Ingredients for a Perfect Explainer Video

Posted on May 22, 2021

Episode: S02E14

Podcast Guest: Adam Lisagor
Role: CEO
Company: Sandwich Videos

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In this episode, Adam Lisagor, the founder of Sandwich, shares how he stumbled into starting a video agency that now creates videos for some of the world’s largest brands, from Slack, Starbucks, Instacart and Uber to Lyft, Facebook, Salesforce, and Warby Parker.

We explore some of the most important recurring themes in their work (letting the users in on the joke, creating a journey of revelation, and ensuring that users identify with the main character), how authenticity is possible under the bright lights, tips for better collaboration with agencies, and more.

It’s kinda awesome.

Oh, and in terms of links, check out:

  • My hand’s down favorite Sandwich video, their Descript explainer video (note the cast’s reactions during the video!)
  • Sandwich’s Pretty Damn Fun About Us page, which showcases their tonality (listen to the episode, you’ll get that)
  • An interview I conducted with Wistia about their famous three video for $111,000 experiment
  • Adam’s walkthrough of that exact same award-winning video series

Episode Transcript

Eytan Buchman: When you launch a product, you need an explainer video. And I’m about to make a horrible, deep and dark admission about that. You know, those explainer videos with the crappy stock graphics drawn by that awkwardly static hand that starts off with a “meet Dave, he’s struggling to stay ahead of his emails because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”[00:00:23] You see where this is going? It’s the bottom of the explainer video barrel and I made one, many moons ago. I still have about 530 years left of penance in marketing purgatory for it. But at the very least I’ve committed, never to do it again. And while my swipe file of emails, landing pages, and copy come from all over the web after a while it dawned on me that a good half of all my favorite videos were made by the exact same company with the same director cameo in them. If there were Oscars for explainer videos, Sandwich Videos would be a combination of Ben Hur Titanic and the Lord of the Rings.[00:00:55] So I talked to Sandwich’s founder to learn about three key elements for every explainer video, how to be an awesome collaboration partner for a video agency, how to keep the authenticity shining through in your videos and more.[00:01:07]This podcast episode and many others are brought to you by Strattic. Strattic turns your WordPress website into a static site that loads faster and keeps it more secure. If you want to see just how fast head over to buchman.co.il. Yes, my website is powered by Strattic and it loads blazingly fast. But I promised you insights into explainer videos and insights into explainer videos, you shall have let’s start at the beginning.[00:01:31] Adam Lisagor: My name is Adam Lisagor. I’m the founder of a creative studio agency called sandwich based in downtown Los Angeles. We’ve been around for almost 11 years. And I love to tell a story of accidentally starting a company because I thought after coming, after working in the entertainment industry for a long time, and then in post-production I started to get more interested in the tech world and all of the building of tools and really interesting new products, consumer products that was going on in the the mid aughts, so I thought that I might pivot into a career in technology and especially in software development with the with the birth of the app store and the iPhone, for instance and. So I thought that was going to be my new life. And I worked on an app with a friend that was a creative writing app for Twitter, which is a very niche niche.[00:02:21] I, sorry, it’s a very niche idea for a product. It had its little following, but in order to promote the app, when we launched it, I made this video to get people to understand the idea behind it, the intention. And really the spirit. And then, more people were interested in intrigued by the video then the product.[00:02:43]And so I started getting calls from significant tech companies, early stage unicorns giant multi-billion dollar companies and just calling calling them little old me. To make little app videos, like the one that I had made for myself and the first few projects that I’d done, I was literally, I was hiring crew, which is something that I’d never gotten the chance to do before, even in film school. And I was writing crew checks out of my personal checking account. And I thought, this is probably something I shouldn’t be doing. I should start a company. So the, at least the checks have. The checks look more official and the taxes and whatnot. So I started a company and really never stopped.[00:03:30]Eytan Buchman: So of course today, explainer videos are everywhere. How new of it is it as a genre?[00:03:38] Adam Lisagor: The explainer video as its own sort of sub genre in this context of tech explainers, certainly, fairly new. But the whole format of a person in front of a camera explaining concepts to an audience is definitely not new. That’s been around for, decades and probably a century at this point.