Animations: explaining the SDGs in three minutes

The wide-reaching agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was brought to life in an animation commissioned by IIED.

Article, 21 August 2017
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In April 2015, the Economist said that it would be impossible to communicate the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals, setting out post-2015 development priorities for all countries, in less than three minutes. We disagreed and decided to show how it could be done.

We produced a three-minute animation with a call to action at the end for people to share the information about the SDGs and tell community and national leaders why the goals are so important. It was originally produced to a very tight timescale for a meeting in May 2015 but we revised it after the meeting to incorporate a stronger call to action, in time for the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, where the goals were agreed.

What targets did we set?

To reach as wide an audience as possible and represent a credible return on investment we aimed for:

  • 10,000 views on YouTube – we didn't specify the audience segment from which these views should come 
  • 120 likes and 200 shares on Facebook, and
  • 2,000 views of the animation webpage.

We produced booster communications to accompany the animation such as video interviews about the SDG targets and several blogs.

We achieved the 10,000 views by the end of October 2015, with considerable extra effort including reciprocal arrangements with other organisations to promote their videos (as of July 2017, the figure was 24,000 views). By January 2016 there had been a Facebook reach of 8,135 people; by March 2016 the animation webpage had been viewed 1,800 times.

What did we learn?

  • Choosing a child's voice for the voiceover was suitable for the first meeting in May but not as appropriate for the UN meeting in September 2015. The animation attracted a notable number of views from a youth audience, which was not the audience we were particularly aiming to engage. We should have thought more about changing the voiceover for the UN meeting (although this would have had budget implications)
  • A piece of content with a controversial element, published during the same period, attracted 10,000 views with no additional marketing or booster communications. We might have thought of taking this approach with the animation to help with reaching our targets
  • The animation helped to position IIED externally as an organisation focusing on what was happening in the SDG process
  • We learnt from the decision-making and project management process and were able to draw on this learning when we worked with researchers on other animations, and
  • The 10,000 view target would not have been met if we had not been able to draw on the resource of an extra member of staff for the marketing effort. This reminded us of how important it is to be realistic about what can be achieved with the resources available.

Looking in more detail at the process and what we achieved leads us to ask 'was it worth it?'

Internally, we certainly learnt more about the production process and what to do differently the next time we wanted an animation.

But we also received widespread praise. One person thought the animation good enough to translate into Korean for an audience we would probably never normally reach. And we raised IIED's profile with young people − with whom, two years later, we are hoping to engage again.