The Power of Metaphor: The Beating Heart of Your Animated VideoDenise McArthur 10.30.2014
“And your very flesh shall be a great poem,” wrote Whitman. “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart,” scrawled Wordsworth. “All the world’s a stage,” sayeth Shakespeare.
We know, of course, that Whitman’s not suggesting your body will split into the written word. Wordsworth isn’t telling you to hyperventilate into your Moleskin, nor does Shakespeare truly think we’re all on some sort of cosmological set.
They’re employing metaphor—and to great effect. But metaphors aren’t just effective in the prose and poetry of dead white guys; it’s also an extremely powerful tool for your animated explainer video.
Metaphor is the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife
Metaphor might sound like something out of your high school English class, but it’s an essential part of the way we understand the world. We draw comparisons between unlike things all the time in our everyday speech. That Joe’s got a heart of gold. It’s raining cats and dogs. I’m all ears.
It’s how we communicate, how we dream, and how we power our emotional machinery. While “the light of my life” might sound hackneyed and cliché, there’s a reason it makes it into so many wedding vows: metaphors stretch our souls and express what mechanical language fails to capture.
Great explainer videos tap into this rich undercurrent of our emotional lives and make the most out of metaphor’s vast utility. Metaphors play a crucial role in almost every animation we make because they’re so versatile and useful. They hold incredible power to explain, evoke, engage, and enchant.
Flashes of Insight: The Power to Explain
The unfamiliar, unknown, and out of reach is scary. It makes us uncomfortable. That’s no way to present your organization. Instead, we like to get our arms around new concepts by comparing them to familiar objects, those old chestnuts. “Oh, I get it now—that strange new thing is just like that normal old thing.”
Even if your product or service isn’t wholly unknown, it may still be a little complex or abstract—difficult to grasp at first blush. Rather than explaining things in plain, drab language, metaphors empower your animation by sparking a flash of insight, like in this explainer video for LeadID.
Like a car’s VIN number, the LeadID lets us gather information about the lead.
Employing a simile here—a type of metaphor that uses “like” or “as”—with a quick image, we easily explain the function of a LeadID by comparing it to a well-known object. Instead of having to puzzle it out, the elegant metaphor gives viewers a little eureka moment.
Tugging Your Heartstrings: The Power to Evoke Emotion
A metaphor doesn’t keep to itself. It bounces around in your mind, reverberating against memories, connotations, and emotions. And the more emotionally invested your viewers are, the more likely they are to take action.
Consider how the LeadID animation begins—an unscrupulous carney ripping you off. Even if you’ve never had the pleasure of getting scammed by an impossible game at the county fair, it still brings to mind other experiences when you’ve been taken advantage of. You’re filled with a righteous indignation—and that makes you want to act.
Or take a look at the foreboding wall separating the imaginary town of Workland in Alcatel-Lucent’s animation.
Not only does this do an excellent job explaining the divide between wired and wireless networks—it also conjures up emotionally-laden memories of the Berlin Wall and its heroic fall. That shared collective experience infuses the metaphor with a deep resonance, making us feel as well as think.
Dazzling Fireworks: The Power to Engage
Explaining what your organization does may not always be terribly exciting. While metaphors can help us think and feel, they also tap into our need for entertainment—they delight us and make a pedestrian story stellar.
Take, for instance, Choicestream CRUNCH’s animated explainer video.
Not only is it easier to understand trait-based advertising after we’ve drawn a comparison to constructing a killer basketball team, it also feels a lot more fun. Jump-shooting misfits are far more interesting to watch than abstract ad traits. If you don’t have your viewers’ attention, nothing else really matters.
Creating a Scene: The Power to Dramatize
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: your video needs a narrative. Some companies may be blessed with a clear-cut story, but most need a little help from Mr. Metaphor. Watch how Global English’s animation makes brilliant use of a metaphor wrapped in a metaphor.
We’ve transformed companies into buildings, only to anthropomorphize the buildings into people. This serves to dramatize a common challenge multinational businesses face: two companies can engage in a casual conversation, present a problem, and discover a resolution. Beginning, middle, and end: a neatly constructed narrative that puts it all together.
Making Metaphors Work For You
You’d be hard pressed to find any decent media devoid of metaphor. We humans sprinkle them into everything we do. The difference here is between getting a little exercise on your daily commute and hitting the gym for real results: once you recognize the potent power of metaphors, you can harness them for maximum impact.
As explainer video animators, metaphor is one of the trustiest instruments in our toolkit. We use it to solidify the nebulous, shake up the stoic, spruce up the drab, and tell a good story. Metaphors are the air we breathe—and they give us the power to breathe life into your animation.
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