Vox’ ‘Explained’: A case study

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Author: Charlie Staindl
Date: August 19, 2021

So you want to learn more about something. Maybe you open Wikipedia, but you don’t want to pour over dry articles. Maybe you remember a documentary you watched in school, with its slow British accent easing you to sleep. Maybe you read about it in a blog like this. Enter stage left: Netflix’ Explained. Today’s deep dive is looking at Vox Media’s very own hit Netflix ‘Explained’ series.

Netflix & Vox' Explained

Originally produced on YouTube, ‘Explained’ takes the informative video format and turns it into a slick, highly-regarded series watched around all the world. Its trademarks include the topics addressed, which are as nuanced as they are broad; its use of guest features and voiceovers; and its recognisable editing, such as their yellow highlighting and font. The series has been hugely successful, shown in over 190 countries and renewed for another two seasons (with more reportedly on the way). Its YouTube channel, home to the original series and a host of other popular content suggests this isn’t a fluke. 9 million subscribers, 2.5 billion views; it makes for a very successful venture. 

What are explainer videos? 

Explainer videos, instructional videos and all their variants have existed since the dawn of film. However, the modern explainer-style video has proliferated far beyond the boring tapes shown in high schools. There’s entertainment in learning, and ‘Explained’ is only riding the wave that’s come since the internet made niche topics and in-depth analysis available to pretty much anyone with Wi-Fi. Explainer videos are a great way to break down some tricky topics to an audience that either wouldn’t typically know about it, or understand it. While Vox’ program sets the bar high, a simple ‘Q and A’ style video is a great way to give some basic information with a person attached to the explanation. This revolution in videography can be found in the proliferation of ‘A brief history of...’ videos, as well as the uber-popular series ‘(random celebrity) answers the web’s most searched questions’ from Wired. 

More subtly, many major brands and corporations have an ‘about us’ video or video advertising designed to showcase a product. While different to an explainer video, these corporate films take many features of informative videos and use them to the benefit of their brand. Whether it’s a one minute FAQ or a 20 minute animated deep dive, the potential impact of the informative video should not be overlooked, especially when combined with elegant videography and production.

So what exactly makes ‘Explained’ resonate with viewers?

One element the series has made use of is branding. Having a recognisable parent company in Vox helps to provide the necessary repute to get a project off the ground. When approaching Netflix, Vox Media could point to the success of the YouTube series and of other ventures under the Vox platform. But more important than that is the consistency of style that branding brings. The Vox brand is synonymous with its trademark yellow highlighting, which is often used in the editing process to emphasise typically dry yet important information. This combines with an iconic font to create brand-specific content, and while explaining crucial information to viewers.

Additionally, having a creative vision and a dedicated editing and production style liberates the show. It allows it to experiment in other ways, such as the range of topics and its focus on pop culture interests. The strength of the brand also helped them to bring in some expert analysis, with features from people highly regarded in their field, in addition to an entourage of celebrity voice overs. For instance, their episode on living forever contained interviews with an oncologist, a venture capitalist specialising in biological research, a moral philosopher, a molecular biologist and the founding director of the Institute of Aging Research. This cast is diverse, both in expertise and background, while narration from actress Kristen Bell adds a star touch.

Another element is the way they tackle complicated issues and information. Having a quick look at the topics for episodes - including ‘the future of meat’, ‘billionaires’, and ‘the female orgasm’ – you can tell there’s a lot to unpack. Thousands of words have been typed about topics that Vox tries to cover in 18-minute episodes. The key to the ‘Explained’ series is it breaks down these complicated topics into easily digestible pieces. It aims to strike a balance between aesthetics and explanatory work, which Joe Posner, executive producer of Vox Media, says is key to telling a story. Unpacking complicated information has long been a hallmark of explainer videos, but ‘Explained’ blends it with strong visual elements and high quality video production. 

How can I use an “explainer” video?

One of your best options is spicing up the traditional FAQ page on your website. Rather than simply answering questions, employ some high quality video production to engage your audience and ensure your consumer base has all the information they need. 

You could also focus on the key message of your business. If you’re selling a product, how does it work? If you provide healthcare, what do patients need to know before they see you? How are you operating in Covid to make sure people are safe? All of these questions can be answered in the same way Explained tackles the big questions. By incorporating this on your platforms, you’re building trust, transparency and confidence. 

At The Jasper Picture Company, we’ve spent our fair share of time working on explainer videos, corporate introductions, and everything in between. As a Melbourne Videography firm, we blend experience with creativity and look to bring some of the best details from ‘Explained’ to your project. Make sure to visit our website to check out our rates, and get in touch to learn more about our work and see what we can do for you.

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