Why you shouldn’t shy away from using animation to communicate serious and complicated messages
Published on Nov 03, 2016
In advertising, communicating serious and important messages can be challenging. You’re tasked with ensuring that your message is conveyed with sincerity, understanding and tact – and that no elements can offend or alienate.
In the age of social media, where content can go viral by chance, and people eat up articles like ‘Top 10 Marketing Mishaps of All Time’ and ‘The Funniest Advertising Fails of 2015’, it’s more important than ever to be aware of every angle from which your branded content can be interpreted, and to analyse the implications of these interpretations.
Last year, IBM sent out this gem of a tweet:
“Calling all #womenintech! Join the #HackAHairDryer experiment to reengineer what matters in #science.”
Of course, the backlash was immediate, as hundreds of Twitter users called out the ingrained sexism in the well-intentioned but disastrously ill-informed tweet. One female user replied: “Shame I don’t use a hairdryer. I guess that’s the end of my career in STEM. Brb quitting my astrophysics PhD. #HackAHairDryer”.
Also consider Starbucks’ failed campaign against racism, which called on baristas to write ‘Race Together’ on coffee cups, to encourage people to engage in conversations with them about race relations in America. The campaign was considered ignorant, shallow and simply impractical – over 60% of feedback on social media was negative, with a third of these displeased reviewers classifying the campaign as ‘hate’.
Of course, these are extreme examples of Good Intentions Gone Wrong – the average marketer isn’t going to wake up one morning to a full blown campaign catastrophone of this scale on their hands. But these retweeted, reblogged and Facebook-shared ‘branding fails’ grant us a valuable lesson:
When marketing serious and complex issues, they must be handled with intelligence, foresight and sensitivity.
In the initial planning stages, if you’re producing a video to communicate a serious message, chances are, you’ll automatically envisage a live action short. But – not so fast. It’s true: animation is most commonly associated with cartoons – think Disney and Pixar, and the classic social mainstay of ‘Saturday morning cartoons’ – all content targeted at young children, and all content not taken very seriously. It’s fun; it’s silly – something intended to make kids laugh, or help them learn. It’s certainly not the go-to medium when marketers and advertisers go to plan sombre video content – but animation can be the perfect medium through which to convey serious messages.
Animation gifts you with a fastidious control over the whole production process – much more so than live action, which can be peppered with problems like slow turnaround, reshoots, and unexpected production costs and delays (click here to read a more detailed comparison of the merits and downsides of both live action and animation). Animating serious messages means you have complete direction over the look and feel of the video, and you can tweak any minute detail at any time to make sure the tone of the video is just right – which is important, when communicating sensitive material.
Animation, a veritable art form, also allows for a more delicate and less confronting channel through which to market serious content.
The inherent flexibility and scope of the medium allows you to artfully and delicately communicate messages and meanings through symbolism, rather than recreating the issue in live action, which – depending on the context – could be confronting for your target market.
A good example of this is communicating sensitive issues to children – here, animation is the perfect means of communication. We created this animation for Child Wise, an organisation that works to build awareness, deliver education and provide the tools to empower people and communities to prevent child abuse and exploitation. Our animation was targeted at primary school children, aged between five and 11, and explains to children that if they’ve been abused, it is not their fault, they have nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s okay and important to come forward and tell a trusted adult.
In this video, the medium of animation enabled us to contextualise this difficult conversation into a video that’s understandable and accessible for children. One of the keys to this brief was delivering the message in an engaging and non-threatening way – and the client saw added merit in using animation, as the depicted abuse scenario wouldn’t be too confronting or scary for children to watch. Plus, given children’s overwhelming preference towards animated content, animation is more engaging and accessible to them, and therefore, this important message from Child Wise was more likely to stick.
Another serious issue Jumbla has tackled using animation is the habitat destruction of Australia’s natural wildlife. We partnered with The Wilderness Society, an environmental advocacy association, to make seven animated web videos that told the plights of our threatened species.
The videos featured seven different native animals – from possums to whales – but rather than showing just the animals, the clips told the stories using people wearing animal onesies, to get people thinking about threatened species as they would their human friends and relatives. This series is incredibly moving and artistic – but the same idea, shot in live action with people in huge, real-life animal onesies, would inevitably project a humorous and lighthearted tone, and thus lessen the emotional impact of the campaign.
As our creative director, Callan Woolcock, put it himself:
“Animation was the perfect medium for these messages. It gave us so much flexibility to breathe a human life into the plight of these animals that are facing uncertain futures.”
Marketing sensitive issues can be difficult to get right, and reluctance to try unorthodox techniques in these instances is understandable – but you shouldn’t shy away from one of the most versatile and effective mediums the market has to offer. Animating this content provides you with a controlled, delicate, moving and versatile communication platform, that will speak volumes to your target audience.