Character building: give your brand a personality using animation

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We are living in The Information Age. And even though it’s great to be able to immediately access an inexhaustible stockpile of human knowledge, sometimes, it can get a little much.

According to the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, ‘Between the dawn of civilisation through to 2003, about five exabytes of information was created (or, five billion gigabytes). Now, that much information is created every two days.’ In accordance with this startling fact, 90% of all the data in the world has been created over the past two years.

So, when you toss your branded content into this infinite enormity of churning binary code, give it a fighting chance – and do everything you can to make sure it stands out from the background noise.

One of the ways to do this is by giving your branded content a character; or a collection of them. Characters can do wonders for your brand – the following positives are just a few of the ways that including one can help your video content stand out, and boost engagement with your target audience.

Create an immediate connection

Amongst the logos, statistics, slogans, and selling points, branded video content can get a little impersonal sometimes. And if you’re trying to communicate a somewhat dry service or product – car insurance, or superannuation, for instance – a character can take your content a long way. As Parker Channon, partner at advertising agency Duncan/Channon, told the Wall Street Journal: ‘You can put fairly bald product benefits into the mouth of a mascot, and it doesn’t come off as hard sell.’

Characters instantly bring personality into the mix, and humanise your content. This means that your target audience will readily form an emotional connection – and association – with your brand and product. Of course, people are more likely to emotionally engage with a fluffy pink bunny, than with an anonymous businessman lecturing you about why his company’s batteries are the best. The staying power of characters is proved, time and time again – in 1999, Advertising Age named the Energizer Bunny as one of the top 10 brand icons of the 20th century, and in 2006, ‘energizer bunny’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary, meaning ‘a persistent or indefatigable person or phenomenon’.

Characters can also solidify brand identity – you can suit the personality of your character to match the personality of your brand. Think of Red and Yellow, the animated M&M characters – they were created in the 90s by BBDO, after they were approached by the candy giant for a brand revitalisation. The agency came up with a simple idea: make characters out of the M&Ms candies themselves. The personalities of the characters matched the personality of the brand – humorous, fun, cheeky. Not to mention, they literally are the product: they are instantaneously recognisable as representing the M&M brand. The campaign was a huge success, as over two decades later, M&M is still using these characters in their global branding.

Screen Shot 2016-11-15 at 10.19.16 pm

Modernised: a 21st century Red and Yellow, still iconic, yet updated with 3D animation.

Story time!

Having a branded character means that you can place them in a story. And since storytelling was the next thing humans started doing after they’d mastered walking, hunting and cooking meat, it’s safe to say that your advertising mix is going to benefit from including a narrative.

According to Steve Olenski, Forbes contributor and marketing analyst, ‘Americans alone consume over 100,000 digital words every single day – but 92% say they want brands to tell stories amongst all those words.’ This is hardly surprising – storytelling is a fundamental human need, and we’re naturally drawn and connected to it as a medium. Barrie Seppings, a creative director at Ogilvy, states that ‘in the era of big data, we need stories in order to build marketing messages that are both accurate and human.’

Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation tells us four crucial points:

  • MRI neuro-imagery shows that, when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features and facts).
  • Emotional response to an ad has far greater influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy a product than the ad’s content.
  • The emotion of “likeability” is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.
  • Positive emotions towards a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments, which are based on a brand’s attributes.

If your character is paired with a well-paced and memorable narrative, your target market’s brand recall will skyrocket – simply because of the inherent emotional value of stories, and how our memories work. Which are you more likely to remember: a paragraph of disembodied audio, played over the top of textual graphics – or a linear and logical storyline, which you can emotionally connect with?

This animation we completed for ANZ explains a new internal operating system, and is directed at existing employees of the banking organisation. Sounds a little lacklustre. But watch it through, and your attention will be held until the end of the video. Even though – in all probability – you’re not an employee of ANZ, and the video isn’t directed at you. The video follows a humorous and relatable narrative, and you’re able to emotionally connect with the protagonist – and human nature means that you want to stick around until the end of the video to find out what happens at the end of the story.

Avoid the drama

‘[Characters] are the gifts that keep on giving,’ says Carol Phillips, the president of strategy consulting firm Brand Amplitude. ‘They never get in trouble with the law. They don’t up their fees. You can use them for a long, long time.’

Indeed – in promoting your brand with a celebrity, you run the risk of their bad behaviour reflecting back on your business. Researcher Margaret Campbell, who teaches at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, cautions that ‘all of us, celebrities or not, have positives and negatives to our personalities, and those negatives can easily transfer to a brand.’

These ‘negatives’ can get much worse than a DUI, or a questionable tweet from a few years back – think Subway’s ex-mascot, Jarod Fogle, who’s now serving time in jail for possessing child pornography. More recently, Dior copped flack for their celebrity endorsement – as accusations broke that Johnny Depp had physically assaulted Amber Heard, billboards sprung up throughout Sydney Melbourne, with Depp touting the fashion house’s new fragrance – Sauvage. Oops.


Ill-advised: a passerby does a double take at Dior’s untimely marketing campaign.

Animating your character gives you total reputation control – not to mention, it’s easier on the wallet (a single Instagram endorsement post from a member of the Kardashian/Jenner tribe can leave you $100,000 to $300,000 out of pocket).

In fact – the success rate of celebrity endorsements is questionable at best. A study conducted by Synthesio, the social analytics giant, found that celebrity endorsements contribute to just 3.19% of a brand’s online buzz. Conversely, brands with characters found much more success, with the Pillsbury Doughboy contributing over 20% of the brand’s online buzz. A character will also be good news for your social media presence – Charmin reported a 585% increase in Facebook shares when they used the Charmin Bears in their posts.

Animate it

It’s true, we might be biased – but generally speaking, animating your branded characters is more practical than filming them in live action.

Think of a list of brand characters – Snap, Crackle and Pop; the Michelin Man; Colonel Sanders; the Duracell Bunny. What do they all have in common? They’re either animated, or illustrated. And there’s a reason for that: animated characters are simply more practical, for a number of reasons.

It’s far easier to keep animated branded characters consistent: if you use the same character throughout a number of campaigns stretching a number of years, animating it will negate the need to recast a live action character as its actor ages.

On top of this, imagine if the rooster on your box of Kellogg’s was a real rooster, instead of an illustrated one. Yeah. Weird. Even the most famous live action character, Ronald McDonald, has an animated counterpart.

If you include an animated character in your marketing mix, there is nothing to lose, and everything to gain: a deeper connection between your target market and your brand, greater brand recall, and better brand association. So what are you waiting for?

A character will increase the relatability and memorability of your brand. Contact Jumbla today to start telling your story with an animated character.

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