When to Use Stock Video in Your Explainer and Demo Videos

After spending more than two decades working with clients on evolving explainer and demo video needs, one thing that we see often is confusion around when it makes sense to use unique, brand-specific stock video for marketing materials. A pervasive idea in the marketing space is that stock content should be avoided, but that actually isn’t a hardline rule. 

In fact, many popular and well-received client explainer and demo videos include stock footage. Using properly licensed stock footage isn’t free, of course, but it is much less expensive than shooting your own live video. This is especially true given added constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic and the seismic shift to telecommuting and digital workspaces. 

There are benefits to using stock footage in an explainer or demo video, though this may not work for every project. Here are a few ways stock video content can be an asset:

  • Mixing animation and live stock content may increase viewer engagement 
  • Stock video can create a “real” point of connection to help tell the story of your brand
  • Industry footage may clarify vague or complex concepts for your audience

If you’re wondering when you should use stock video and when it shouldn’t, we’ve outlined a few guidelines below. 

Mixing Animation and Live Stock Video 

First, let’s talk trends. Carefully selected stock footage (whether shot exclusively for your brand or pulled from a collection) can lend a shift in tone to your video, especially when it breaks up end-to-end animation. 

In fact, a mix of animation and stock footage can open up a world of creative and modern branding elements, such as the integration of 2D and 3D styles. This mixed-use design trend is popular for good reasons — it holds the viewer’s attention with unexpected visual cues. This increased level of engagement might keep eyes on your video longer, which is always a good thing.   

Stock Video Can Help You Tell a Better Story

Stock footage can also help to engage the viewer on a deeper emotional level. By giving viewers a “real” person or environment to relate to, you’re also giving the viewer a better opportunity to connect with the product, pain point, or solution. Because there are so many sources for licensed stock footage, most organizations are able to find the right look and feel for their industry and their brand itself. 

In addition, stock video sources continue to grow exponentially. There was a time when it was difficult to find enough relevant stock content for a project, especially if the goal was to feature a single character throughout a video. Fortunately, this is often no longer the case. 

However, if you are having trouble finding enough content, there are a few workarounds. One option is to introduce a character briefly and then utilize other stock video clips to create an environment, highlight a pain point, or demonstrate a specific context that continues to strengthen your narrative. Another option is to utilize unique animated characters and leave stock video to showcase other aspects of your solution.

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Use Stock Video to Illustrate a Difficult or Vague Concept

Another way to leverage stock video is with concepts that may be unfamiliar to viewers. Sometimes a process, product, or offer can be difficult to visualize, for example. 

Animation can often illustrate context and examples, but there are times when live footage does the job best. At the same time, logistics (like social distancing rules or new pandemic safety measures) or budgets may mean it’s not practical to shoot custom footage for that purpose. 

In these cases, stock footage can provide necessary context. Of course, it’s always important to find and utilize stock footage that accurately represents your solution or the element of your brand you’re communicating with an audience. 

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Use Stock Video that Flows Authentically

Stock images have earned a somewhat well-deserved reputation for seeming trite, staged, and inauthentic. We get that. And, it’s true, sometimes stock video can give off the same vibe. 

A clip that’s out of alignment with the rest of the video is jarring. Even worse, that lack of authenticity can take your viewer right out of the experience of watching an otherwise well-crafted video. 

But not all stock footage is hackneyed. The industry continues to evolve rapidly with more realistic and diverse options when it comes to quality footage. 

Whatever you choose, aim to create a seamless flow between stock footage and animated design for a frictionless viewing experience that’s true to your brand.

Don’t Use Stock Video Footage to Shortcut a Need for Brand-Specific Footage

Stock video has plenty of excellent uses, but it isn’t always the ideal fit. If the footage isn’t well aligned to your brand or messaging, viewers will pick up on that right away. Alternately, if you use stock content to “stand in” for something specific to your solution, it can create confusion, or worse, turn off prospects altogether.

In those situations, you’ll be better served by creating unique live video content. Providing your own footage can increase engagement for your video, and not just on the viewer side. Employee engagement rises when they participate in creating a video. Viewer engagement also increases when they see the actual people who work at your business telling an authentic, relatable brand story. 

If video footage is too difficult to obtain, then rely on animation to do the job.


Stock footage has its place in explainer and demo videos, but make sure your video’s overall goals are being met. It’s crucial to ensure a good fit between stock footage and the rest of your video. Prioritize just the right tone, style, and context when selecting stock video footage for your explainer or demo videos. If that’s not possible, then consider skipping it altogether.

Have an idea for an upcoming explainer or demo video project? Get in touch.