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Live Event Transformers



This is the first in a series of articles, written by Wrecking Ball SVP & General Manager Bob Donlon, on the subject of shaping the future of virtual events and conferences.

In March 2020 the “excrement had hit the air conditioning”. My previous employer, and current client Adobe, announced that due to Covid-19 its annual digital marketing conference — Adobe SUMMIT — had been cancelled. It was to be a 23,000 person live event in Las Vegas and poof it was gone. The next thing we knew, the C-suite announced a decision to pivot the whole thing to an online virtual event, with the 5 of the keynotes and 125 of the breakout sessions that had been planned for the in-person event, and to keep the existing timeframe intact. Meaning my team and I at Wrecking Ball, along with our colleagues within Adobe, had three weeks to launch a virtual event involving six keynotes and a couple hundred breakout sessions when nobody involved was allowed to leave their homes. I could hear people screaming in San Jose which is forty five miles south from here.

In what now feels like the blink of an eye, video gear was sourced and shipped by the Adobe Studio team to the homes of the C-level keynote presenters and those delivering the breakout sessions. Remote sessions were set up to coach them on the technical and performance aspects of recording their content. On-the-fly workflows were developed to facilitate panel discussions (no disrespect to Zoom, but that just wasn’t gonna cut it for this). In parallel, my team took on the design, development, and deployment of a set of new components for the custom-built video publishing platform that we had originally built during the Adobe TV days (and has been in continuous use by the company ever since). We had to integrate everything within a custom front-end being built by a different team, and factor in a complex set of business requirements covering discovery, delivery, analytics, and follow-up.

It was the first event of this magnitude to be pulled off at the onset of the pandemic. We reached hundreds of thousands of unique viewers in the first week alone. People engaged with the content across the board, at a much greater order of magnitude than would’ve been the case in Vegas. KPI’s were blown out of the water. Even though I wish we’d had the time to virtualize other aspects of the conference such as the exhibit floor and socializing/networking (maybe virtual craps tables?) it was a pretty damn good place to start.

This hadn’t been my first rodeo — in 2010 I was asked by the leadership team at Adobe to help create the first virtual event in the company’s history. The task was to present the launch event for Creative Suite 5 on Adobe TV, an online video platform that I had conceived of and built, along with my cohorts at Adobe and a relatively new company called Wrecking Ball (where I work today). This would be the first time in the company’s history that there would be no in-person launch event, as Adobe TV had grown to such an extent that it reached a far greater audience than anything that could be achieved face-to-face.

To be completely honest, there was one more impetus to this endeavor . . . a massive failure that had taken place during a previous in-person launch event in 2009. I had played a role in that one as a keynote presenter — thankfully my own portion went off without a hitch (if it had not, please feel free to visualize my ass being kicked down West Broadway by my boss at the time, seen in the picture below).

Adobe SVP John Loiacono (left) and me (right) delivering part of the keynote at an Adobe Creative Suite launch event in 2009. (image credit: DV Magazine)

Earlier on in the keynote, my colleague Greg Rewis was onstage demonstrating the new version of Dreamweaver when all of a sudden the screens went dark. In front of a live audience of several hundred, as well as lord knows how many others tuning in via a live stream, the whole thing ground to a halt. Greg tried to fill the dead air by cracking jokes and an “unscheduled intermission” was abruptly announced. “Be right back, folks!”

Thirty minutes later the issue was fixed, but by then we had lost most of the webcast audience, and the five hundred or so people in the room were well in to the free hard liquor on offer behind the seating area. To be honest what happened next is somewhat of a blur, but I’m pretty sure when I stepped onto the stage an empty bottle of Jack Daniels came flying at me from the seats.

The point I’m trying to make here is that there were multiple factors behind the decision to pivot the 2010 Creative Suite 5 launch event from live to virtual. For sure, we had built a successful, proven platform — Adobe TV — in which to pull it off. For ABSOLUTELY sure we could no-way have anything resembling a repeat-performance of that unscheduled intermission in 2009 (incidentally, the culprit behind that turned out to be a cable that overloaded and fried somewhere on the A/V side of the house).

The latter was solved by recording the keynotes in advance, which was the easy part as this would involve much more than just a simulated live stream of a pre-recorded keynote. We needed to build awareness and buzz around it, provide an easy means for attendees to register (and thus capture the highly-prized leads coveted by our sales and marketing organization), produce and deliver the event itself, create an instant post-event on-ramp to our vast library of product demos, and provide a quick and easy path for attendees to download trials of and purchase the software.

Remember, this was ten years ago and nothing like this had been done on this scale 100% online before. There were months of research, development, and testing in order to pull together the pieces to make it happen (read a very brief case study here if it interests you). Today we take a lot of this for granted, but at the time it was a landmark event — a major success — we achieved the highest ever amount of revenue booked for Adobe in a single day

So here we are, chucked head-first, right back into the swimming pool of virtual events and conferences. This is on for real. But I tell you what, the timing couldn’t be better — the possibilities in how to transform this space are endless. Every day I’m having conversations with current and potential clients in organizations of all shapes and sizes about this transformation — ideas fly around faster than an empty Jack Daniels bottle sailing towards my head.

