B2C Brands Stand Out Using Cartoon Commercials. Here Are 3 Reasons WHY?
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Back in the 50s and 60s, cartoon or animation has always been used in commercials aimed at children. Kellogs led the pack with many of its cartoon commercials featuring cute characters, jingles, and child-friendly voiceovers.
The broader question remains, can animation marketing be used for a wider audience, young and old alike? Supporters of this medium say animation can build awareness and attention to any audience. Naysayers argue that this medium is limited and is only effective with children.
Even research in assessing animation is limited, ineffective and outdated. Animation has never been assessed empirically for its impact on adult audiences. This only exacerbates the controversy surrounding the use of animation in commercials for adult products. (Click here for more on the study)
I can think of three pertinent reasons why animation will help B2C brands to promote their products.
1. Animation can make a lot of impact in a short amount of time:
With the advent of social media and the rise of the 6-second video ads, attention spans have shortened. Marketers are searching for an effective medium to deal with this ever-growing problem. Animation as a medium rises above the rest to satiate this need. For one, it is well suited for transferring a maximum of information in a short period of time.
Perhaps the best example to showcase the impact is the story of O-Ren-Ishii in the Tarantino’s grindhouse classic Kill Bill. I have handled this in detail in my previous blog – Animation Vs. Live Action
A classic case where animation trumps live action. An action and gore scene interspersed with subtle metaphors. If Tarantino would have chosen live-action for this 7 min footage in the movie, first he would have received an NC-17 rating, which would have meant that his film would have been restricted to release in all theatres.
Moreover, Tarantino was able to showcase intense emotions using Japanese Manga style animations, where myriad of emotions were able to be portrayed by just a close-up shot of protagonist’s eye. The icing on the cake was just the precursor to O-Ren-Ishii rise to power with a still frame shot of her piercing the Katana into the Matsumoto’s stomach, with her on the top. This is a story that would be a move itself in live action, but the animation was able to condense the experience as a story within a story in just 7 mins.
How does animation achieve it? In fact, this is a by-product of the fact that animation is tedious and every frame is hand drawn and manipulated frame-by-frame. A smart animator is forced to think about each frame they create and make sure that every element adds to the overall messaging. This way they can make an impact with the fewest words.
2. Animation can make serious subjects become easily palatable:
Another important aspect of animation is its ability to portray serious or even traumatic subject matter in a light‐hearted way. Warner Brothers used theatrical cartoons as propaganda during the World War II.
By translating a very serious issue into a humorous cartoon, they became easier to consume. The video above appears innocent and unassuming. The reality is that it was used as an indoctrination tool for ideological views.
Here are a few examples of more serious subjects that have been tackled by animation each of them employs different Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques to narrate the story.
This video explains a Simple State Change. It starts with the narrator whose emotional quotient matches with the audience. Explains his journey on Cancer recovery. The story moves him to a positive change via an action of pursuing the treatment. The impact is that audience also moves towards the change.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a debilitating mental condition where people are affected because of an intensely traumatic event. This is common with soldiers who have returned from duty and their normal lives are affected because of flashes of the events of the past. In the video above we employ the NLP technique of using a Metaphor. This is where animation allows you to be direct using a metaphor which is not possible using live-action.
In a much less obvious way, these same techniques can be extended to advertising. After all, advertising is designed to exploit mindsets and ideas of their target groups. They are used to create desires capitalizing on common problems and fears to offer products as an elixir.
Animation on the face portrays a light-hearted facade. Beneath it masks the more serious intentions behind the commercials in which it is used.
3. Animation can reach a wider audience than live-action:
There is no other better example than Red Bull. Red Bull followed a universal recipe for its cartoon commercials. They almost always featured a simple black and white hand-drawn animation. The storyline was simple, the character faced a dilemma or an impossible task. They drink Red Bull, sprout wings and complete the task with ease. Imagine the possibilities here: Our history is filled with such myths, legends, and epics and every one of them has a hero whose journey is filled with perils and Red Bull could potentially manipulate to provide endless spots. The animated television ads also refrained from defining a specific target group; anyone with a sense of humor, no matter how old, would be able to appreciate the ads. This enabled the company to establish as wide a consumer base as possible.
One of the earliest animated cartoon commercials drew upon a familiar story of Sisyphus.
Sisyphus was punished for his avarice and deceit to roll a boulder endlessly atop a hill.
In the video we see Sisyphus toiling away in a futile attempt to roll the boulder atop. True to the original story he fails. Red Bull then adds its comic genius by introducing a plot twist. A fairy appears hands him a can of Red Bull, proclaiming that it provides “stimulation for body and mind”. Sisyphus drinks from the can, and then easily overcomes his obstacle. He then, sprouts wings and flies after the fair. The tagline appears: Red Bull “gives you wiiiiings”.
The Red Bull cartoon commercials were adopted uniformly across the company’s global markets. Not only did the colorful images travel well, but also the simple execution and universal concepts of the ads ensured that they would cross cultural boundaries easily. The Sisyphus spot was in Italian, did you as a user find it difficult to understand?
Red Bull manages to connect with its audience with a story that they can relate to. They also ensure that the Red Bull can, stands out by showing it in color in otherwise black and white spot. They then tout the product’s benefits: that drinking Red Bull stimulates you physically and emotionally so that you can excel. They tick all the boxes in marketing communications. They appeal to both physical and emotional psyche of its audience.
