Explaining the Explainer (animation for marketing)

Guest post by friend and digital smarty, Susanne Schantz, Co-Founder of Small Island Studio

You may have noticed a small explosion in the number of animated videos on the web lately. They are everywhere now, especially the (sort of) ubiquitous one-minute ‘Explainer Video’. Why are animated videos so compelling, and so Zeitgeist right now? What makes an animation better than regular video at conveying a complicated idea and making it memorable?

The example that springs immediately to mind comes from the fantastic TED speech given in 2006 by Sir Ken Robinson called “Schools Kill Creativity.” It was an epic speech. First of all it’s important to note that Ken is one of life’s gifted speakers, with a gentle, Monty-Pythonesque style of talking that pulls you into the topic, using humour, a depth of knowledge and his incredibly sharp intellect to make you listen with more attention than you naturally would.

So watching that speech was compelling. I became a bit of a disciple of the topic after viewing it, and would demand friends, family, colleagues all watch it as well. Then one day, while searching it out on Google for the umpteenth time to show to yet another person, I saw that there was a new speech by Sir Ken in the results, created by “RSA Animate.”

So of course I looked. And suddenly, what had been an interesting topic became unbelievably compelling.

The RSA (Great Britain’s ‘Royal Society of Arts’) had created an animation of a Sir Ken speech, in a style known as “progressive illustration.”

Adding visuals to words is hardly a new idea; currently it’s huge in the modern digital space (just look at the explosion of Infographics). But in this case, adding motion and graphics to what was already a great speech (good writing still matters) perfectly demonstrates the power that animation can have in a business context.

The “Explainer” video business has been born on the back of this idea. There are dozens of companies that have sprung up (our own, Small Island Studio, among them) to provide companies with one-minute long videos to explain complex ideas and concepts in a simple, easy to consume and memorable format.

Explainer Videos have become popular for a bunch of reasons; their short, web-friendly format makes them easy to use across all types of mediums (and they work well on mobile), and the flexibility of animation means it can tackle a wide variety of topics without the limitations of live action.

And what’s in store for this space is even more compelling from a marketer’s point of view. Adding interactive elements, which compel the watcher to get involved with the video, will increase retention substantially. Gamification, the process of adding game design elements and game thinking/mechanics, will create a competitive environment among viewers, giving them a sense of ownership over the content that will be hard to match.