There’s one thing we all agree on at this point: there is no “if” anymore, there is only “how”. How do we define success in this space? Where should we “place our bets”?

First we need to understand the motivations of attendees. What do they hope to gain, and what are they willing to sacrifice in terms of time and money to achieve those gains? Upon what basis do they deem a live event a success or failure? In my next article, I’ll dive in to those motivations and success factors . . . until then, please enjoy this very brief “scheduled intermission”.

Thanks for reading! The Wrecking Ball team is always happy to have informed conversations on the topics of virtual events/conferences, video production/platforms, or digital marketing in general.

8 Proven Strategies for a Successful Commercial

What does it take to make a good commercial? I’m sure in your lifetime you’ve seen plenty of good ones on TV or online. In 2015, some of the best commercials were the Budweiser lost dog, the Always Like A Girl, and the Fiat Blue Pill. These commercials are fun, entertaining, and leave a lasting impression.

Wrecking Ball recently produced a commercial for Atlassian’s product: HipChat. It stars Wrecking Ball’s own employees using the product. Check it out:

Nice, huh? Are you interested in producing a similarly awesome commercial? In this article, we’re going to discuss the proven strategies that Wrecking Ball utilized when we produced this successful commercial.

happy_eating_salad1. People Are Essential

Your commercial must include people. As humans, we are drawn to images of people. In addition, the people in your commercial need to belong to the target audience of your product. Viewers want to see people using your product. Try to avoid going over the top expressing satisfaction using your product. You don’t want something as cheesy as women laughing alone while eating salad.

2. Plan Out Your Video

It’s tempting to cover every detail about your product, but you must be mindful of the limited time you have. Try to focus on essential highlights and key features of your product. Display them in such a way that viewers can tell the story of your product even if the volume is turned down.

3. Write a Script

Having a plan and putting together a script is essential. The shorter your script time the better. The traditional duration for a commercial is 30 seconds. We recommend that commercials made for online viewing (i.e. YouTube) should not exceed 15 seconds. Keep sentences short and in simple language. Audio should be clear enough that if the viewer is in another room and your commercial plays, they can understand what the commercial is about.

4. Audio and Video Must Match

This detail is easily overlooked: audio and video must match. For example, if the audio is mentioning a TV, show the TV being mentioned. Don’t show an irrelevant shot such as the camera panning over your store’s building. Merging audio and video creates a powerful sales tool.
Vanessa using HipChatThis scene from Wrecking Ball's video matches the speaker's dialogue

5. Never Forget Your Call to Action

The most vital part of a commercial is the call to action. You want your customers to buy, act now, visit today, etc. Include the URL to your website, your phone number, and (if you have a storefront) your street address. I recommend this article for help coming up with a great call to action: Hook, Line, and Sinker: 7 Tips for a Killer Call-to-Action.

6. Stick to Time

Be mindful of the duration of your commercial. If you hired a production company, you might have bought a 30-second commercial package. Resist the temptation to make it longer. Don’t forget that commercials for online viewing should not exceed 15 seconds.

7. The First Few Seconds Are Everything

Studies have shown that the average Internet user has an attention span of 7-12 seconds. With such little time to grab the viewer’s attention, it is essential for the beginning of your commercial to be engaging, showing only the juiciest parts. You could begin with an interesting, open-ended question. Or maybe sprinkle a bit of controversy with something shocking. To stand out you need to be bold. Most importantly, have fun! Your commercial doesn’t have to be stiff and strictly professional.

8. Hire a Production Company

This point should be obvious: to have a professional commercial you need to hire professionals. They’ll do all the work for you and handle all aspects of your commercial. If you’re on a budget, some production companies even offer $100 commercial packages.

You could, however, get away with an amateur commercial for YouTube at zero cost. The tricky part here is that your commercial can’t be commercial. It would need to be 99% educational on an interesting topic, and 1% commercial at the end with only a brief mention of your product. If your YouTube video feels too much like a commercial then people will ignore it.


In this article, we discussed the proven strategies that Wrecking Ball used to make a successful commercial. In short, it all boils down to good planning. Something as important as your product was not meant to be advertised with something rushed. Take your time and do it right.

Learn More

We recommend viewing the following video for learning more about making a successful commercial:

How to Make an Awesome Product Demo for Social Media

What’s the most effective way to demo a product using social media? It can be challenging when you consider that the attention span of the average user is less than 8 seconds. A full product demo is too long. The best way is to make a shorter, more focused and engaging product demo.

In this article we’re going to walk you through making an awesome, highly engaging product demo for social media.

