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Explainer videos, those seemingly cookie cutter shorts you see popping up all over the place, are definitely trending in online marketing. Unfortunately, while there are exceptions, most are an exercise in patience as their utterly transparent 3-act structure quickly causes your eyes to glaze over (the complete opposite of their intended effect). In a sea of content that grows every day, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for these videos to stand out. Heck, chances are pretty good your dog’s groomer has an explainer video on THEIR website. So, what makes a great explainer video? After years of both watching and producing these things, I’ve come up with a few points that, I think, can make the best explainer vids.
They get to the point
William Shakespeare once said “Brevity is the soul of wit.” When it comes to explainers, no truer words have ever been spoken. With the rapidly atrophying attention spans of online media consumers; it’s important to get them watching, get them hooked, and get them to absorb your message. A good explainer video says what people need to hear to become believers, and leaves the finer details to your website.
A tremendous example of a good, brief explainer video is Brad Chmielewski’s 30-second Groupon spot. So much information is communicated during its brief duration that it feels like it has to be longer than 30 seconds.
They tell a story
Great explainer videos provide an abbreviated look at how a product, service, or company works. But, they can also weave a great story with a plot, a goal, and (depending on the script), key characters, obstacles, or tragedies. The most engaging explainer videos, tell a story that makes you care about whatever it is they’re trying to communicate.
One of the best examples of great storytelling in an explainer video is No Child For Sale by Andrew Davies. We’re introduced to two young children who are sent through various obstacles that include, working in mines, sweatshops, and even the sex trade. The characters go through each trial leading up to the turning point, and finally a host of actionable solutions for the viewer to help them in real life. It’s a sweet, and powerful piece.
They break the rules
It’s sad, but the majority of explainer videos have a rigid structure that makes them feel very manufactured. You can almost always spot the lazy paint-by-number 3-act structure from a mile away. Most explainer videos follow this simple formula.
Problem > Turning Point > Solution > Call to action
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is necessarily the “wrong” way to do this (see my previous example). All I’m saying is that this structure can sometimes bring out a rhythm that’s incredibly easy to recognize, and gets annoying over time. The beats in the script are so measured out that you can guess what’s going to happen at the point it’s going to happen, right down to the language they use. “Wouldn’t it be great if…?”, “That’s why we created…”, “Well now you can!”, are all phrases you could easily put on a bingo card, and probably make up the majority of second acts in explainer videos. It’s a trap that I’ve actually fallen into myself, and doesn’t add anything to the message. While it’s great to identify a problem your viewer can relate to and offer a solution, this can be done without treading down this familiar path over and over again.
This piece, written by Chris Koseluk and edited/animated by me for Causes.com, is a prime example of the problem/solution model really getting it right. The problems take a back seat to the solution, and we’re given a great overview of how the site works, and what we can achieve with it. It’s slick, it’s informative, and it converts.
Some wonderful explainers can get away with avoiding these three key points, but most employ one or more of them. What’s important to remember is that, along with trying to explain what a group does, ultimately explainers are designed to convert viewers into customers, activists, or supporters. The best ones tell a rich, thoughtful, and engaging story, or make us laugh and want to share them because they’re devilishly clever. The rest? They keep us occupied for at least 5 seconds before we move onto the next thing.