Short Ideas Blog Post 6 on video genres

Defining Video Genres — Commercial (Part 1)

Video Genres

Just as there are endless styles of feature film or television series, there are a great many different types of video that you can encounter out in the world. Not to be confused with the format, the medium or the distribution method, the genre reflects the overall purpose and context of the video. Is it a traditional commercial? Or catwalk footage for in–store display in a major department store? Let’s sort out the many video genres into one useful system.

Genre Categories

Once you know your primary objective and audience, you should be able to pick an appropriate video genre to communicate the message to your audience.

1. Commercial
2. Promo
3. Public Service Announcement
4. Event
5. Training
6. Branded Content
7. Brand Film
8. Internal Communications
9. Review
10. Factual
11. Music Videos

As we discussed briefly in a previous post, each of these video genres has a few objectives to which it is particularly well suited, whether by structure or tradition, and you can use this to your advantage. Your audience will have preconceptions about the form that will activate subconsciously once they recognise it.

You may know different names for certain categories, but this list covers each of the main types of video that you will encounter. This taxonomy is a complex endeavour but worthwhile, as forming a discussion about the characteristics of videos helps clarify the form and the options available to us as creators. At first you may argue that a type of video has been omitted, but the system accommodates many variations: within each of these categories are various sub–categories; some videos belong in one but borrow properties of another; or you may identify a distinction that is a quality of the format, medium or distribution rather than the genre.


Sometimes, a video can appear to fall into one category but something doesn’t fit. Under closer examination we identify that it really belongs in another one and is just borrowing stylistic characteristics for effect. It plays according to convention, making the viewer feel comfortable and employing a creative shorthand for needed expediency, or goes against it, enhancing the emotive value of the work. Once the audience realises what is happening, the effect will be more impactful than it would have been if the video had stuck to the convention of just one genre.

This genre subversion is used wonderfully in Dare’s “Camp Okutta” campaign for War Child, which looks like a commercial but is clearly running against the traditional objective of trying to sell something. It uses the objective of a PSA to bring attention to a social issue but not it’s form, so it is in fact masquerading as a commercial to impactful effect.

We will discuss each of these video genres, and of course subverting and stretching genres, in depth in subsequent posts. First up, Commercial!


The classic TV commercial is a product or service advertisement distributed over television broadcast, and the form remains intact despite the proliferation of distribution methods. Online videos don’t need to be 30 seconds exactly, but it is a comfortable format and often clients like to reserve the possibility of putting the video on a traditional broadcast at a later date, so you may find yourself working in this style with the regular constraints. Or it could be distributed without audio on public transit, where the technical requirements, duration and sound options are different but the style remains consistent — you are focused on selling the product in a memorable and favourable way.

Let’s look at a few:

Old Spice

Some quite glossy and compelling stuff here. “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” by Craig Allen and Eric Kallman of Wieden+Kennedy depicts a model of speaking to your audience. Based on the insight that women often buy deodorant for their partners, the ad targets them specifically and makes a very engaging, playful, humorously aspirational bid to capture their attention. The thought progression is classic. Observe the current state, introduce the product, explore the result of the product, conclude that the product has improved the current state. Their follow–up series with Terry Crews was a counterpart response, addressing the young male demographic. These two series are an amazing study of how the same product with a different audience can result in treatments that are tonally quite different yet still compatible enough to co–exist, as we see in the ads featuring both characters together.

Google Search: Reunion

The movement of commercials to the online sphere has released them from 30–second constraints, which can either be a wonderful freedom for innovative storytelling or a painful trap of editing hubris. “Google Search: Reunion”, written by Sukesh Kumar Nayak at Ogilvy & Mather India, is a compelling story that features the product used in a very natural, organic fashion. The story remains the heart of the video, and the product is depicted in a benefit–driven context. This is clearly a commercial for Google’s services rather than a brand film or branded content, as it’s story revolves around the product benefit (the hallmark of the commercial), but it effortlessly masquerades as these adjacent genres. This longer–format commercial is an excellent example of the resiliency of existing video genres as they have adapted to technological and societal changes — the form remains entirely intact and well executed, with changes to its characteristics that do not contradict the form or structure.

This ends part one of our first two–part post. We will continue this discussion of the commercial video genre next time.







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