Explainer Videos

Baiting the Hook: 6 Ways to Start Your Explainer with a Bang

Claude Harrington 03.24.2016

Although every explainer video is different, there’s one thing that the best ones tend to have in common: a strong hook.

How do they do it? Well, there’s no magic formula of course, but there are a handful of techniques that can increase the chances that your explainer will hit the ground running. So today we’ll explore some of those techniques–tried-and-true methods that can hook viewers from the getgos–so that your explainer video is more likely to start off with a bang. 

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6 Ways to Start Your Explainer Video with a Bang

1. A Startling Fact: Facts, indeed, are often stranger than fiction. And if you can find a fact that piques the interest of viewers, you’re likely on your way to engaging them. Naturally, the types of facts that work best tend to be on tone and on subject. But since this is the beginning of your video (and viewers don’t yet have any preconceived narrative notions), you actually have a lot of leeway here.

For example, consider the What Would Happen If You Didn’t Sleep? explainer that we recently featured as one of our picks of the PICK OF THE WEEK. It begins with a straightforward fact (“In 1965, 17- year-old high school student Randy Garner stayed awake for 264 hours…) and these relatively straight-forward visuals:

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There’s nothing too splashy about this fact–particularly the lead into it, in which the viewer doesn’t even really know quite where it’s headed (1965? A 17-year-old?)–but towards the end of the statement it all starts to come together. Not only does it tie together thematically, but it creates a situation where the viewer craves more. What happened next, viewers can’t help but wonder? And, with that curiosity, the viewer is hooked.

2. A Company-Defining Fact: For outward-facing corporate explainer videos, the goal is to explain who you are and what your business does. Those things, inevitably, are difficult to condense (even a 60-90 second explainer only scratches the surface, really), so one way to help set up and define your company’s value is by referencing a moment of action that defines the organization.

Oftentimes, the best fit for a moment like this revolves around the origin of the company (or product). What need inspired its creation? And how did that creation offer a unique solution?

A good example of this can be seen in a recent explainer video that we made for GlobTek, a leading power solutions provider.

The audio and video begin by taking us back in time and setting up a problem:

“Back in 1984, as electronics were getting smaller…

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…manufacturers had a big problem on their hands.”

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Perhaps some curiosity is evoked with regards to that “big problem” but more importantly what’s accomplished here is the opening’s ability to carve out GlobTek’s identity. They are electronics-related problem-solvers who, as we know from the year that’s referenced (1984) have been around for a while and most likely have an incredibly strong track record.

Innovative. Customer-focused. Reliable. Okay, I’m interested, tell me more…

3. A Personal Question: In addition to relevant and compelling factual information, another effective way to hook viewers is by enticing them with a question. This can be a little tricky, as even target audiences have diverse demographics, but a well-framed and well-worded question can still cut through those differences.

One way to keep things personal while asking relatively broad questions is by focusing on wish fulfillment. You pose a question that offers them a solution to a universal challenges (for which they have personal frustrations). Are you sick of X? Is Y no longer doing the trick? Wouldn’t it be great if you could stop worrying about X and Y and instead have Z?

4. A Philosophical Question: Questions like those just above tap into a place of emotion which, for many types of explainers, can unlock many doors. But what it doesn’t tap into is that type of tell-me-more curiosity we see evoked in Examples #1 and #2. If that’s your objective, you might want to consider a different type of question. One that approaches some of the mysteries in life, scratching an itch you might not even know that you had.

These questions can be wielded in a variety of ways. For example, perhaps you want to begin with something that trivial but interesting (like “Why is the sky blue?” “Why do bears hibernate?). Or perhaps it’s a theoretical question that’s aimed at laying out a specific point of view (“Who is the best President of all-time? What would happen if the 2016 Warriors played the ’96 Bulls?). There are many different directions that broader questions like these can go, but just make sure that you’re able to segue from that inquiry into interesting and relevant content.

5. A Compelling Character: Have you ever watched a movie or TV show were not that much happened but you were still fully engaged just because of the actor’s performance? It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does it’s a powerful thing. Accomplishing something like that with an unknown animated character in the span of an explainer video is not possible, but the what works about character-driven stories can be applied into this format.

For example, one thing we know is that it helps to like the main character. If we’re going to spend time watching him or her, we want to feel like we’re going to enjoy that time. Another thing we tend to like is characters who are, well, “characters.” Individuals who are memorable and unique because of how they act or how they speak. Perhaps that’s why anthropomorphized characters often work well in animation.

Even if unusual or dynamic, anthropomorphized characters need personality and high-level execution to be effective, but it’s hard to deny the joy of being invited into worlds where robots travel in posses and cars aspire to be happy…

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6. A Joke: Opening with a joke might seem like an obvious way to begin (after all, that’s how many speeches begin) but we’ve included it last here because it’s often the hardest to achieve. Not only because everyone’s sense of humor is uniquely specific, but also because the risk can outweigh the reward.

Present a fact or a question that a viewer doesn’t connect with, and he or she may just shrug it off. But if you swing for a joke and strike out, you might alienate the viewer completely. So there’s that, plus the possibility of (depending on their tastes) offending that viewer. All of which is not to say that humor should be avoid (in fact, the contrary is often true) but just a way to say it’s important to tread lightly.

Or put in a more applicable way: perhaps it’s best not to rely on humor as the thing that hooks viewers, but rather as a tool that can be used to enhance other methods.

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