Animation

4 Insanely Popular Animated Explainer Videos from TED

Shawn Forno 03.23.2017

Animated explainer videos do one thing better than almost any other type of media—they explain stuff. Heck, it’s even baked into the name. In all seriousness, animation really is a video powerhouse.

Animation excels at turning complicated abstract concepts into something real. Animated characters and scenes engage our hyperactive brains with interesting concepts, recognizable shapes, and simple narrative stories. No matter what you’re selling, you can always bet that your audience likes a good story. Animation delivers that.

Complicated software applications, unfamiliar cloud solutions, and zany sounding mail order businesses all start to make sense when you use animated explainer videos. But how far can you take it? How much information will people reasonably watch—especially when it’s confusing, cerebral, and complicated?

To find out, we looked at four of the most popular animated videos from TED (arguably some of the most cerebral video content on the internet) to see which animated explainer videos worked, and why they went viral. Millions of people watched these complex, information dense animated videos because they each tell an interesting story through the use of simple, engaging animation.

Lean back, watch a few of these animated explainer videos below, and see which ones suck you in. I have a feeling you’ll be surprised with how engaging animation can be—even when it challenges the heck out of you.

4 Popular Animated Explainer Videos: TED Riddles

Can You Solve the Locker Riddle? — 4.2 million views

This mathematical explainer video feels like it’s straight out of the DaVinci Code. A mathematical lock. High stakes. Bloodthirsty competition. Prime numbers. Fibonacci would be proud.

It’s short and sweet at 3:49 (including title and credit sequences), and the narrator does a great job of simply capturing the scene. However, the visualization is key to understanding the popularity of this video.

If someone wrote out the text of this riddle, “You have 100 lockers. Each opened in sequence, where the next opener affects the status of the previous lockers…” you wouldn’t stay awake past the first sentence. However, when seen as an overhead visualization of the 100 lockers, and seeing how each factor affects each other locker, you understand the solution. Heck, the solution even feels kind of obvious.

That’s the big takeaway from this difficult explainer video—animation can make your viewer feel smart by taking incredibly complex problems and showing the solution visually. Making your customer feel like a genius in just a few minutes is a great way to build a brand, eh TED.

The Psychology of Narcissism — 2.6 million views

This animated explainer video is pure story. Unadulterated story. Greek myth is the perfect fodder for animated storytelling, and this animation does it perfectly. It begins by weaving in just enough history to teach a lesson, but then quickly pivots to psychological applications of that information.

We’re all familiar with the term “narcissism,” but this video really breaks the idea apart and makes it much more clinical. There are different types of narcissism, different levels, different manifestations, and obviously different ways to treat and diagnose it.

animated explainer videos

This explainer video is a great primer for understanding narcissism. The video makes the viewer realize that “narcissism” is more than just a casual term—it’s a condition. I’m also positive that at least 100,000 of these views are from psych undergrads cramming for midterms.

Can You Solve the Prisoner Boxes Riddle? — 3.5 million views

This oddly engaging riddle is essentially an animation of a mathematical logic puzzle, yet an audience roughly the size of Oregon stuck around to find out which musician would find their instrument, and how. It’s reminiscent of the locker riddle video from earlier, but is much more mathematically dense—which you can see about halfway through the video. Once it gets math heavy I lost interest, but after watching this explainer video, I know that if I’m ever trapped in a musical logic puzzle a la Saw 11, I’ll be fine. Thanks, TED!

Why Do Cats Act So Weird? — 3.2 million views

This video has the word “cat” in the title, so obviously it has a few million views, but don’t let that fool you—this video is fantastic. This video takes a critical look at some of the most common—and confusing—feline behaviors and asks a simple question:

Why does your cat do that?

What makes your cat high places or pouncing on stuff? How come she likes to snack all day or tiptoe around the house? It all comes back to your cat’s role as both predator and prey millions of years ago.

This video does a great job of creating an appealing icon character that every viewer can relate to. “Grizmo” is fun, engaging, and scarily accurate, and the animation transports us into loving this silly cat. This video is eminently shareable, highly branded, well targeted, and an incredible value add for anyone who owns a cat, loves cats, and wants to know more about those vexing little hairy weirdos that millions of people cherish. It’s a slam dunk explainer video.

Education is Engaging: The Power of Animated Explainer Videos

Explainer videos have the power to not only educate your customers about your complicated product, but done well, animation can make even confusing ideas seem commonplace, even obvious. If comprehension is a barrier to purchasing, consider the persuasive power of animated business videos for your product.

Millions of people watched animated explainer videos about math, psychology, history, and cats. You can get people pumped about your next big idea.

Contact us to learn more about creating engaging animated video for your business.

Shawn Forno

Shawn Forno is a massive Studio Ghibli fan who does content marketing. In that order. Find his other writing and extensive travel blogging here.

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