When it comes to casting for your marketing videos, you might feel somewhat limited. Maybe this is your first time creating a video for your company and you don’t know what you’re doing. Maybe you’ve always used your team members in your company videos and never had an issue with it before. Or maybe you’ve hired directors who always provide the cast for you, and have either been disappointed with the results or found yourself restrained by the selection of actors available.
Casting for marketing videos, just like casting for big Hollywood movies, often has more to do with look and feel than ability. For most marketing videos you are going to create, you don’t need an actor who can crush Shakespeare. Instead, you want a natural seeming person who comes off as a “real” customer for your product or service. Even if you’re looking to hire a company spokesman, you’re primarily looking for someone with a charismatic energy who speaks with a natural, soothing rhythm – someone who makes audiences feel at ease, while at the same time getting them pumped for whatever it is your brand is trying to sell.
Today we’re going to review the fundamentals of casting, including where you should look to cast for your videos, the best approach to the process, and a few do’s and don’ts – including some cases where casting has gone very wrong.
But First, How Does Casting Work?
Casting is the process of reaching out to actors and soliciting auditions for a role. To start, you create a breakdown of a particular role that explains what the role is and what the character looks like, then post or share it somewhere that actors can access it.
If they (or their agents) think the role a good fit for them based on your breakdown, they will submit their headshots or demo reel. A demo reel is footage of that actor acting in other things to show what they can do and what they are like. Most professional commercial actors have a reel of their work on previous projects.
Once you have all the headshots and demo reels of the actors who are submitting to audition, you choose the ones you would like to call in and have them audition for you. These auditions can take place either through a self tape of them reading a few lines from your ad, or in-person where they come in, introduce themselves, and perform the role for you live. Because most roles in the commercial world are relatively undemanding, and since their acting will be on camera anyway, self tapes are usually fine.
There’s another way you can cast for your video known as open casting, or holding open casting calls. For an open call, you post the breakdown online and schedule a day at a casting studio where any actor can come in and audition in front of you. You won’t know who is coming until they show up, and that’s when they’ll give you their headshots in person – usually with an accompanying link to an online demo reel.
There are different websites that help you find and cast talented actors online, so make good use of them! If you would prefer to have some help, hire a casting director or producer with casting experience to guide you towards the right talent.
What Should You Look for When You Cast Your Video?
The key aspect in an actor you should look for during the casting process is whether or not that person is a customer avatar. Each role you create in your video is like a stand-in for an actual customer experiencing an actual use-case for your product or service. By contrast, if you’re creating a testimonial video, you would actually film a real customer sharing their experiences with your product or service.
When you write and cast a role, you should always keep in mind traits in your target demographic that you are looking to mirror. For example, if you are creating a product for moms, you should try to cast actors who look like the different types of moms that you are trying to reach. Most importantly, you don’t want to cast five moms that all look the same. Diversity is important to represent your target demographic accurately. This includes age, race, gender-identity and sexual orientation. If you are trying to appeal to all moms, you will want new moms, working moms, older moms, married moms, single moms, and moms of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
To truly capture a market, you should consider all aspects of it. Representation matters, and if a customer of a certain demographic can visualize themselves using your product, it will be that much easier to convince them to buy it. The more demographics that your product or service appeals to, the better.
What’s the Best Way to Approach the Process?
As mentioned above, casting should mirror traits in your target demographic, so the roles and actors are more relatable to a wider audience. Sometimes you may be targeting a niche market in a niche industry, in which case being more specific is important. Either way, the best method to approach casting is coming at it with a why mentality.
For example, let’s say you are creating a lifestyle video for your company. Ask yourself, “Why am I making this particular type of video?” The answer is to appeal to a certain demographic that you want to buy your product, and to show that this product fits into their established lifestyle.
So let’s say your product is a cool new smart-technology backpack. It has a USB charger and bluetooth capability literally sewn into the seams. You want your target audience to see the usefulness of this backpack and how it not only fits into their current lifestyle, but improves it. So who is this backpack for? Here are a few possible examples:
- Teenagers who want the coolest technology that also helps them at school.
- Working millennials who operate in a tech start-up environment
- New parents constantly on the go who need to keep their tech charged.
- Older parents who keep up on the latest trends to buy for their kids.
The correct answer is #5 – all of the above. This is why you would want to write and cast your lifestyle video to feature roles for all of the demographics listed above – preferably with actors of different ethnicities and genders. That will let you cater to the widest audience possible in your target demographic, which is more or less tech-savvy teens and adults aged 16 – 65.
Notice how this process begins at the very inception of the idea, flows through your brainstorming, and makes its way into the writing way before we even gets to the actual casting? If you don’t get everything right from the very beginning, then there wouldn’t be enough information to know who to cast for this video. It would just be whoever you could find who looked young and hip, and would result in you missing out on a bunch of demographics who might even be more likely to buy your pack.
This is as true for big production companies in Hollywood as it is for a small paper company from Centralia, Pennsylvania. If the roles aren’t thought out from the beginning, then they can’t really be representative in the final product. That’s at best a missed opportunity and at worst actively bad for your business.
A Few (Bad) Examples of How NOT to Cast Your Video…
We’re not going to name any actual companies or show any actual poorly cast videos, but we’ll run through a couple scenarios you should try to avoid at all costs.
- Don’t: Cast an attractive model just because they are attractive. We’ve seen videos with handsome, chiseled performers who can’t act a wink, and it makes it so you can’t take the video seriously – even if the product is great.
- Don’t: Cast an over-actor. Nothing is worse for your product’s image than those As Seen on TV commercials with their cheesy over-actors trying to over-sell and over-hype an average product.
- Don’t: Tell a director they can’t cast an actor of a particular ethnicity because it’s “not our target demographic.” It’s racist, sours a production, and limits your audience.
- Don’t: Cast an actor for their resume when all you need is a stand-in to look impressed at a clean counter. Unless you’re hiring a spokesman or influencer for their celebrity or following, you don’t need to pay a ton for top-tier talent if you’re just going to have them say one line.
- Don’t: Write off someone just because they don’t look how you pictured in your head. When we talk about casting based on a look or a feel, we mean in general, not “they have to look like Jessica Chastain or the whole commercial is ruined.”
The Bottom Line
Casting can make or break a video project, and is certainly nothing to write off as easy or obvious or straight forward. However, you can make it a lot easier on yourself by writing roles with target demographics in mind and being open to as diverse a talent pool as you would when hiring for any other position.
Always be prepared to be surprised. You never know who will come out to audition and knock it out of the park. When you put your casting calls and breakdowns out there for talent to find, you’ll likely discover more talented actors than you could ever imagine, so make sure to keep a list of actors you’d like to work with for future video projects. You might even want to expand the roles you had in mind for your current project to include more actors representing different demographics. It’s happened in Hollywood hundreds of times – someone comes in that’s so good, the production team writes a role specifically for them.
Above all, be intentional with your writing, be diligent with your search, and be open to everyone. With all that in mind, you’ll definitely find the perfect cast for every video you make.
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