Why Sizzle Reels Suck

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As agency search consultants we’re often asked whether sizzle reels are a good idea to include in new business pitches and whether they’re helpful in showcasing their work. 

So if you’re an agency contemplating making and / or showing a sizzle reel as part of your next new business pitch – listen-up.  Spoiler alert is clearly in the title but hey, this needs to be said…

Agency sizzle reels are typically short videos that combine snippets from various ads – whether TV, video, print or digital – that an agency has recently produced, with a view to grabbing a prospect’s attention.  In reality, a kaleidoscope of content that will have viewers questioning their very own reality: Kids savouring ice cream – cars racing round corners – cows jumping over dishwashers – clowns racing through  malls with balloons – shimmering turquoise waters lapping against sandy beaches – money pouring out of ATMs –  rounded off by lasers dazzling audiences at some sort of mega event.

In other words, an excruciating couple of minutes watching a disjointed collection of flash-cuts, typically accompanied by some head-banging soundtrack – loud, colorful, and guaranteed to hypnotize by showcasing the best angles, while hiding the questionable baggage of calls-to-action in a dimly lit basement. 

Chances are they demonstrate absolutely nothing.

So why does anyone at an agency think a sizzle reel is a remotely good idea when agencies would be much better off using their time to showcase well prepared case studies that could demonstrate their thinking, creativity and how their work delivers for clients?

Seriously, people.  Here’s why sizzle reels don’t cut it:

  • There’s no story.  And because agencies are essentially story-tellers – this is a huge miss.  Every new business discussion (even if it’s not a pitch) should be about the agency telling a compelling story about what they’ve done – or better yet – telling a compelling story for what they can do for their potential client.  And sizzle reels don’t tell stories – they’re a collection of jumbled messages.
  • There’s no context.  There’s not an agency out there that doesn’t like to tee-up a concept or piece of creative before sharing it with their clients. That’s because creative typically requires context so it’s not just some random message out of left field.  And sizzle reels are about as contextless and left field as you can get.
  • There’s no strategy.  Most agencies we know pride themselves in their thinking and their ability to demonstrate meaningful insights as a means to developing powerful creative. Sizzle reels by their very nature can’t explain any of the strategy or insights which therefore diminishes the resulting messages, and all but eradicates the thought process that went into what was shown.
  • Creativity is diminished. Because there’s no upfront context or strategy, creative has to work that much harder to be showcased and understood. And the reality is the creative itself has to be chopped up into little pieces and edited next to another chopped up little snippet from another product, service or brand that bears no relation to the one preceding or following.

Sizzle reels are the disco balls of the advertising world. All shiny and spinning – like client meetings on fast-forward, packed with stock footage, buzzwords, and enough jump cuts to give an epileptic squirrel a seizure.

Believe me. Every moment of a new business discussion is precious.  Use them wisely and tell whatever story you want to tell in the most compelling ways possible.  Please don’t throw random parts of a story into an indecipherable collage where thoughtful strategy and tangible results don’t matter, in the vague hope your prospects will make unimaginable connections about the effectiveness of your agency.  Because they won’t.

Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent


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