A 2020 survey revealed that 41% of young Americans did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. In addition, 49% of the 11,000 young people interviewed could not name a single camp or ghetto established by the Nazis during World War II.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum sought to address this gap in knowledge by creating a series of animated videos for YouTube that are intended to educate people between the ages of 18 and 34 about the Holocaust. The primary objectives were to attract viewers, through the use of keywords and a targeted ad campaign, and to sustain their engagement with the videos. The specific measures of success were:
This was the first time the museum applied animation to core Holocaust history, and we wanted to learn if we could do so in a historically accurate, sensitive manner.
The strategy was to use personal stories of Holocaust victims, survivors, rescuers, and eyewitnesses to attract viewers and sustain their interest. Engagement with the museum’s social media channels and online exhibitions shows that first-hand accounts are uniquely effective at connecting people to Holocaust history. An internal team of content producers and researchers selected five stories for the series based on what has resonated with online audiences. They then drafted scripts and gathered visual references from the museum’s collection (e.g., historic photographs, digital scans of documents and diary pages, etc.).
It was then necessary to find a creative partner who could bring the stories to life through animation. Agency D8 recommended a creative approach that avoids the dark and gloomy stereotypes often applied to Holocaust stories. The videos feature bright oranges and blues. Their approach also limited the amount of visual detail included in each scene, in order not to introduce opportunities for conjecture about what a specific setting looked like.
The illustration of the individuals featured was of particular importance, because the stories are about real people. A cartoonish style would not preserve their dignity or convey the gravity of their circumstances. The museum’s collection includes photographs of each of the main protagonists, which were used as references for facial features. Agency D8 recommended that the last frame of each video resolve to show the person’s photograph, to underscore that the videos are true stories.
Ensuring historical accuracy of the videos was critical, especially due to the rise in Holocaust denial. To overcome this challenge, three historians reviewed the script and each frame of the videos. No detail was too small to escape their attention, from the shape of a German soldier’s helmet, to the model of a telephone or typewriter, to the number of stars on the US flag in the 1940s.
The launch strategy was focused on YouTube in order to reach the target audience who are not already following the museum on social media. Tags for the playlist and individual videos were chosen based on high-volume search terms related to the content. After the soft launch, 15-second video ads (one for each video) deployed on YouTube. These resulted in making the target audience (18-34 year olds) the largest percentage of viewers for three of the five videos.
On the museum’s social channels, each video was shared separately and tied to a relevant social holiday or event unrelated to the Holocaust. For example, the video about a German Jewish high jumper who was forbidden from competing in the 1936 Olympics was released during the track and field events at the Tokyo summer Olympics. The video about a Mexican American medic in the US Army who was a prisoner of war in a German labor camp was shared during Hispanic Heritage Month. Hashtags helped ensure the videos reached a broad audience.
Finally, ads on Facebook and Instagram featuring both video trailers and still images drove traffic to the videos on the museum’s website.
Video Viewership and Engagement
By the end of 2021, viewership and engagement with the videos had met our goals (see Objective section, above). The videos had been viewed nearly 60,000 times on YouTube and an additional 112,000 times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The YouTube total is nearly double the number of views of the museum’s other branded short video content. The views of the animated series on the other three channels exceeded one branded series but fell short of another.
The metric for engagement was average percentage viewed. The animated series had an average percentage viewed of 57% for all videos combined (with individual videos ranging from 52% to 65%). This exceeds the average percentage viewed of 51% for the six most watched videos on the museum’s YouTube channel that are 5 to 7 minutes long (the same length as the animated videos). Those videos ranged from 43% to 59% viewed.
Viewers left positive comments on the videos on YouTube, saying they were “informative and aesthetically pleasing” and they “like this method of showing history!” Viewers on the museum’s social channels had more than 17,000 reactions (likes), made 1,075 comments, and shared (retweeted) the videos over 3,330 times, The most meaningful feedback came from the son of one of the people featured in the videos: “You brought my father’s diary and memory alive and gave him a voice.”