Still imagery is one of the strongest ways to encourage people to watch your web series, and is one of the most consistently underthought parts of web series marketing. Whether you’re making thumbnails, picking an image on your Stareable.com show page, or adding art to social media, you should design them just as carefully as you honed and edited the series itself. In the industry, the primary imagery you use to promote your film is called “key art.” Key art may overlap with the film poster, but is distinct in that it’s usually used where poster dimensions aren’t as optimized, like in social media, on websites, on merch, and in advertisements.
Key art is a potential viewer’s first inkling of your series, before they even watch a short trailer or teaser, and I defy you to find someone who clicks on thumbnails made entirely of text as a habit. If you’re not a household name or associated with a popular brand, your series title should not be the primary focus of your key art, and it certainly shouldn’t be the sole focus. No shade, but the number of Stareable show pages whose only image is entirely composed of text or a show’s logo is baffling to me. Consider this as an example:
Which would you be more likely to click on? Be honest.
In almost every case*, best practices for key art is to show some faces, because people are more likely to click on images and thumbnails with a human face in it. It allows viewers to immediately identify with a character, understand the tone of the piece, and maybe even click because they find someone attractive.
Separately, it should feel planned rather than accidental- no random screenshots. The image should feel, if not posed, then composed in some way. It’s the difference between these two images:
Making faces/characters central to your key art will also help you highlight important cast features- is your series particularly diverse, is it comprised of a mix of genders or more female or male leaning, is it about young people or people in their mid-forties? All of this information is relevant to a potential viewer, and the earlier they can relate to something, the better. No one can relate to a font face the way they can relate to a face face.
**Times when faces aren’t as relevant: if you’re doing a nature/unscripted series, if you’re doing a minimalist aesthetic, if you’re purposefully trying to confuse, if you’re doing a horror series and a scary image sans face is more suspenseful.
I should be able to tell what the tone of your series is from a single image. Let’s play a game: what do these images say?
From Multiplex 10: The Web Series
- Comedic (from facial expressions, bright colors and the “Sarcastic T-Shirt”)
From The Feels
- Dramatic (facial expressions, more muted colors)
Potential audience members should also be able to tell the genre of your project just from your key art, especially when you’re making a sci-fi or fantasy series. Consider what these examples indicate:
- Action/sci-fi (zombie hands/weapons)
- Comedic (character expressions, two people arguing in background)
- Female-led (woman is clear subject of photo- brightest color costume, centered in frame)
- Ensemble (multiple characters in foreground surrounding lead)
From Three Trembling Cities
- Contemporary/real-world (wardrobe and lack of monsters or unfamiliar production design)
- Urban (all shots are clearly in a city)
- Dramatic (character expressions, deeper color palette)
Key art won’t just be a single image- it’ll be a kit of images in different dimensions based on where they’ll be shared. Facebook ads will require images with less text, Twitter auto-crop has specific dimensions, Instagram is best optimized with square images, etc. As such, consistency is key. People should be able to recognize content about your show entirely from the imagery you use. Consider:
The art style of these images (in addition to the show title) creates a visual consistency that’s recognizable regardless of where online it pops up. Even when the overarching color changes (like in the overlaid Stareable example) there’s something visually distinct that brands that image as Flagon.
From The Best Wishes
This upcoming series by Quip Modest Productions, The Best Wishes, does something similar with its promotional imagery- the colors aren’t the same, but the design of the images and the placement of the character names are. They also demonstrate a youthful energy with the color palette and ripped paper design, perfect for the college-aged series that it is.
Your key art should have design consistency, include minimal text and human faces when possible, and should convey tone and genre through subtle details like color palette, color saturation, and character facial expressions. People will see your images, be they on social media or as a video thumbnail, before they ever click play, so make them worth clicking.