CNN Breathes New Life Into Political Cartoons Using Stop-Motion Animation

A donkey and elephant feature in spots promoting the network's election coverage

The elephant and donkey are portrayed as lifelong friends in a new CNN campaign. CNN

Advertising campaigns and candidates during an election season can often be complicated (and divisive), but marketing election coverage itself may leave some more room for creativity. In new ads, CNN is employing characters from classic political cartoons to help promote its live political coverage.

In spots promoting the cable network’s coverage of events like the Democratic and Republican national conventions and the upcoming presidential debates, CNN ads feature a bickering elephant (representing the Republican Party) and donkey (Democrats) rendered in hand-painted stop-motion figures reminiscent of a cartoonist’s pen. Unlike some of the ongoing political discourse, the ads—three of which have aired so far on CNN—paint the two sides as a couple of friendly old pals who don’t always see eye-to-eye.

In one spot, the donkey finds the elephant looking through a telescope. When asked what it’s looking for, the elephant says it’s trying to find the planet that the donkey lives on.

In another, the elephant uses a tape measure to ensure that the donkey stays 6 feet away while they’re arguing. (It’s the closest they’ve been in years, the donkey mutters.)

In a third spot, the elephant and donkey sit in a row boat, paddling in opposite directions. They pause to note that they can’t get anywhere that way—but the two animals then begin frantically rowing in opposite directions at the same time, still making no progress.

A fourth spot will debut on CNN in the coming weeks and introduce a new character to the mix.

The lighthearted ads were created with hand-painted stop-motion figures in front of a green screen. Creative agency FIG partnered with animation studio HouseSpecial on the production.

Initially, the creative team had discussed using more realistic renditions of the animals, according to FIG creative director Ross Fletcher.

“But with the reference being something that everyone knew, I think we wanted to make sure that part came through very clearly so that there was no confusion,” he said.

CNN and FIG partnered with HouseSpecial to create the spots using stop motion animation.

The team also wanted to ensure that the dialogue and portrayals of the two sides would resonate with people across the political spectrum.

“It was quite a process of script-writing,” said FIG creative director Howard Finkelstein. “We easily wrote, like, 200 scripts to help us figure out what was right.”

The creative team knew they’d landed on something that worked with the two animals as longtime friends, said Finkelstein. It ended up being “a refreshing way to approach political discourse.”

“Even if they sort of argue and kind of one up each other, it all comes from this longtime cordial relationship that we tried to establish,” Finkelstein said.

The ads will air on CNN’s owned properties and extended network throughout the election season.

The team at FIG is developing more scripts for the characters, and will continue to let current events shape the content of the ads.

@klundster Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.