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 three-act structure quickly causes your eyes to glaze over.So, what makes a great explainer video? After years of both watching and producing these , I’ve come up with a few points on how to make the best explainer video.
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 viewers watching and taking in your message. A good explainer video says what people need to hear to become believers and leaves the finer details to your website.
An example of a good, brief explainer video is Brad Chmielewski’s 30-second Groupon spot. There is so much information communicated during its brief duration that it feels much 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 tale 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, along with 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 manufactured. You can almost always spot the lazy paint-by-number three-act structure from a mile away: 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. 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 and 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 somethign does, 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 five seconds before we move onto the next thing.