Explainer Video

3 Reasons Why Great Explainer Videos “Tell” Before They “Show”

Shawn 01.23.2014

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

– Anton Chekhov

No offense to one of the greatest writers of all time, but…what’s wrong with a little “telling?” We here at Idea Rocket think a great explainer video is less a contest of “tell” vs. “show” and more a collaboration between the two.

Great explainer videos always tell – the best ones just do it while they show.

To see what I mean, watch this incredible video about the new electric hybrid Copenhagen Wheel. Spoiler alert: I’m going to reference it a lot.

Awesome, right? Cool. Now, let’s look at the three things this video “tells” you and why that’s a good thing:

First Tell: Biking is Straight-Up “Great:”

“Bicycles are a great way to move around…”

Why tell this instead of show it? Because they have to. If you don’t think biking is great, you won’t connect with the product and showing an opinion like “biking is great” takes time.

Second Tell: Biking is Hard:

“…yet sometimes distances are too long, hills can get in the way, and hard journeys to work may leave you covered in sweat.”

The voiceover extols (telling) the woes of cycling in the city, while the video contradicts this, (showing) with a calm camera pans past riders – with the Copenhagen Wheel – gliding near a river. The video doesn’t bog down the viewer with infomercial style images of a cyclist laboring up a steep hill. They simply tell you about the problem – biking is hard – while simultaneously showing their product making it easy. It’s such a potent one-two punch you almost don’t realize it’s happening.

Third Tell: Respect Our Authority:

“The technology was developed over several years at MIT, together with the city of Copenhagen.”

In one sentence, the Copenhagen Wheel associates itself with MIT – a world-renowned tech institution, and Copenhagen – the global hub of urban cycling where a whopping 36% of commuters bike everyday. How convenient. Do they show the viewer these allusions with pictures of MIT students hard at work? Nope. They mention they’re scientific expertise and real-world research almost in passing. And you believe every word.

Great explainer videos always tell – the best ones just do it while they show.

The video picks up steam around 0:50, and “showing” takes over. Animated graphics of the hi-tech features fill the screen, and illustrations of the wheel boosting riders uphill demonstrate its value. The baton is passed from telling to showing – which happens in any good video. However, this section is only effective because of all the hard work the “telling” did in the beginning of the video.

Essentially, you’re ready for the “show” because of the “tell.”

There are as many types of explainer videos as there are products. Sometimes “good” means tons of showing – like screencasts or demos – but even the most vivid visuals demand a little set-up. Explainer videos – like the Copenhagen Wheel – are the perfect hybrid of show and tell.

So before you focus too much on the look of your video, take a second to set the stage with a little old-fashioned telling.

Who knows, you might reinvent the wheel.


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at ponieswillbiteyou.com

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