[00:03:58] Advertising has taken many twists and turns throughout its history. And I think that there are periods when the culture has an appetite for this type of storytelling, which is very direct, very approachable, and without all of the flourish and the metaphor necessarily. , one of my favorite genres of YouTube video to watch is old commercials. And I really just like late at night, especially before bed, I love watching them. And a lot of times I will recognize that the work that I do in the work that has been done in decades past. But I think that the today’s tech world didn’t necessarily know that it needed this type of explanatory informational format or that there were creative opportunities within that format that would help people not only learn, but really get excited and understand, why they should be onboarding to a new product or a new platform.[00:04:55]Eytan Buchman: I guess like a lot of things, explainer videos are the kind of thing that it’s very easy to do badly and incredibly difficult to do really well. Do you feel like there are some basic recipe elements that every good explainer video has?[00:05:07]Adam Lisagor: I think about it differently basically any day that I think about it. And today to answer that question, I will think about it as similar to telling a joke.[00:05:17]You don’t necessarily know why something is funny, but you know how to make it funny. And I think there’s a lot of element of surprise and delight. In this style of storytelling and you need to subvert expectations and you need to be aware of what people are going to expect so that you can elevate their expectations and deliver something different than they were expecting.[00:05:39] Eytan Buchman: One of the most interesting things from my perspective is how much I identify with so many of the Sandwich Video explainer videos that i see is there anything about your videos that really bring out that feeling of empathy?[00:05:52] Adam Lisagor: I think that probably some signature moves are that humans enjoy other humans reacting to things. And so if you can organically show a character who is a proxy for the audience member. Reacting to something that they’ve just been introduced to in a way that you can tell is authentically engaging, compelling, and delightful.[00:06:18] If you can actually recreate that reaction, then you’re helping the audience understand how they are going to feel when they experience it. So that’s one of the sort of like the core principles of the work try to take every opportunity to make something relatable and human and acknowledge our own vulnerabilities and our own sort of limitations.[00:06:39], people really appreciate when they see themselves reflected and that’s a failing of most advertising, I think, and especially in the tech world it, doesn’t say it’s a little bit cliche now, but. Earlier days in, startup universe, you would see the same types of characters in the same environments in San Francisco wearing the same clothes, stepping out of the same sorts of apartments and drinking the same cup of coffee. And there was this expectation that’s the language and that’s the, that’s what you need to do in order to introduce a tech product. And it was so boring.[00:07:11] Eytan Buchman: So we have empathy that comes from seeing human reactions. We have the cadence and the pace that comes from telling the joke. What is the transition that the characters need to make during the course of the video?[00:07:25]Adam Lisagor: One of the main ones that I will mention on almost every client conversation at some point is we follow a character going from not knowing to knowing. And it’s a really important journey when you’re helping someone understand a new concept. Is you help the audience understand what the world was like before knowing this concept, and then you help them the visualize the path to knowing it. And hopefully by the end of that journey, they’ll understand, oh, there’s value here. This is something I want to know more about.[00:07:57]Eytan Buchman: I was talking to you about this before we started recording. I always feel like I know that a video is a Sandwich Video before I see you in it, or before I look who produced it. Is there anything unique about the videos that you create that keeps that feel?[00:08:14] Adam Lisagor: Yeah. I think a lot of it has to do with an unseen musicality to the way we tell stories. There are some musicians out there that you always know who is playing because you know the sound of their instrument. You also know who’s playing because you know, they’re phrasing.[00:08:28] You know, I don’t know if you’re a jazz fan, but there a lot of jazz players out there, Oscar Peterson, you always know an Oscar Peterson phrase. Coltrane you’ll always know when Coltrane is playing because you know the sound of his instrument and, you know, the way he phrases Charlie Parker, um, basically any of the greats, you can recognize them from their tonality and their patterns. And I think it’s it’s similar with us. It’s not an affectation, it’s the way that we speak and it’s the way we want to be spoken to. It’s this is how I want to communicate to the outside world.[00:09:01]Eytan Buchman: When you start working with a new customer or client what does the client need to bring to the table to really be the perfect collaborator?[00:09:08] Adam Lisagor: It’s such a great question. A client we worked with recently asked that on one of the intro calls and my answer was bring a certain amount of trust in our process. And be willing to take calculated risks with us because a lot of times what we come up against is people who know our work, they know our body of work, where they know that we have a proven track record of success, but they get scared because they can’t really necessarily see what we see.