What is an explainer animation?

An explainer animation takes a subject or a series of related subjects and – as the name suggests – explains them to the viewer.

It’s a broad brush term covering a wide variety of subjects, from training and onboarding videos, to product marketing videos, to scientific and medical explainers to more cerebral videos explaining a concept or idea.

Explainers are where motion graphics really come into their own. By using graphics in a 2d animation in harmony with a voiceover you can communicate much more information – because someone can process what they’re seeing alongside what they’re hearing. The two mutually reinforce each other.

And secondly, watching graphics is a lot more engaging and memorable than watching someone sit there and talk at you in the style of an old-school explainer video. No matter how engaging they are as a speaker, an animated video is far more likely to hold someone’s attention as a piece of content.

What are animated explainer videos used for?

The main purpose of creating an animated explainer video is to make information as accessible as possible, and to inform the viewer.

The average web user reads only 20% of text on a web page, according to a study by Nielson Norman group in 2008. In contrast around 50% of people will watch a video of up to 3 minutes to the end.

This means that explaining using video is going to be much more effective than explaining using text, as well as being more beneficial for social engagement (more of which below).

It’s why you should seriously consider creating an explainer video for a range of purposes from marketing a product for a potential customer, to highlighting the key conclusions from a research study or a report.

A website visitor will be drawn to an animated video on a landing page, and their engagement with the key messages on the page and ultimately the call-to-action will be higher.

A few years back, the World Bank published some statistics which laid bare the dangers of confining important information (in this case, research) to a PDF.

It revealed that 517 PDF reports that it published between 2008 and 2012 had not been downloaded from its website. Not even once.

This led Christopher Ingraham to write in the Washington Post: “What if someone had already figure out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?”

Social media and explainer videos

Video is a must for explaining topics on social media. Take Twitter for example, in each Tweet you have a mere 280 characters to ‘explain’ your topic. In contrast, by allowing videos of up to 2 minutes and 20 seconds (and longer in certain instances), you have the equivalent of roughly 350 words – a massive increase in space to communicate.

Allied to this, video receives significantly more attention on social media than text posts. On Twitter videos attract 10 times the amount of engagement as tweets without video. Similarly on Facebook, people spend 5 times as long looking at posts containing video compared to those without.

YouTube is a popular resource for explainer videos, especially those that set out to answer a particular “how to” question. It’s also an essential place to put those product explainer videos for marketing purposes. An incredible 80% of customers start deciding on their purchase by watching videos on YouTube, making it an essential component of the video marketing mix.

What makes for a great explainer animation?

As we’ve detailed above, there’s such a wide use for explainer animations that to generalise about what makes a ‘great animation’ is a difficult task.

But at a high level, it would have to be the video’s ability to:

  1. Keep its audience engaged throughout
  2. To clearly and succinctly explain the topic at hand
  3. To inform the audience
  4. And to clearly signpost what they should do next i.e the call to action.

In terms of how to make a great explainer animation, that’s the clever bit. For this we will focus on the types of animation we typically make at Senate Media: explaining a report, a policy, a scientific concept or a product.

“What if someone had already figure out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?”

Christopher Ingraham

Target audience and objective

The first step for any great explainer video (or indeed any great content)  is to understand your target audience –  who are they and what will they respond best to – and what do you want them to do as a result of watching the video.

It is important to refer back to this as you proceed down the animated explainer video production process, because it can be easy to get carried away with seemingly good ideas, which aren’t in fact any good when measured against your target audience and objectives.

Script and storyboard

The next step is to consider your storyboard, script and overall concept for the animation – ultimately how to achieve your objectives in an engaging way. It is important to consider all of this as one before you start committing pen to paper on ideas for your content because the direction of the script might be dictated by the visuals you want to create.


You will also need to think about your audience when it comes to creating the graphics. Using a company that creates bespoke graphics (like Senate Media) holds big advantages over the use of explainer video software on this front, because using software is more likely to lead to a generic ‘off brand’ look. 

Explainer video software might be a way to go if you have a tiny budget and can afford to invest lots of your own time in creating an animation.

But a bespoke explainer animation is always going to achieve a far and away better overall look, and save lots of time and aggravation.

Using characters in explainers

One consideration you may have when creating an explainer animation is whether to use shapes and objects or characters to tell your story.

If you’re seeking to generate empathy and relatability as part of your overall objective, creating animated characters is a must. 

There are many different types of characters that can be created from stick men to people with full features. For many projects, the sweet spot is somewhere between the two: full formed characters without facial features, which can often come across as “cartoony” for animations with more serious objectives.

One note of advice is that the more detailed your characters are, the more characters you will need to be created due to the need to ensure diversity is represented. This may be something to bear in mind if operating on a limited budget.


Finally, no great explainer animation would be complete without a great voiceover to narrate the story. 

Your choice of voice actor will have a big bearing on the overall feel of the animated video, so it is important to think carefully about the impression you wish to create. Similarly, consider the tone you’re looking to achieve as voiceover artists are flexible and can read scripts in a number of different ways – which is why we tend to use the term voice actors. 

But whether you’re choosing a male or female, neutral, regional or even overseas accent, utilising a qualified voice actor will always yield the best results.

How an explainer video company can help

Senate Media is an established explainer video production company. We have a wealth of experience in creating explainer animations utilising carefully crafted scripts and storyboards, bespoke graphics and a large pool of professional voiceover artists.

We are specialist video marketers for anyone looking to turn a serious and complex document into an engaging animation – in the fields of public policy, science and medicine and beyond.

Below are some of the great explainers videos we have produced. Be sure to check out our Work page for more examples, and pop your details into the form to have a member of our team contact you.