4 Storytelling Lessons Learned from Reality TV

November 16, 2018

Lisa Marinelli

Creative


Whether you think they’re pure garbage or like to indulge in them on a weekly basis, there’s something to be learned from the reality TV phenomenon. Once you’re in, you’re hooked like a moth to the flame — but why is that so? Aside from luxurious trips around the world and weird 24/7 social experiments, there are some useful storytelling elements mixed into the madness that help make this genre inexplicably enthralling.

So, what is it that makes viewers come back for more week after week? In this post, we analyze what makes reality TV so compelling, and give you tips for incorporating those tactics into your own video marketing!

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Create characters to establish connections

If you ever find yourself getting wrapped up in a reality TV show, this question will probably pop into your head at some point: “Why do I care so much about a bunch of strangers?”

Reality TV does a funny thing. It creates characters out of real people, captures their idiosyncrasies, and makes us feel as if we know them in our daily lives.

“It creates characters out of real people, captures their idiosyncrasies, and makes us feel as if we know them in our daily lives.”

This concept tickles our brain. What if we used character establishment in our own video marketing like reality TV, but on a smaller scale? This could be a game changer for marketers who are looking for new ways of keeping viewers engaged. In recruitment videos, email signatures, customer support responses, and more, putting a face to the name instantly makes things more personal. Over time, friendly faces become familiar faces.

Get creative and find ways to feature your team’s authentic selves. Unlike reality TV, you don’t want anyone to be perceived as a villain. But you do want to give people reasons to care. Additionally, showing off a sense of humor here and there doesn’t hurt!

One company that does this super well is BambooHR — they love to play up their team members’ goofy personalities with video. By showing the world who their employees are in a character-like fashion, you’re left feeling intrigued to know more about what it’s like to work at there. And on the plus side, if you’re a client, BambooHR comes off as a charming company to do business with (which, side-note: they are!). Check out another example of this character-driven motif below:

Don’t be afraid of vulnerability

We appreciate and become connected with characters who make us feel something. Scenes allowing reality stars to express vulnerability enhance their relatability. Why do we care about the life story of a random person auditioning for American Idol only to watch their dreams get crushed minutes later? Why do we want to hear from the family of a chef competing on Chopped? When someone’s story resonates with us, we root for them. Through vulnerable scenes, we understand people’s motives and actions. Their self-awareness does not go unnoticed, and we peel back another layer of who they are.

“Through vulnerable scenes, we understand people’s motives and actions. Their self-awareness does not go unnoticed, and we peel back another layer of who they are.”

Your video marketing strategy probably doesn’t need to include a line-item for a crying sequence, but being transparent in your storytelling will transcend your brand. At Wistia, we recently published a post about why we took on $17M in debt. We weren’t hoping to inspire any old person to start swimming in a sea of debt, but we did want to share our rationale behind the somewhat controversial decision by laying our cards on the table. As a result, we received an outpouring of appreciation and encouragement for Wistia as a business:

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Feed curiosity with interesting storylines

What would reality TV be without all the drama? Boring! We’re not saying you should film anyone flinging glasses at a dinner party, but there’s something to be learned from even the pettiest arguments on screen.

Great stories don’t exist without some sort of conflict. Any obstacles, changes, and problems arising in storylines keep things interesting and engaging for viewers. People become invested and curious to know what happens next.

How can you weave interesting storylines into the videos you create? We’ve recently found that creating long-form content works well for big-picture storytelling. If not a series, dig deep and don’t be afraid to share conflicts your business has faced or show how your products help your customers overcome those problems. Strive to solve common problems with your content, provide value, and give folks a reason to come back for more. It’s likely someone will be interested and stick around to follow your journey to resolution!

Classy, an online fundraising platform for non-profits, created a video showcasing their new suite of tools that keeps viewers engaged from beginning to end. In the context of a world issue, Classy shows how their crowdfunding product can help people make an impact solving problems bigger than themselves. Take a look:

Experiment with escape and entertainment

Let’s be real — who actually watches The Real Housewives or Big Brother with an intent to learn? The truth is, we tune in to escape. There’s no harm in a little guilty pleasure entertainment!

Think about escape and entertainment as it pertains to your audience — not every video you make needs to be suited up and serious. There is a time and place for educational videos, but leaving some room for videos rooted in amusement isn’t a bad move. Sometimes getting people’s attention is as simple as a performing silly dance … 

“Think about escape and entertainment as it pertains to your audience — not every video you make needs to be suited up and serious.”

Videos made for social media are also perfect opportunities for you to experiment and work under creative restraints like watching with no sound and having only a short amount of time to engage your viewers. To stand out on a social feed, be engaging, fun, and light-hearted. Check out this eye-catcher that we made here at Wistia last year:

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

Love it or hate it, there are many reasons why audiences are captivated by reality TV. From interesting characters to captivating storylines, there’s a lot more creative storytelling that goes on behind the scenes than you might think. Expensive Ferraris and million-dollar cash prizes aside, now that you’ve opened your eyes to all of the key storytelling components that exist in reality TV shows, you can start incorporating these elements into your own video marketing today! Get rollin'.

November 16, 2018

Lisa Marinelli

Creative

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