Video is an unwieldy medium for marketers. It provides a wide aperture for sending the wrong message. The overlooked or unmanaged detail can distract a viewer from the point the filmmaker was trying to make. The sophistication of the medium and the unprecedented availability of the tools can even give filmmakers too many options as to what point they should make, and what audience their message is for.

As part of its 25-year anniversary celebration in 2013, Margulies Perruzzi Architects, a Boston architecture firm, initiated a friendly internal video contest. Its employees were divided into eight four-person teams, and challenged to create a three-minute video about the firm, its people, or its practices.

(“Just like on ‘The Office’!”, I’m sure everyone said. Two teams even made “Office”-inspired parodies that showed their considerable talent for comedy – and Lego building.)

But obvious (and somewhat eerie) parallels aside, would these video teams fare any better than the Dunder Mifflin team at presenting their company in a positive light?

Judge for yourself! Here are the eight videos from Margulies Perruzzi Architects. It’s a tough horse race to call:

Post Time

The video contest was meant as a team-building exercise, not a marketing project per se. But nonetheless it was “a unique occasion to reflect on the past, plan for the future, and have lots of fun”. This opened up the aperture pret-ty wide. Video submissions could – and did – venture all over the place. As such, the submissions are difficult to compare. The definition of the challenge was so open that it was up to each team to meet it using its own vision.

“And they’re off! Coming out of the gate we have The Bosses, followed by Superhero On Your Side, New Employee Orientation, Oh No! MPA!, Next 25 Years, Back To The Future, Remember When, and Dark Side Of Sparkle (A Lego Brick Film)…”

What best reflects a firm? a 25-year history, a current snapshot, a tongue-in-cheek peek, a self-parody, a flight of whimsy, a vision of the future, a meditation on the role of architects in the community? All of these angles were represented and explored in the eight submissions.

Different videos showed the inner workings of the firm. But none of them showed the kind of architecture that this firm produces. Only one project (an atypical one for the firm, at that) was featured in one of the videos because it was literally a stone’s throw from the office.

“Down the backstretch The Bosses has a strong lead with Oh No! MPA! passing New Employee Orientation and Superhero On Your Side. Dark Side Of Sparkle is pouring on steam and passing Remember When, while Back To The Future has edged ahead of Next 25 Years and is neck and neck with Oh No! MPA!…”

The eight submissions were:

  1. The Bosses – one of two “Office” parodies filmed in using the actual office and people. They got the absurdity and deadpan humor of “The Office” down right, and the comedic beats were well executed by MPA’s own cast of characters. It showed that these people knew how to play up their foibles and play to the camera.
  2. Have A Superhero On Your Side – a collection of offbeat commercial ideas with strong concepts played to the hilt by the actors.
  3. New Employee Orientation – a mock orientation video that poked fun at the firm
  4. Oh No! MPA! – A history of the firm contained in a Mr. Bill spoof.
  5. Designing The Next 25 Years – Somebody actually took the “plan for the future” idea seriously! The result was an entirely straight video that showed MPA outside its familiar environs.
  6. Back To The Future – This introduced four characters, and showed more clearly than the others what this office really did, and who its people really were, even though it covered it up in distracting (but inspired) silliness.
  7. Remember When – Four younger staffers try to remember the history of the firm before their time (and get it hilariously wrong). Like Back To The Future, this video combined the historical record of the firm with a present-day impression of a relaxed and inspiring work environment.
  8. Dark Side Of Sparkle (A Lego Brick Film) – This “Office” parody was done entirely using Lego bricks and stop-motion filming. It is likely to win for the obvious amount of work that went into recreating every detail. This video reminds us that the office space itself is a character when the office is full of architects.

“In the final turn, Dark Side Of Sparkle is in the lead with The Bosses right behind. Oh No! MPA! is trailing Back To The Future by a length. New Employee Orientation, Superhero On Your Side, and Remember When are on the outside. But from the middle of the pack, Next 25 Years has picked up speed and has passed Oh No! MPA! and The Bosses! Hot on the heels of Back To The Future!…”

Designing The Next 25 Years gave MPA’s past barely a glance. This one went totally off the reservation! The beginning seemed ridiculously over-the-top at first, but it brought in all kinds of people, including the two principals’ mothers, to great effect. It ended as well as it begun, and while other videos made me laugh, this one made me feel something. This firm is clearly in touch with its passion.

Meanwhile, Back To The Future and the others feature an interesting character in John Vining, a senior associate. I don’t know him, but he best showed what the people in this office do for their livelihood, how they think, and how they see themselves in relation to their job. His silliness was fun to watch and I’m glad he could do it, and also how his foibles were caricatured in the other videos. He’s like a secondary character you only meet in the pilot, but want to see more of.

“In the homestretch, it’s Next 25 Years and Back To The Future fighting for the lead with Dark Side Of Sparkle on the rail and the odds-on favorite…”

Next 25 Years is good enough to play in the office reception area when clients visit, as might Dark Side Of Sparkle. But what video best captures this firm? Each helped show Margulies Perruzzi Architects as a place that can laugh at itself, that can play up its own quirks, that parties hard but works harder, that is fascinated with new technology, that has talent and energy in spades, and that looks ahead and beyond its own walls.

“And for the photo finish, it’s…DARK SIDE OF SPARKLE!”

Watch these videos, and see what the talented designers and storytellers at MPA reveal about the place – and headspace – where they work.

Congratulations to all of the video teams for being able to devote so much energy and talent to a non-billable project.

P.S. Congratulations to MPA on their 2015 Holiday Video Snowbound at MPA, which won First Place in the 2016 SMPS Boston Chapter Marketing Awards.