Emotion is a powerful thing. It is at the constant core of how we as humans process the world around us, much of it subconsciously. One might say emotion is like electricity: it is only useful when the right kind is applied in the right amount to the right situation (one could say the same about mustard, but let’s stick with electricity).
A big question for brands nowadays is how to capture that emotional energy in branded video, with everything from five-second pre-roll ads to the short film-length content proliferating across our screens. Brands have shifted in the last decade from celebrity- and model-led aspirational ads to more authentic spots focusing on brand stories, user-generated content, and easily relatable characters. And this tactic has worked for many brands. George Newman, Assoc. Professor at Yale School of Management, noted in a recent talk at the ANA that emotional resonance with a brand is reinforced by “meaningful connections felt with other users.” You can think of many examples: one Dove/Chipotle/Your-Favorite-Brand-Here campaign is all it took to prove the emotional power of authenticity, and brand storytellers never looked back.
Now, however, we see a new challenge in creating emotion-packed work: who delivers the message we carry, and how, are subtle elements squarely under the microscope. American consumers have raised new scrutiny and controversy around ads in recent years, from Cheerios to Pepsi, with human rights activists groups pushing for more ads that better reflect greater society, and others railing against the brands that miss the mark.
In short, nothing saps the magic out of a good story more than when the audience becomes distracted. So, is there a path forward for brands to translates their emotional stories into emotional storytelling without risking backlash?
Animation, a production medium that has come and gone throughout the years for different reasons, is a terrific answer to this question.
We’ve seen a distinct rise in animated ads (and not just for kids) in the last few years, and while many of them are rational “explainer videos,” there are plenty of reasons why animation is rich soil for emotional stories.
For example, are you trying to attract a skeptical audience? Our brains are naturally attracted to the nostalgic and familiar elements of animation. As such, you could use characters or background visuals that feel familiar to viewers to draw them in to a story, packaged much like the first stories they ever watched on TV.
How about this: are you trying to tell a strong brand story, paint a fantastic vision for the future, breathe fresh life into a long-standing character, or showcase your brand’s strong visual language? Animated video, not unlike radio, gives you the creative license to do that.
Or, perhaps you want to take the attention off your spokesperson and on to your message? You might take a hint from how Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” appealed to a message that was bigger than their brand at the time.
If you are after any of the above BHAGs, you should consider using animation to produce your campaign. As a production method, it also provides a great way to be able to produce snippet-sized, follow-up content for social, pre-roll, and other media as time goes on.
On the other hand, if you decide that you want to feature the real stories and voices of customers, intentionally put focus on your spokesperson, or create more intimate storytelling, you may decide live action is the best way to bring it to life. But again, it will depend on which best captures the creative vision; some of the most creative features I’ve seen manage to refresh these kinds of approaches and stories by using animation where it would seem counterintuitive: an animated short film about Usain Bolt for Gatorade, for instance.
Ultimately, you will need to decide what is the best way to bring the concept to life. It’s a good chance to think carefully about how the specificity of your story is best conveyed. At my agency, Truth Collective, we have resolved in 2018 to work more iteratively, as project teams brainstorm together to provoke, explore, create, and challenge the best ideas. We believe that whether you’re a planner or a creative you should challenge yourself, and your team, to define what you are trying to accomplish first, and let that inform the work. Your result will be just the right amount of lightning in a bottle.