James McQuivey published a Forrester Research report in 2008 called ‘How video will take over the world, claiming that “a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words.”

If marketing professionals needed justification to increase video production budgets … this was it.

The claim (written, you’ll notice) is compelling. If true, why would any business bother communicating with the written word? Surely, as The Buggles predicted in 1980 that, ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, McQuivey had predicted in 2008 that video will kill copy. (And, by association, my career.)

The written word persists. Why?

1.8 million words

Firstly, let’s consider the 1.8 million word claim. William Shakespeare wrote 884,647 words. Can a minute of video convey more than double the amount of information in all of Shakespeare’s works? I very much doubt that.

It seems the 1.8 million figure comes from the early 20th Century expression, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” This expression was coined by journalists and made popular by advertisers and is, in the politest possible way, bollocks. Yet McQuivey’s claim is based on this expression. If one minute of video is made from 60 seconds of footage filmed at 30 frames per second, then a minute of video is worth 60 x 30 x 1,000 = 1.8 million words. It’s not exactly scientific.

The rise of video content

A more robust argument for the power of video is provided by internet and social media in particular. By 2020, it is predicted, video will account for 75% of all mobile data. Facebook has placed video at the heart of its content strategy. Google now includes video in image search results. The message seems clear – the only content people are truly interested in is video content.

Marketers saw this coming. A 2013 Nielsen study claimed 64% of them expected video to dominate their strategies in the near future. So, with technological improvements making video easier to share and consume – the question isn’t why should you focus all your marketing efforts on video content, it’s why shouldn’t you?

The answer is simple. It’s the ‘Charlie bit my finger’ factor. Over the ten years since it appeared, this once ‘Most viewed YouTube video’ has clocked up over 850 million views. A lot of people want to see it.

The same will probably not apply to your £5,000 employee corporate social responsibility video. Not even if you put some phat beats on it. And a £20,000 professional services video starring an ex-soap star might not do much better.

Marketing budgets

The problem with marketing of any sort is you can’t guarantee success. As notable American John Wanamaker put it, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

So, if you can’t guarantee success, how do you decide where to put your budget? That, of course, comes down to instinct and preference. There will always be data. But since 73.6% of statistics are made up on the spot, we can all find the figures to justify our strategies.

Instinct and preference remain as influential and potentially rewarding as ever. These two attributes are often the difference between great success and mediocrity or failure. Both are influenced by argument. And the written word remains the most efficient way of presenting an argument to a large audience.

It’s also much easier to control a written article. It can be passed backwards and forwards almost indefinitely at very little cost. Video is expensive to produce and the outcome is less predictable. Reshooting is often so prohibitive that you make the best of what you’ve got in an edit suite. And editing itself isn’t cheap.

Benefits of the written word

Written content is also great for keywords and search. Although search engines promote video content, they’re not great at indexing or tagging the content within. The written word continues to be the bread and butter of online search.

There are many other reasons why written content has not been killed off by video. (Radio, you’ll also notice, hasn’t been killed off by video.) Written content is a brilliant way to communicate with mass audiences. It’s been doing that for over 7,000 years. Consumers might like the distraction of watching a baby bite his brother’s finger, or listening to Chewbacca Mom, but they still want to read about your products. They want to know their features. They want to know what other people think of them. And they want to know what you think.

Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am”. It’s a fundamental element of Western philosophy. He wrote it in French to reach a larger audience than he would have with Latin. I wager that even if Descartes had a video camera – he’d have shared this idea by writing it down.


Image credit:

By Petar Milošević (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Emily Henley

Emily Henley is a writer and marketer based in Bristol. A Cambridge University Linguistics graduate, she's Content Editor for Future Content, runs Bristol Bites, an online guide to Bristol's food and drink scene and takes on various freelance writing and marketing projects.

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