How to use video to get people to care about boring, complex topics

The video starts with an image that everyone understands – a game board. It focuses on the viewer’s stake in the game: what the government has to do to get copies of an individual’s email or web browsing history. The narrator uses movement around the board to illustrate a bureaucratic process. He uses humor. “Nice […]

The video starts with an image that everyone understands – a game board.

It focuses on the viewer’s stake in the game: what the government has to do to get copies of an individual’s email or web browsing history. The narrator uses movement around the board to illustrate a bureaucratic process.

He uses humor. “Nice mustache,” the narrator says to a character at one point. The person in question is “[email protected].” A cow joins the list of characters as they take a bow at the end of the video. The web producer has to play catch-up at one point in the process, which means calling the feds and telling them they don’t need as much data as they think they do.

And, most importantly, the video is short at 3:24.

“And that’s how we respond to a U.S. search warrant” is the closing line of a Google video that explains how this process works.
It’s a dense one, that revolves around bureaucracy and legal hoops and data: in short, a process that people need to understand but certainly don’t want to spend any time thinking about. This video captures your attention and your imagination. When it’s over, you know what happens when the government asks Google for copies of your email. The narrative also portrays Google as an obedient citizen who simultaneously defends the privacy of its users. I haven’t seen many public service announcements that deliver both relevant information and a PR boost.

What’s more boring and convoluted than a federal warrant for someone’s email? The legal fight about birth control between religious organizations and the Obama administration.

Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst for the RH Reality Check blog, used 28 GIFs to explain the back and forth over the issue. The series of GIFs shows how women hoping to get their birth control covered by insurance have gone from happy to worried to confused to angry over the last two years as the court cases have wound through the system. It is amazing to see everyone from Jesus and Captain Kirk to Tina Fey and Bill Cosby used to explain where things stand.

“A GIFs-planation of the Birth Control Benefit” uses a lot of the same techniques as the Google video. It’s funny. It’s based in pop culture. It puts the news in context. And it recognizes the human emotions triggered by the whole thing.

How could a doctor’s office or hospital system use GIFs or video to explain something boring? There is no shortage of convoluted and confusing problems in healthcare. Ask yourself what process or rule or procedure is most often misunderstood by patients, caregivers or even employees. What scan or exam is confusing or has many steps or seems illogical? Think about the question, “Why does it work that way?” and find a way to illustrate it with a series of GIFs or a video.

Yes, you need Photoshop to make a halfway decent GIF. But your marketing department would be thrilled to have a fun assignment like this. And, you don’t need to make these things all the time. Even using this technique once a quarter or a couple times a year will change the whole tone of your communications with patients.