reveal the solution (just after 00:50), I subtly changed the timing and tone of some of the animations. For instance, the video rapidly zooms past employees. Additionally, I replaced the dark gray with white, transitioning to a bright and upbeat setting. It’s not a dramatic change, but it helps the viewer emotionally connect with the message we wanted to convey.

PointB, a consultancy agency in Portland, Oregon, hired Duro to produce a branding package for Prescryptive Health. The deliverables included this brand anthem video.

6. Find a structure and composition that amplify your message. An example of this is my 2022 demo reel, which combines many elements I’ve been talking about, including timing, animation, texture, typography, composition, and structure.

The key part of this demo reel is its structure, which is divided into three parts: The middle is a portfolio of my most important projects. The beginning and end are a video wrapper of my brand, Duro, composed of several 3D animation segments. At the start, I generate some intrigue and suspense by showing clips that form one or two of the brand name’s letters (“D” or “U”). The mystery is solved at the end of the video with 3D animations that reveal the brand’s full name.

The author’s 2022 demo reel, featuring his brand, Duro.

7. Test your video. How do you know if your promo video is high caliber? The best way to test the quality of your video is by hitting the “pause” button so that your screen displays a single frame. A well-crafted video will reflect the integrity of your overall project at any given point. I suggest doing this at several points within the video as it plays for the best results. As you’re looking at these frames, ask yourself:

  • Does this frame help provide a clear and concise message that customers can relate to?
  • Does the creative approach resonate with the brand language?

Then, replay the full video and ask yourself:

  • Can this video be easily reformatted to fit different mediums, such as a landing page and social media platforms?
  • Does the video include a call to action that will help drive conversion rates?

If your work meets these requirements, you’re on the right track.

Promotional videos are a unique blend of formal design elements, storytelling, and marketing concepts that encourage viewers to take action. These videos generate sales for the products or services they promote and improve brand awareness.

Successful promo videos are concise: They don’t burden viewers with detailed purchasing information. They also present viewers with an outcome they can connect with personally. Viewers have needs, and the most convincing videos show how those needs are met. Use these tips on your next project to create a promo video that will send your client’s brand soaring.

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