Whether you’re looking to fit your brand video in with the most successful explainers of late, or you’re looking to find out what’s popular so you can buck the trend, it’s important to know what’s out there, what’s popular, and what’s cliché to the point of staleness. Today we’re looking at just a few of the current trends in explainer animation within the visuals, the music, and the scriptwriting.
1) Liquid Motion
Liquid motion is an intricate style of design where the movement of characters or objects is fluid – literally, dripping fluid. The major drawcard is the constant movement, and the unique way of ‘morphing’ from shot to shot without any real cuts. This keeps the reluctant viewer watching for longer as there’s less of a defined ‘break’ to switch away.
Liquid motion is often tradigitally hand drawn, meaning it can take longer than vector-style motion graphics to produce and is much more difficult to make edits to. This style is often paired with bright neon colours, giving an aesthetic that’s part-psychedelic, part-vaporwave.
2) Grainy Texture
The idea behind that grainy texture you see on a lot of motion graphics these days is a good one. Adding subtle grain is a time-honoured technique in film to help make original footage and added visual effects look like they’re part of the same filmed shot. Basically the aim is to consolidate all visual elements. When we use a consistent grain blend in motion graphics we not only achieve this but we also get the benefit of adding textured life into the flat vector shapes most explainer characters are built on.
3) Text Art
Typography has entered the mainstream and become a trendy point of interest in recent years. It’s no wonder then that illustrative text videos have too become popular in the motion graphics scene. Just as lyric videos became an affordable accessory to music videos, so too has text art become an integral part in the explainer video aesthetic.
Text art serves a number of purposes. It reinforces the message of the dialogue with a clear visual. It allows the video to make sense even when played with the sound off. And by placing the text as a movable object within the ‘3D’ space of the video, it allows for particular emphasis on chosen words, phrases or ideas. Large words crash in next to a character, who reacts in surprise, points at them, and generally draws attention to them.
4) Generic Ukulele
If we want to talk about trends that have well outstayed their welcome in animated videos, let’s talk about bouncy ukelele music. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the ukelele’s fault. It’s an excellent instrument that can produce incredibly varied musical styles in the right hands.
The issue is that this kind of soundtrack has become the celery of the explainer world. It tastes like nothing, it smells like nothing. It’s not harmful but it also doesn’t offer a whole lot of benefits compared to other greens. All in all, it’s bland.
In a lot of ways explainer music is supposed to be this way, which is why it’s so overdone. You’d be hard pressed to throw a rock without hitting an explainer video overlaid with an inoffensive uke jingle. Throw in a twinkly chime melody and you’re well on your way to celery city, baby. If you’re looking to fit right in to the generic explainer ilk, feel free to go for the cutesy uke soundtrack. If you’re looking to stand out, step away from the mini guitar and take a good listen to your other options.
5) The Storyteller Technique
A hot narrative trend among not only explainers but online animation in general is the ‘storyteller’ technique. A narrator (often a celebrity or a regular host) tells us about an event, concept, or a funny thing that happened on the way to the bar, in a casual explanatory way. The accompanying animation plays out like a motion picture book, illustrating the story in a simple and very character-focussed way.
The difference between the storyteller technique and other types of branded explainers is that the video isn’t about the brand, it isn’t about the product, and it isn’t about selling or conversions or CTAs. It’s less like a corporate video and more like a page from a book of creative non-fiction, or somebody telling you a story over coffee. And in this way, the storyteller technique is about building trust by providing something that’s rare for a lot of brands: genuine entertainment.
The ‘Irritable Bowl Syndrome’ explainer narrated by Bill Maher shows a quick image of Maher’s book at the start and end for context – no ‘buy’ links, no contact info, just context) – but the core of the video is a surprisingly interesting excerpt about the reflection of socio-economic structures in American football. The video isn’t about the product (the book) but the product is revealed to be valuable by its own merit (the writing).
6) “You know what your problem is? No? Well WE do.”
The classic advertising staple of ‘open with the problem, then reveal the solution’ is especially prevalent in explainer videos. This technique tends to work best with start-ups where the major product is innovative or difficult to explain. The classic Dropbox explainer that created so much success for the company uses a relatable problem—forgetting your keys—as a gateway metaphor to describe the usefulness of having all your files available wherever your go.
On the flipside, consumers have become wary of this trend when used in a cliched, heavy-handed way. Be especially aware of your opening line. “We’ve all been there.” Uhh, have we? “Blank is a common problem in this day and age.” Is it? How common? I’ve never had a problem with blank. “So you need a blank, but you can’t blank a blank. Introducing Blank.” Wow, you’re making a lot of assumptions there Mr Explainer. Do I really need a blank? And I can blank a blank perfectly fine, thank you very much. Now that you’ve totally alienated me, I certainly don’t want any Blank.
Explaining your target audience’s problem is fine, but be aware that oversimplifying and making assumptions risks driving off anyone who doesn’t fit those assumptions.
Written by Maree Railton