1. Video or GIF?

The first step is deciding the right format to produce the demo. The two most common solutions are video and animated GIF. Choosing the right one is important because it will ultimately affect the style of the demo, and the options you have available.
Video vs GIF quality comparisonVideo (left) vs GIF (right) quality comparison

Video is generally the better choice because of its higher quality. The range of colors is virtually unlimited, and animation is very smooth at 29 fps.

Animated GIFs are easier to share than video, but have several limitations. Limited to 256 colors, you’re usually forced to use a flat design style with no photography. GIFs are limited to 500 frames (15-20s), and even at 24fps, the result feels slightly choppy.

2. Animation or Screen Recordings?

The next step is deciding whether the demo will be composed of screen recordings or a custom animation.

Screen recordings will get the job done quickest and easiest, but are not as attractive as animations. This involves using screen capture software to record a user’s interactions with the product. Screen recordings will likely make your product demo look too much like a tutorial, and usually need some kind of voiceover to add any excitement. If you want to try this option, here are some free screen recorders to help:

For dynamic, engaging results, animations are going to be your best option. The process is more time consuming, but the control and flexibility it affords is worth the effort. You can create unique ways to emphasize key product features and add excitement any way you like. The only drawback is animations take longer to compose, and it can be a tedious process when applying revisions.

3. Storyboard

The third step is planning and drawing up a storyboard. While it is tempting to cover every feature of your product, the key is to keep it short and highly engaging. Cover only the most essential features, then provide links for viewers to find additional details. Ask yourself: what makes your product awesome? What does it have that competitors don’t? The trick is to find the right balance between informative and memorable.

CreativeSync Storyboard in Sketch

CreativeSync Storyboard in Sketch

There’s no right or wrong way to storyboard your product demo as long as it’s in a format that works best for you and your team. What worked best for our team was to make high fidelity comps in Sketch.

With this format it was easy for everyone to review the product demo and get a good idea of the look and feel. With Sketch it was easy for the animator to export graphics for the final video.

4. General Tips

Here are some general tips to keep in mind when storyboarding your demo:

  • Keep text to an absolute minimum. Let the animation (or screen recording) do the talking.
  • To decrease visual noise, when possible isolate the areas of the product to focus on key features in action. Hide or ghost out areas of the product that are not in use. View below for an example.
  • It’s essential for click or touch gestures to be highly visible and clear. Sometimes you may have to put a glow or highlight around a button to bring it into focus.
  • Be highly conscious of pacing. You know how the product works, but viewers need you to gently usher them through the movements and interactions. Move too quickly, and you might lose them. Move too slowly and they’ll simply move on.
  • Voiceover narration is helpful, but not required.
Example of high noise (left) and low noise (right) Example of high noise (left) and low noise (right)

5. Creation

If you chose to create an animation, Adobe Animate (formerly Adobe Flash) and Adobe After Effects are great options which specialize in animation. Both programs can make your animation cool with 3D rotation effects and smooth with tween easing.

If you chose to create a compilation of screen recordings, professional video software is essential for the best result. I recommend Final Cut Pro (Mac) or Adobe Premiere. There are free video editors out there, but we discourage using them to avoid ending up with an unmarketable, low-quality result.

The most challenging part of the demo is finalizing the pace. You don’t want it to be too fast or too slow. Get as many people as you can to look over the finished demo. Gather feedback on the pace to perfect the timing of every slide in your demo.

Here’s an example of a product demo by Wrecking Ball:

6. Publish

The following are some details pertaining to uploading video or animated GIFs to social media:

  • Facebook: Upload video to take advantage of autoplay. Animated GIFs cannot be uploaded. Rather, GIFs need to be hosted elsewhere (i.e. on Tumblr) then copy their direct URL over.
  • Twitter: You can upload video or an animated GIF, but you’re limited to 30 seconds duration. If your product demo exceeds 30 seconds then you must upload it to YouTube or Vimeo to share on Twitter.
  • Tumblr: Videos and animated GIFs can be uploaded.
  • Pinterest & Google+: Animated GIFs can be uploaded. Video cannot be uploaded; you need to share from YouTube.
  • Instagram: Animated GIFs cannot be uploaded unless converted to video. Videos can only be up to 15 seconds duration.
  • Blogs: You can do whatever you want, however you want. If you’re using GIFs be careful with file sizes, as GIFs can easily bulk up to large sizes.

Wherever possible, upload your product demo directly to social media, versus uploading to YouTube and then sharing to social media. Many social sites already autoplay videos/animations, which means the viewer doesn't need a secondary click to view your work.


In this article we discussed the technical requirements, planning, and strategy involved to make the best demo of a product for the most effective promotion on social media. Remember, the most effective social media demos need to be short and sweet. Avoid the temptation to throw in too much information. Be mindful of the small details pertaining to publishing on specific social media. By exercising all of these concepts and ideas, you will have yourself an awesome product demo!

Further Reading