They say 2016 is the year of the online video. And sure, they said that last year, and the year before, but you get the point- online video is here to stay.
But the art of convincing the audience to your point of view certainly predates the phrase “explainer animation”:
So while we’d like to fancy explainer videos as something new and innovative, we’re really building on work that is, well… uh… two millenniums old. So why not take a few tips from one of the most influential guys who ever lived?
You may know him from such works as inventing science and modern thought. He’s older than Jesus, arguably smarter than Plato, and knew how to keep an audience on the edge of their amphitheater benches. Ladies and gentlemen: Aristotle!
Aristotle was interested in… well, everything. And one of those everythings was rhetoric, or the art of persuasion.
The Three Types of Persuasion
Aristotle asserted that persuasive communication techniques could be boiled down to three categories:
- Pathos: Evoking an emotional response
- Logos: Appealing to the audience with knowledge, facts
- Ethos: An appeal to the credibility of the speaker
Of course, these don’t have to be exclusive strategies. Let’s look at some presidential nominee candidate tweets:
We have more people in jail than any other country. Lives are destroyed as we spend $80 billion locking up fellow Americans.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 25, 2016
Sanders is sharing this message with both numbers ($80 billion) and an emotional framework: (lives are destroyed). He is using both pathos and logos.
Or when Donald trump tweets:
I will bring our jobs back to the U.S., and keep our companies from leaving. Nobody else can do it. Our economy will “sing” again.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2016
We see ethos in Trump’s attempt to build credibility (nobody else can do it), as well as, again, pathos- (our economy will “sing”).
How did we start talking politics? Let’s get back to our buddy Aristotle.
The Aristotelian Paradigm (Or, Scripts That Make Sense)
Aristotle also said that anything someone learns must be based on what they already know. He also noticed that audiences responded more favorably to some plays than others.
What did the successful plays have in common?
They followed a simple formula:
Act 1: Introduction (I can identify with these characters and situation) (25%)
Act 2: Complication (Tensions run high!) (50%)
Act 3: Resolution (All is right again) (25%)
And in explainer video scriptwriting today, 2400 years later, we stick to the same formula. Because it works. It appeals to a paradigm that the audience already understands, brings in the pathos of a problem, and ends with a solution.
What about Humor?
Have you ever wondered why some things are funny? So did Aristotle. And he came up with a short and sweet formula.
Humor = Known Paradigm + Surprise
Why did the chicken cross the road? To do something you were not expecting the speaker to say!
Surprises keep your audience on the edge of their seats. Aristotle understood that humor, when applied at the correct times, could provide “solace to the soul.”
In videos, it might be subtle, perhaps even a sound effect- but a surprise in the first 15 seconds of your video is going to keep your audience watching and amused.
Bringing it All Together
While communications technology will continue to evolve, the basics of persuasive, explanatory scriptwriting will remain the same into the future. What did we learn about explainer video scriptwriting?
Appeal to Multiple Persuasive Techniques:
Follow the Formula:
Introduction (Start in your audience’s worldview)
Problem (Focus on their pain)
Solution (Take their pain away- ending with a call to action)
Add Some Surprises:
Don’t underestimate the power of a well-timed sound effect.
That’s it for today’s Philosophical Scriptwriting 101 class. See you next time!
For more screenwriting tips, check out 4 Tips for Writing an Amazing Script.