Using Animations Can Further Conversations With Consumers

People can relate to a character more than traditional marketing strategies

cartoon characters, like a girl blowing a kiss and a cat superhero with a thumbs up
Some of the characters Pat Giles and his team created are the most recognizable.
Holler Studios

In a world…

I hope you read that first line imagining a deep and dramatic voice. Good, because what I am going to tell you requires the kind of gravitas that creates spine-tingling anticipation.

In a world where the skip ad is an advertiser’s worst enemy, where fast-forward is the death knell of the 30-second TV spot, where streaming and on-demand services leave agencies out in the cold, animated stickers for messaging are the hero that the ad world needs right now.

Let me tell you why.

For the first time in history, technology and animation are sophisticated enough to come together to bring the branded mascots, characters and content that we’ve come to know and love right within messaging and, therefore, within our conversations.

I have some experience in the branded content space. Trained as an animator, I started out in the business working for Disney, MTV Animation and Cartoon Network. I ended up the luckiest man in advertising by getting a job at Saatchi & Saatchi, working on all of the iconic brand characters for General Mills’ Lucky the Leprechaun, the Trix Rabbit, the Pillsbury Doughboy and a host of others. I was able to pioneer branded content in the early days when folks didn’t know what a webisode was.

I find myself in a similar situation today when I’m talking about messaging and why we could and should be welcoming the Trix Rabbit into conversations. The first 15 minutes are spent explaining the medium itself, and how when we say messaging, it really could mean any time you’re communicating digitally through productivity, gaming, dating or even SMS. The opportunity here is as big as they come.

At some point in the history of advertising, someone had to explain what a commercial was and how it could help grow a business. So believe me when I tell you that we are at the dawn of a new media, where messaging allows brands to become part of the most intimate of human endeavors: conversation.

Let me back up a bit to explain what I can see from where I’m standing.

Messaging is the single most popular way to communicate with one another: 18 million texts are sent every minute, a number that continues to climb. It makes sense that the ad industry should turn there, but it is valuable for a few more reasons beyond its massive scale and access to consumers.

When marketers think of digital engagement in search, video and social media, being interruptive is still the gold standard, inherited from traditional media. “You can see this news feed or video, but first here’s an ad about something we think will interest you,” or “Here’s the article you clicked on, but first here’s an ad for something you may or may not care about at all.” But within messaging, people actually share content with their friends and loved ones because they want to, not because that content has interrupted some other activity they’d rather be doing.

This is crucial, because for the first time, brand advertising can be additive to a conversation. Technology has advanced enough that natural language understanding can pinpoint the moment within a conversation when a person may want a specific piece of content. Perhaps they are talking about grabbing a coffee and you happen to be a coffee brand with fun, animated content that allows people to inject personality into a digital conversation. If it suits their mood, then your brand is now part of that conversation. If they don’t, it’s OK. People have still seen your brand, and those impressions are meaningful because they are connected to someone’s current emotion. That is something no banner ad or TV commercial can do on the same scale and with the same specificity. More importantly, it’s on a consumer’s terms.

This is crucial to the future of the ad industry. Today’s consumers are savvy and are looking for something new to really have an impact. They know the gimmicks, and they’re not falling for them. And ad blockers exist for a reason. Netflix has cause to constantly reiterate that it will never resort to serving ads, even through its worst quarter in almost a decade. People don’t like ads as they are right now.

This brings me to animated stickers, which play off the very same things that made characters like Lucky the Leprechaun so successful and memorable. They help people connect to a story, a character or an emotion.

In the same way, today’s consumers are looking for ways to fill the inevitable void in communication within messaging. They want to add emotion into a conversation where the tone, personality or added context isn’t always obvious. They want to better connect, and characters have always been easier to connect with than a straight branding play because they exhibit the same emotions consumers do.

That right there is the future of advertising. It’s bringing animated characters into our conversations in a new way. It’s based on emotion, it’s nonintrusive, and it’s using the most cutting-edge technology we have to date.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 2, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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