Here at TFL, we’ve been making car review videos with cars and trucks for more than 10 years. In that time, we’ve published thousands of videos, and we’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. In short, the most popular video isn’t always the most informative. And the slickest, Hollywood-level video isn’t always the most popular. A solid, popular video is somewhere in between. And we’ve also found that the roughly the same rules apply to online reviews. So how do you know what you’re watching? Let us tell you! And, full disclosure, we are guilty of using nearly all the methods below to get you to watch:
Listing the top 5 or 10 things you hate about a vehicle is easy. It can be innocuous stuff like the headrests or the stereo or series stuff like the transmission (CVT’s, we’re looking at you.). It’s also safe: The reviewer’s reputation is less on the line when ripping a car apart than it would be if he or she claims certain features are the best. You can see our version of it here.
Nathan says: “It’s easier to hate than it is to like.”
Roman says: “Hate will always get more views than love.”
Basically, the Cut-n-Paste is the car manufacturers’ wet dream of a video. The car companies spend obscene amounts of money on photography and b-roll video of their new vehicles then share them with journalists like us. And some will just put up the video in whole and maybe do a voiceover commentary to make it *theirs*. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and, well, people watch them. In fact we sorta did our version of one yesterday.
Roman says: “Whenever a new car comes out, they’ll grab the b-roll, throw it up there on YouTube and call it a review.”
Point and Shoot
A guy shows up at a dealership to *review* a hot car, but all he does is walk around the car with a camera or his smartphone and talk about the car’s features. Many dealerships will also do this, enlisting a salesperson to do a walk around and get inside to show off the car and call it a review. We do a version of these point and shoots, usually when we’re not allowed to actually publish a review of the vehicle with our driving impressions for a week or more.
Nathan says: “When dealerships do this, it’s not journalism.” It’s a sales job.
Easy to produce, since we don’t often have to go find the story; it comes to us. We hear about it, then quickly gather the facts (and any images or b-roll relevant to it) and put together a video or post. A sub-category of this is reporting from auto shows, which usually combines a Point-and-Shoot walk-around video with an interview with a product manager or engineer for the vehicle.
Roman says: “It’s straight up news”
“Look at Me!” – Selfie Spotlight
Popular with self-proclaimed influencers, the car review video is all about them and not the vehicle, and the host/influencer is ALWAYS in the frame. Pretty self-explanatory. We don’t do these. At least not intentionally.
Nathan says: “I do this all the time, because I’m HOT!”
A small but influential subset of car reviewers, these men and women buy some of the most exotic and expensive vehicles on the planet and then make videos of themselves driving them. It’s one way to write off the cost of the car. Travel media has done this forever: Pay $200 for a story about a $20,000 trip to Morocco to a rich couple, who can then write-off their entire vacation. Are they experts? Are they journalists? They exist in a gray area. Are we jealous? Hell, yes!
Roman says: “These are one of my personal guilty pleasures.”
Nathan says: “More often than not these guys will start by saying, ‘I’m rich … I had to buy a third house to hold all my cars.'”
“I Just Bought…”
This is the poor man’s version of Stupid Rich, where instead of supercars, it covers the gamut of everyday cars and trucks that most people actually buy categorized as “bought the cheapest/most expensive/worst/most boring/etc.” It’s the car review or truck version of that bizarre audience for unboxing videos on YouTube. We do our version of this ALL the TIME as you can see here, and here, and here.
Roman says: “It taps into that human emotion like Christmas; we can’t wait to find out what’s under the Christmas tree.”
Nathan says: “If you do it right, you can make an entire video series or even a channel about one car.”
Guy gets an old beat-up car or truck and then sets out getting it running again and beyond. These videos are often the specialty of mechanics, and for that reason they’re incredibly valuable for viewers looking to buy or work on their own vehicle. And like a reference guide, they draw an audience for years. We just wrapped up a DIY project here.
Nathan says: “On YouTube, someone somewhere has done a video showing you how to fix whatever you need to fix.
These videos are usually interviews with the owners of special vehicles with cool stories behind them. The hard part is finding a) a great vehicle with a great story behind it and b) a great storyteller who owns said vehicle. But when it clicks, the viewer is well informed about the vehicle’s features and left with a memorable story. Our “Dude, I Love My Ride” videos do just that.
Nathan says: “Example: Did you hear the one about the guy who wanted to trade a truck full of chickens for a new Corvette?”
These can be beautiful videos, but they involve a lot of time, wading through a ton of video in the editing room, and they can quickly become really boring if not handled right. They also serve as a car review platform, but with a more interesting story attached. Good ones can attract viewers for years, especially if the trip involves going someplace people want to go themselves someday. Silver lining: These are the videos where viewers claim we have the best jobs in the world. And when it’s all said and done, we have to agree.
Nathan says: “Some people can pull it off shooting with just their phone. Others need a full production crew.”
Roman says: You usually need sponsors to make these work.
If it works as a TV show, you can bet there’s a TV production crew and budget behind it. This is Top Gear-level stuff, that, um, we have no experience with. Yet.