A Far More Insidious Reason Not to Embed Demo Videos (From a Guy Who Gets Paid to Make Them)

By Sarah Lacy , written on June 12, 2012

From The News Desk

Last week we called a strict moratorium on embedding pre-shot "demo videos" in our posts and suggested the rest of the industry should do the same. Companies are increasingly sending these videos to blogs to explain their sites, and many blogs are just embedding them, instead of demoing and explaining the product themselves.

The demos are handy for pitching a story -- just like a fact sheet, a press release, or any other type of PR collateral. But embedding them is essentially putting a commercial into your site -- for free and under your byline. It's simply a more engaging way of cutting and pasting a press release. And really, if you can't use a product yourself and aptly describe what it does, you shouldn't call yourself a tech blogger.

As much as I hate the trend, I assumed there was nothing really insidious here. I chalked it up to the usual cat and mouse game of sources wanting to control a story and reporters needing to be more aggressive in fighting back. But I just got an email that puts a whole new urgency on the topic.

Chris Johnson from Simplifilm writes to say his firm has been asked several times to produce bogus demo videos so that a company can get press to raise its next round. Now, I don't think any investor is dumb enough to invest off of a video, but clearly the industry is seeing enough evidence that time-pressed, quota-obsessed bloggers are sure willing to put them in posts without testing the sites.

Wow. Just wow.

Here's Johnson's email below it its entirety. (I added the emphasis and bracket to clarify a pronoun):

Hey Sarah,

You were right on that call to ban demos. Here's a better reason:

We were recently approached to make a demo video of vapor ware by an Angel hoping to go up to A-round funding. Software didn't exist, wasn't built. Angel Investors had the funk of despair/adult failure spiral. Tried to rope us in.  We could have made it look amazing with .psd stills, etc.

I think they eventually got the demo made, when we sniffed the con they were profoundly insulting - not like a "good old boy," but like "you're stupid, you're missing out on doing business with me forever."  As if I'm a whore.

Anyway, as a maker of demos, I'd just say that [not embedding videos is] smart.  It becomes a tacit endorsement that you may not be aware of.

In subsequent back and forth, he emphasized that he'd personally seen this "multiple times."

To emphasize: this is someone who gets paid for making these videos, arguing bloggers shouldn't embed them. I expected that would be the one group who disagreed with my post the most. Their business is clearly booming as a result of the trend. But if even they agree embedding demo videos is abandoning reader trust, perhaps the rest of the blogosphere should listen.