[00:09:37]And partially sometimes it’s out of not the most effective communicating of the idea in blueprint format. And I could see that for myself. With like home stuff, I’ve been a client many times to designers and contractors and things like that. A lot of times I don’t speak their language.[00:09:53] Even architect were to come to me with a blueprint for the most beautiful structure that’s ever been built. Look at it and I wouldn’t necessarily appreciate it, what it was going to be. And it would scare me. And I would start to pick it apart and ask questions and that doesn’t feel right.[00:10:08] So we have to rely on them to take a leap with us which is a leap that they’ve never taken before. And it’s the clients that really just kinda go, I don’t speak this language, therefore I’m uncomfortable with it. Therefore I’m gonna challenge everything that you’re putting in front of us, that’s where we have difficulties.[00:10:27]But the best clients are self-aware. And this is going to sound self-serving, but one of our favorite phrases to hear from a client is ” you guys are the experts.” Above that is a baseline is somebody who has that level of trust also has a great taste great. We’re working with a client right now who has in the cybersecurity space who has that level of trust. She’s like, we love your work. We want to do what you do. We’ll tell you what the product is and how it needs to be communicated so that, the C-suite signs off on it.[00:11:00]She also comes to every one of our review sessions with great ideas, like funny idea. She gets the joke. Incredible. And then the layer of that is that they have tons of budget to work with. They’re not uncomfortable about the resources. They’re not constantly weighing risk versus reward and return on investment and those kinds of things. They know that there will be inherent value in what we produce, no matter what.[00:11:27] Eytan Buchman: I don’t want to ask you to rank your children, but is there one particular video of yours that really sticks out as your favorite or the best one that you’ve ever created?[00:11:36] Adam Lisagor: No, some sometimes the ones that turn out the best are really painful to make. They’re really hard to make. So they don’t, they’re not like fun, and really the fun doesn’t start happening until significantly down the pro down the line where it feels like it’s all coming together and you’re like, this is going to work.[00:11:53]Conversely sometimes you’re having the best time of your life working on a project and then doesn’t, it doesn’t turn out as great as you would hope for. So I don’t think that correlation is necessarily rock solid, but I have memories of one of my favorites early on was this one I did for Warby Parker with my friend Noah and I, I went to my old stop stomping grounds in New York and spent a day shooting in this loft. And the whole concept was silly and referential and self-aware and, the client was fairly respectful and I knew that there was something new to communicate that I knew that people who are watching it would appreciate the value in the information that was being presented.[00:12:38] I also knew that we were doing a fun spin on the storytelling. And then it turned out great.[00:12:42]Eytan Buchman: I think right now, at least the industry is very much around authenticity and communication. But at the same time, you’re standing behind the camera with lights pointing at you. There’s something inherently not authentic about that. Is there any way that you managed to reconcile that dissonance between the experience of recording it while you’re actually trying to be authentic?[00:12:57] Adam Lisagor: That’s such a good question. If you really boil it down, authenticity is that we’re naked and afraid all, like we’re clothes are in authentic style is in authentic, and anything that’s a, a layer outside of our core selves is it is in a sense in authenticity. So you just need to make sure that if there are those layers of artifice, they do truly reflect who you are authentically and the same goes for style in any sense. I think that communication rings in authentic when you’re choosing the styling or the artifice for the wrong reasons, because you think the market needs it to be a certain way rather than what you genuinely feel is the most valuable way to present something.[00:13:48]Eytan Buchman: That authenticity rings so true to me. Not to bash my meet Dave video again, but that is at least one of the glaring ways where it fell flat. Meanwhile from an ROI perspective, the only person who made bank off of that is the hand model whose photographed hand is hopefully earning him royalties.[00:14:04] Speaking of ROI, I’m actually editing this podcast on Descript, which I literally only discovered because of a Sandwich video, you should watch their explainer. If you haven’t, it is phenomenal. You can watch more of Adam’s videos at sandwich.co. Incidentally Sandwich also produced Wistia’s three in one campaign, which I recorded another podcast episode about.[00:14:23] You can see a few of my favorite videos, but not my crappy animated one at buchman.co.il/sandwich. Just to bring this to an end, you’ve been listening to Marketers in Capes with GCMO and I think I’m going to go eat a sandwich now. Maybe while listening to some Coltrane. Hm. Sandwich and Coltrane.