What really happens with a great advert and a bad product? Can animation salvage a bad product?
“Animation or not, bad products always fail”
We have a lot examples where great advertising couldn’t salvage bad products. A great example of this is “Microsoft Vista”. Microsoft sunk in 500 Million dollars on an awareness campaign for Vista at a time when the product wasn’t ready to be shipped. The campaign was so effective that the users rushed into download the untested release and faced serious issues with performance and compatibility. This caused a huge backlash in the Microsoft community.
“Good advertising is the fastest way to kill a bad product”.
Apple took this opportunity with both their hands and created a series of Vista bashing spots called ‘Get a Mac’. The series featured actor Justin Long dressed up like a young Steve Jobs (Reminding that a mac is ageless) and John Hodgkin pale, pudgy and with glasses (Like a tiring Bill Gates).
Here are 15 of the funniest spots:
At about 4:11, Apple even makes fun of Microsoft’s product strategy, where they show John Hodgkin stacks copious amount of money for advertising and throws in a stack of two to resolve Vista’s problems. They do that again at around 5:45 where they show John Hodgkin trying to raise money for Vista via a Bake sale. The trouble was while Apple was digging at Microsoft’s misfortune, they were absolutely spot on with the ground reality and connected with its audience Instantly. They even created an animated version at around 7:41, adding more brownie points to my central argument across this article.
In one particular spot shown below, Apple touts Vista’s new annoying security feature:
This celebrated spot had several layers of messaging to it. On the surface, it managed to showcase how annoying is to constantly press allow for menial tasks performed by the user in a Vista fueled PC. If you peel the top layer there was a political undertone to it. Apple blatantly suggested that if you use a PC with Vista, it is easier for the government to watch over you.
Across the campaign, Apple managed to Neurolinguistically program its viewers via the ‘Teaching Tale Approach’ (https://www.nlp-techniques.org/nlp-techniques-neuro-linguistic-programming-techniques/key-nlp-techniques/storytelling/). They overtly suggested that PCs cause trouble and grief. They’re hard to use, they’re unstable, and they’re vulnerable to malware. In comparison, Macs are easy, stable, safe, and competent. In short, they quipped that one’s computer problems will go away if one switched to Mac.” (adapted from here).
In summary, a good spot will ensure that you drive awareness and demand for your product. Once your product consumption reaches a critical mass of users who have experienced the product and found it wanting. You will only drive them to the competition.
Red Bull knew this was going to happen to them soon. They were garnering a huge market share with their aggressive marketing. They knew if the product is found wanting, they will fall like a pack of cards. But before they went aggressively with their marketing, they commissioned multiple independent studies. All of them proved that drinking Red Bull provides the desirable effects of increased alertness, improved memory, and enhanced mood. They had their fundamental right.
Now with a great product, a genius advertising campaign and with the tireless promotion, they achieved advertising immortality. Red Bull soon joined superior brands like Coke, Nike, and Apple by forging an emotional bond with its customers. All this started with a humble cartoon of Sisyphus trying to move a boulder atop a hill.
What’s the latest trend in animation for B2C Marketing?
Things are changing albeit glacially. During the past few years, it appears that more and more advertisers are using animation in their traditional advertisements. Here are two recent examples of animated videos that are longer than recommended, but have gone viral.
Taco Bell released this video:
The video tells a story of Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell and his inspiration behind the business. This video raked in a million views in a short period. The use of animation helped Taco Bell tell a story with authenticity. The medium allowed the flexibility to extend the hyperbole when necessary and hence connected with people with its simpleness in a short time.
Let’s take another example of cartoon marketing: Toothpaste commercials are often dry and uninspiring. Colgate hasn’t changed its creative approach to commercials for a few years now. An unnatural skit with an actor(s) and then a lot of time talking about the product.
Another toothpaste brand broke the traditional shackles. ‘Hello’, used an animated marketing video to promote the natural ingredients. The animation broke barriers by allowing them to take bolder leaps in storytelling. Animation allows the freedom to transcend time and dimensions seamlessly. The concept of anthropomorphizing a tooth and telling a story of how different ingredients interacted with it was a stroke of genius. The result was a million views in a few weeks.
Here is a spot from ‘Sensodyne‘ that has a similar approach uses an actor:
Which one do you prefer?
So is animation only limited to selling dry products?
The answer is no. More and more luxury brands are using animation as a mainstay in their communication. In fashion marketing which was traditionally dominated by anorexic models walking ramps and close-ups of the product. Animation has evolved as a necessary medium. I explore this in a separate article. (https://b2w.tv/blog/animation-new-black-fashion-brand-marketing/). Animated cartoon commercials are also garnering mainstream attention with beauty products. Here is a video by l’Occitane.
What’s the Takeaway?
In conclusion, even though an animation is still cheaper than live‐action techniques, it is no longer the “retarded brother of advertising” as it was previously considered. What used to be primarily useful for animating anthropomorphic cereal mascots has become an extremely broad and versatile medium. Today barely a single commercial is without any form of animation whatsoever. It is generously used to place new logos over old ones, slide shampoo bottles gracefully into view, animated logos and slogans, and show off every angle of a smoothly cruising car. Although those are probably the most common use for animation in commercials, it is not only employed for the purpose of creating the illusion of live‐action and tweaking images to perfection. But, Animation is exclusively used as a medium by brands to create a platform agnostic campaign. In short, animation can be used to create anything. As a medium, it can co-exist with live-action and on its own.