Background Videos: Tech’s Hottest Homepage Trend or Passing Fad?

More and more tech companies are turning to the innovative use of video as backgrounds on their homepages. Is it the wave of the future or just another flash in the pan?
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You’ve probably noticed them by this point. How could you not? Homepages everywhere are coming to life. Airbnb, Salesforce.com, HubSpot. Where you’d once expect to see static background images now you’re surprised to see short video clips in motion.
Sure, they’re novel and eye-catching now, but are these new background videos just another flashy fad, or are they conveying something more?
I turned to creative director Keith Frankel, Host of CreativeMornings Boston and former Head of Creative and Design at HubSpot, to get his verdict.

“If your brand is about human connections, about people, then video is the most appropriate format to use.”

Keith Frankel, creative director and host of CreativeMornings Boston

JC: Full browser-width videos as homepage backgrounds seem to be popping up everywhere recently. Why do you think companies are using them?
KF: I’ve been aware of people experimenting with these for a while now. When I joined HubSpot in 2013 I was obsessed with getting one on our Partners page, essentially to replace what are referred to as “hero images” — which at the time were just photos of our customers.
On one hand, the cool factor was definitely part of the motivation. We wanted to be considered a best-in-class brand. It made sense to bring a new, flashy feel to the site.
But on the other hand, using video also just made sense. It’s the most human-centric medium. It most closely depicts people and the world around us as we experience them in real life. It’s authentic in a way an image struggles to be, and that an illustration can’t be. If your brand is about human connections, about people, then video is the most appropriate format to use. So at HubSpot, all those things aligned well with the goal of the brand.
JC: What are some examples of companies you think are using these really well?
KF: Like you mentioned, these seem to be popping up everywhere, but here are three fairly early adopters I think have done a great job showcasing what video backgrounds can do. They also stand out because there’s clearly a thoughtful purpose behind the choice. They’re not just using them because it’s cool or new — it actually aligns well with their brand and their mission.
For example, look at Airbnb. While their new logo may have gotten all the attention, their new homepage design is really what’s more interesting. In a recent article in Wired, they said they’re focusing on delivering experiences, and that’s precisely what their new background videos evoke. They seem serene, safe, comfortable — exactly what potential Airbnb users want to feel when considering using a product that has them sleeping in strangers’ homes. It provides the appropriate feeling in hopes of incentivizing users to trust and even enjoy the service.
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Wistia is another company that has nailed it, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since their business is video. They actually changed up their homepage recently, but prior to doing so, it was utilizing video to feature their founders, their office, and a few of their employees.The video was warm, approachable, authentic, and fun — exactly what you would expect from a Wistia deliverable. You got the sense that this is just a group of regular guys, that becoming their customer is like joining the group, becoming their friends, which is exactly what it’s like to be a Wistia customer.
They’ve since switched it up and replaced the video with something that I personally find less effective. However, the right tone is still there: fun and inviting.
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Visage.co is using animated, dynamic video and applying it directly to their messaging. Like the other examples, it grabs your attention right from the get-go, but it also focuses on explaining what they do (as opposed to simply providing atmosphere and context).
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JC: So you’re saying — at least for the brands using these well — video backgrounds aren’t just another shiny object. There’s more to what using them can accomplish. Putting you on the spot here — what do you think? Trend or a fad?
KF: I hate not giving a straight answer, but you know I really think that’s the wrong question. The right question I think we should be asking is, “Is this progress?” and I think the answer there is yes.
The fact that using video like this feels new and cutting edge is certainly driving some of the use. But that’s only part of it. The “cool” factor is fleeting. Eventually, it will become status quo, and at that point we’ll be so used to seeing them we’ll be blind to it.

We’re going to become “video-blind” just like we’re “billboard-blind” now.

So using video in this particular way may indeed be a fad, but it’s also pushing designers and marketers to step up their game and innovate. We’re all trying to do things that stand out, that cause visitors to stop and take notice.
It’s not just about using video. It’s about making the web more dynamic and providing something that enhances a visitor’s experience. You see it in other innovations, too — homepages with parallax scrolling (scrolling at different speeds, which creates depth and dimensions) for example. All these advances are meant to make the web less static, to provide a more “real” experience.
JC: If these video backgrounds are the hot new thing now, what’s next?
KF: I think there’s still an incredible amount of potential for video to become a bigger and bigger part of the web experience. The majority of the companies experimenting with this are just using them as “hero” videos at the top of the page to give a good first impression and lead off with something cool. That’s great, and highly effective, but there’s so much more you can do.
The next round will likely be far more robust. These videos won’t just be the background for text. They’ll do more than just set the context. Even more than they’re doing now, companies will discover ways they can use video as the vehicle through which to quickly convey the essence of their brand.

Further Reading

What are other examples of tech companies with video backgrounds that you’ve seen? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo by: Andrew

Jonathan Crowe
Jonathan Crowe
Senior Content Manager

Jonathan Crowe is Senior Content Manager at Barkly. He was previously the Managing Editor of OpenView Labs.
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