Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The upside down rhino rule of great video storytelling

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on January 9, 2012

What does it take to make a story stick? To make the audience care enough to click “share”?

It’s not uncommon for clients to ask video producers or their PR agencies to “do them a viral”. But to even try to predict such a thing is to misunderstand its very nature.

Speaking of  ‘sharing’ things around, nearly 200,000 people have shared this short film about WWF’s work transporting rhinos around South Africa. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth a look, and of course it’s in the video .fu library of extraordinary video storytelling.

© Green Renaissance/WWF

You might think the way it is shot is impressive (it is), marvel at the high quality lenses used, or the style of editing. But there’s one thing this video has, that no other does, and it’s the reason it has gone viral: an upside-down rhino, flying in the air.

The ‘upside-down rhino rule’ of video storytelling

In all my days I never thought I’d ever see a rhino being suspended, upside-down, beneath a helicopter. But there you have it, right there before your very eyes.

And this is what video is for.

Video is there to take us places we’ve never been, show us things we never thought we’d get to see. It gives us access to people we’ll never get to speak to, close-ups of things our own eyes can’t see, it lets people share ideas we would never normally hear, and see what it’s like to be someone living in poverty on the opposite side of the world.

It is not there for long interviews with CEOs, or coverage of conferences, or – dare I say it – vox pops.

Tell that to all the newspapers, charities, businesses and the like jumping into the video game to churn out more of just this kind of stuff, and then wondering why no-one watches it.

The upside-down-rhino, though, means different things to different people. To a small community, seeing a politician apologise for embezzling their tax dollar, as opposed to reading about it, has the rhino-factor. So does a video tutorial in using HTML to people who need to see it to understand it.

The next time you commission, or start to make a video, ask yourself this: for your audience, will it have the equivalent of a frickkin’ upside-down rhino being suspended from a helicopter?

No? Then put the camera down and go find a story that does.


10 Responses

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  1. catinwater said, on January 11, 2012 at 5:22 am

    I used to work for a place that would want us to film visiting talks last minute. I’d often think, “Why?” Thank you for this post. I feel in some way vindicated for my subversive mentality, and hope lots of organizations take your advice. It will certainly come in handy as my colleague and I edit our film about fishing cats.

    I look forward to more lessons.

  2. Sylvie Matton said, on January 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    In Fellini’s film “La Nave va”, there is also a Rhino transported upside down in the ship – and this has always raised a question to me : is it really the best way to transport a rhino, isn’t it cruel for no reasons ? Isn’t it painfull (blood in the head) for the animal ? In this film one states that it is the best way to transport a rhinoceros. Could someone give some clues about that question ?
    Thanks a lot.

  3. […] it having a rhino suspended upside down from a helicopter? Nope, it’s not even […]

  4. Maria said, on January 31, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Completely agree with this. I have been guilty of not following the upside-down rhino rule myself in the past, but will definitely keep this in mind when making packages in the future. Love your blog, keep up the good work. See my site:

  5. […] it possibly sounds like lazy video to you. We can’t all have flying rhinos. But sometimes it’s not about creating a polished piece, it’s about something being […]

  6. Electrician Tucson said, on March 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    I think viral videos basically all need to target entertainment approaches such as humor. Most videos that go viral are either something really funny or amazing.

  7. hoke46airsoft said, on March 29, 2012 at 4:25 am

    thank you

  8. […] your video have an upside down flying rhino in it? If not, it probably doesn’t warrant being longer than two […]

  9. […] Great stories: there are millions of them! It’s easy to forget sometimes, but the world is full of amazing stories happening right now, every second. Burns gives two examples from US history – and you’ll notice both stories have a ‘wow’ factor: they both make you go “shit, no way“. We need to pursue these stories more often – remember the flying rhino! […]

  10. Tracee said, on July 12, 2013 at 12:14 am

    But nothing on the net to talk about something new : to promote
    a product, and I named this the ‘Elephant Man With A Fungal Infection Stage’.
    Who Should Not Receive the thrush signs Vaccine? We listened to the doctor’s clinic immediately as they can infect other areas such as the armpits. Pneumonia is a potentially serious complication of thrush signs.

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