Even With 6-Second Ads on the Rise, Some Brands Are Creating Animated Films to Try and Stand Out

Marketers like Heinz, KFC and Taco Bell are turning to animation

Brand marketers are hungry to connect with consumers, and animation can be the outlet to make it happen. Taco Bell
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Just as animated TV shows for adults (think cult favorite Rick and Morty or Netflix’s Big Mouth) are having a moment, animated films for brands are hitting their own stride. Tech brands like Lyft and Hinge have used the medium in recent years and over the last few months a new wave of marketers—Heinz Beans, KFC and Taco Bell—have rolled out animated spots.

The timing may seem strange in an era when attention spans are low and six-second ads are on the rise, but brand marketers are hungry to connect with consumers and animation can be the outlet to make it happen. Overall, brands are finding that animation can cut through the clutter and really strike that emotional chord with viewers online.

“The long-form, animated spot is definitely back on stage,” Howard Belk, co-CEO and CCO for brand consultancy Siegel+Gale, said. “Advertisers are competing for engagement not only with other products, but with social media content. People are much more accustomed and comfortable now with watching vignettes on their phones—they have been conditioned by Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms. Savvy advertisers are taking advantage of consumers’ willingness to spend more time consuming content on these platforms.”

Matt Murphy, 72andSunny executive creative director and partner, believes animation is on the rise because it “can be an escape,” he said, adding, “It has the ability to make a bigger, bolder creative leap in terms of storytelling for any brand that wants to embrace it as a tool.”

In April, 72andSunny created a nearly two-minute animated film for toothpaste brand Hello featuring an anthropomorphic dancing tooth cheerily promoting the natural ingredients used in Hello products. Since its release, the spot has scored over 1.6 million views on YouTube alone. “If we just put an actor in front of the camera to talk to you for 90 seconds about toothpaste, I don’t think it would have worked as well as having an animated tooth,” said Murphy.

Taco Bell faced a similar hurdle when developing a recent campaign to celebrate National Taco Day. The fast-food brand wanted to promote the holiday with something similar to a Christmas special but also to honor Taco Bell founder, Glen Bell, in a way that felt authentic.

Tracee Larocca, svp of advertising and brand engagement for Taco Bell, explained, “The uniqueness of using animation allows you more leeway in how you tell the story in a way that connects with people.” Since its debut in late September, the 100-second spot, “Glen and the Magic Taco,” has over 1 million views on YouTube.

Animation comes with its challenges, though, as the process takes much more planning and time. Larocca said Taco Bell’s original idea, the one-hour holiday-style special, would have taken far too long to get to market.

Y&R New Zealand also recently produced an animated spot for Heinz Beans to debut a new line of packaging and can sizes in Australia. The agency told the story of “A Can Size for Every Aussie” and the amiable animated character Geoff, who created each of the can sizes. “After writing the script, we thought it would be very hard to get that charm through using real people and real sets,” Ellen Fromm, copywriter at Y&R New Zealand, said. “For such a cute story, you kind of needed the animation to elevate that.”

KFC worked with Wieden + Kennedy this fall to create “Big Chicken. Small Movie,” an ode to the Big Chicken—a 56-foot-tall hen outside one of the brand’s franchises in Marietta, Ga.

“Animation let us anthropomorphize this sharp, metal and potentially terrifying iron statue into a slightly more appropriate friend, and gave the [chicken and a boy] the freedom to travel around the state having adventures that would have looked almost ghoulish in live action,” Jason Kreher, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy, said. Plus it scored KFC over 850,000 video views.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that tapping into animation means brands might appeal to a wider range of viewers.

“Immersive advertising messages delivered in the guise of animated two- to five-minute stories can make complex information palatable,” noted Belk. “The format is excellent for consumer brands that are aiming at entire families. It is as if DreamWorks SKG has produced advertising instead of the next Toy Story.”

This story first appeared in the Nov. 27, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ktjrichards katie.richards@adweek.com Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.