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The Past, Present, and Undecided Future of Explainer Videos

When Demo Duck officially became a company in 2011, the term “explainer video” wasn’t really a thing in the business world yet. Obviously, those two words existed and so did videos that explained things, but the term wasn’t widely used. If it was more popular back then, there’s a small chance our company would be named ‘Explainer Duck’. Trust us, we’re glad that is not the case.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long until explainer videos finally hit the big time. Take a look at the below Google Trends chart and you’ll see what I mean. This chart tracks the popularity of the term from when Demo Duck started through today.


Whoa…there is a lot to unpack here. The strong jump in growth speaks for itself. However, it’s a complex story—there’s a variety of factors that influenced the rise of explainer videos.

Since we’ve witnessed a lot of the happenings behind those numbers firsthand, we wanted to share our journey with the evolving concept of explainer videos. I should acknowledge that explainer videos have always meant a lot of different things to different people (and will continue to), but here’s our take on these helpful videos from over the past seven years.

The Beginning of Explainer Videos

At first, it was easy. An explainer video was a simple animation that gave people the rundown of the product or service in 60 – 90 seconds. Usually, startups would place it on their homepage (homepage video started trending around this time too). The mission was straightforward…explain your product or service with a video so people would be more likely to understand it and could skip the text. Check out our initial Demo Duck explainer video below!

Live-action explainer videos started to get into the mix quite early on as well. People also started to move away from just demo-ing their product and started to get into the storytelling game.

While these minor steps forward were cool to see, explainer videos were still relatively small potatoes. Those creating them didn’t experiment much, we were coming out of an economic depression so startups were less dominant, and even web video was mainly contained to YouTube (though Wistia was seeing some strong growth).

Explainer Videos go Viral

2012 was when things started to really snowball in the explainer video world. A lot of people may remember the hyper-viral Dollar Shave Club explainer video first hitting their social feeds or inboxes this summer. At Demo Duck, this was also the same time our explainer video for CrazyEgg received quite a bit of traction, particularly when Neil Patel wrote a blog post about how it helped him generate $42K more in monthly revenue.

As with many things that go viral, this set off a chain of events where suddenly all types of startup businesses (B2C, B2C, tech, CPG, etc.) wanted their own explainer video…often something that resembled one of these viral hits. The conversations evolved from “Do I need an explainer video?” to “How do I make an explainer video that will go viral?” No one can guarantee what’s going to become wildly popular in the wild west of the internet, but by a handful of projects going mainstream so to did the explainer video industry.

Explaining More than Startups

It wasn’t long before some of the big players in the business world looked around and noticed that some upstarts were starting to get a bit more traction than expected (and maybe more than they’d like). Not only that, larger business learned about some of these cool new startups through their explainer videos.

So, the next logical thing was for these global organizations to get in on the explainer video game. Explainers were usually created when they released a new product or service or had updates to pre-existing ones. Even though these were huge brands, the videos still followed a lot of the tried-and-true explainer formula: problem/status quote, solution, how-it-works, benefits, and call-to-action.

Educating Through Explanation

From there an interesting transition took place. Explainer videos, which very much started in the startup business/sales space, expanded to entertainment. Companies like Vox started using explainer videos to educate their audiences about a wide-range of topics to keep people in the know (their YouTube channel was started in 2014). A connected, global world can also be a confused one. So shining a lot on some hot-button issues was a good way to get traction and rank well in search engines.

Soon enough, it became hip to be informed, and you’d be a thought leader if you were the one informing. So big companies started to explain a bunch of the more complicated aspects of their industries or policy shifts that were less about launching new products and more about informing the electorate…for lack of a better term.

In 2017, we produced quite a few explainer video series for various companies and enjoyed educating audiences over the long term. We imagine more of those popping up in the new year as a few of those explainer video series have over 1M hits already.

Where do Explainer Videos go From Here?

With explainer videos existing nearly everywhere these days, their future is a bit tough to pin down. In our eyes, it’ll be a merging of editorial and sponsored content because that’s the way that a lot of writing has gone (for better or worse). More organizations have dedicated themselves to educating people around the globe (think podcasts), and a bunch of them are creating video series to support that mission.

Beyond that, we believe that “explainer video” will wilt away and a new term will take its place as happens with nearly all things on the web. We have a few bets on what those may be but don’t want to tip our hand too soon. Until that time we look forward to educating people, helping companies of all types tell their story, and producing more great video content, whether it’s called an explainer video or not.

As mentioned, the above is our own experience with “explainer video” but what have you noticed over the years? What’s the first thing you think of when you hear that term?

Let us know in the comments below or mention us on Twitter.

Written by Colin Hogan
Colin is the Managing Director at Demo Duck, a Chicago-based video production company, who has a deep obsession with making videos as often as possible. Follow Demo Duck on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.