Animation Can Tell a Story and Tug a Heartstring

Debate rages over whether organizations plunging into controversial issues are clever-smart or irrevocably dumb. The Salvation Army shows you can enter the great divide, make your point and earn respect from all sides.

Debate rages over whether organizations plunging into controversial issues are clever-smart or irrevocably dumb. The Salvation Army shows you can enter the great divide, make your point and earn respect from all sides.

The red kettle and ringing bell of The Salvation Army are a holiday staple. Now the venerable organization is featuring heart-touching animated videos that show how an ounce of empathy can generate a ton of good. 

The Fight for Good” campaign tells the stories of people facing hunger, homelessness and financial distress through three characters – Chloe, Gus and Emma. The Richards Group, which created the video campaigns, say they are intended to shed light on the battles faced by people who receive assistance from The Salvation Army and how contributions help. The goal is compassion, not guilt.

Animation is a perfect medium for treading that fine line between empathy and guilt and for somehow making uncomfortable topics more comfortable. Computer-generated animation has made the medium even more evocative and uncannily realistic.

However, the unique artistic DNA for animation is its ability to tell imaginative stories that would be harder or even impossible to convey in print or live video. For example, Pixar’s award-winning animated movie Coco transports viewers into the Land of the Dead on Dia de los Muertos as a 12-year-old boy struggles to return to the land of the living. The movie was totally charming, whereas a film version may have come across as gimmicky or scary.

The Salvation Army, which has been around since the mid-1800s and still clings to its tradition of military-style uniforms for its bell-ringing “officers,” saw in animated videos an opportunity for a fresh take on its mission. Animation helped to make the age-old problem of people in need seem contemporary by telling contemporary, believable stories.

“We’ve used illustrative elements throughout the main advertising to convey the reality and desperation of need without the guilt-inducing face of it,” the Dallas-based advertising agency told AdWeek. “Through this visual vehicle we can show the harsh struggles of homelessness, child poverty and unemployment in a more approachable way.”

CFM strategic partner Cappelli Miles has created an eye-grabbing – and thought-provoking – 30-second animated video for OregonSaves that plants the idea people should start saving for their retirement sooner than later. It is hard to tell a complicated story in 30 heartwarming seconds, but animation can make it easier. Animation can travel back in time, create adorable characters that say anything you want and present perspectives that would defy drones.

Animated videos can be spendy because of the immense amount of work required to create them. Regardless of cost, the point of video content is to get noticed and be remembered, which animation can deliver, making it cost-effective for reaching eyeballs and tugging heartstrings.

Animation isn’t the answer for every marketing challenge, but it should be on the table as an option, just like illustration as an alternative to photography for print projects. Measure choices by their impact on your intended audience.

The Salvation Army made that calculation and chose animation for its “The Fight for Good” campaign, which tells a visually compelling story fit for holiday consumption.


Surprising Impact of Surprise and Delight Marketing

Apple’s use of Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem in a TV ad to mark the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympics is an example of how to capture attention through the use of surprise and delight in marketing.

Apple’s use of Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem in a TV ad to mark the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympics is an example of how to capture attention through the use of surprise and delight in marketing.

Poetry plays a paltry role in advertising. So when a great poem features in an ad, it has a huge impact.

Apple is airing a 60-second TV spot with the late Maya Angelou reading her Human Family over a series of engrossing photos of people from around the world shot on iPhones. The ad debuted during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics, positioning Apple as an essential part of the human family.

Poems don’t work because of rhymes or clever cadence. They work because they are surprise content. They are so different than the norm, they captivate attention. If the poem or surprise content is good, the listeners keep listening and watching.

People like surprises. Studies prove it. And as much as advertisers obsess over the numbers of impressions an ad gets, a well-timed surprise can have as much or more impact.

The element of surprise doesn’t have to be of the jumping-out-of-the-cake variety. It can just be different or out of ordinary, like a poem.

Often, visual effects can surprise and delight an audience. Wieden + Kennedy’s ongoing series of ads for Old Spice relied on surprise elements from Terry Crews impersonating beard stubble to Mr. Wolfdog as director of marketing to Isaiah Mustafa on the beach showing how to smell like a man. The ads mostly appeared on Old Spice’s YouTube Channel, racking up nearly 100 million views. Instead of young adults bypassing commercials, they couldn’t wait to see and share these ads.

Surprise announcements can have an impact. MasterCard has a “Priceless Surprises” campaign that involves giving its  followers on social media gifts and prizes, such as a meet-up with Justin Timberlake or VIP tickets to the Grammy Awards. The campaign turned into an app that brings the credit card company even closer to its users through the use of surprise. The campaign and the app have resulted in greater brand loyalty and a barrage of positive online comments.

Apple, Old Spice and MasterCard can afford top-flight creative talent to produce surprising content and campaigns. So it’s important to note that surprise and delight doesn’t have to be a high-priced option. The auto mechanic who sends a thank you note, the vendor who unquestionably replaces a product and the sales rep who places a follow-up call to make you you successfully assembled a piece of furniture are examples of surprise and delight marketing.

The heart of surprise and delight marketing is making an emotional connection that instills loyalty. Kleenex took note that many of the status updates by its Facebook followers said they were sick. The company tracked down the actual addresses of 50 customers with colds and sent them a get-well basket of Kleenex products. Most of the surprised recipients took selfies with their surprise gifts and posted them on Facebook, attracting thousands of views.

The Apple commercial featuring an excerpt from Angelou’s well known poem was beautifully produced and deeply affecting. But in the end the ad was just a poem and photos taken on iPhones. Surprising people is less about money than imagination.

Human Family
I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.
The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.
I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I've seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.
I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.
We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Not Losing Sight of Audio

We talk a lot about the power of video, and rightfully so. However, sound can capture and hold attention while stoking the imagination of listeners, which means podcasts and narrated e-books should have a place in your bag of communication tricks.

T.M. Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist, wrote a piece in the Sunday New York Times that concluded, "I listen the way I read books as a child, as if I were there watching." Luhrmann is talking about his enjoyment of audiobooks, but his point has wide application.

There is part of our brain, part of our personality tha likes to take flight in imagination. Sound feeds that appetite.

"You don't check back on previous paragraphs or read the last page first when you listen," explains Luhrmann. "You move forward, and what you carry with you is person and event."

Audio transports listeners to a different plane. Sound is the only stimulus, so listeners must conjure the visual images in their own heads.

Most advertisers would pay millions for that kind of focused attention. But the attention is hard to buy. It has to be earned.

Radio and TV pros often refer to "good sound," which can come from quotable or colorful sound bites or compelling stories. Charles Osgood, anchor of CBS News Sunday Morning, ends the popular, long-running show he hosts with a short voiceless video that serves as a meditative send-off for the show's viewers.

Luhrmann says he listens to audiobooks while gardening. He listened to The Great Gatsby while planting 50 polypodium californicas and 50 festuca idahoensis "in the dappled light beneath my oaks." "Now, when I look at them," Luhrmann recounts, "I think about that last awful accident, the yellow Rolls-Royce screaming past the repair shop, and what F. Scott Fitzgerald's narrator called Gatsby's gift for hope."

We tend to think of writing as superior to oral renditions. When books became available after invention of the printing press, average people learned to read, which may be why we accord writing as a higher form of communication. But mankind communicated long before — and pretty much consistently since then — through the oral tradition of voices. The voice itself added and often became a character in a story or a song. As if to prove the point, the TV show "The Voice" features judges who can't see the singers as they perform. All they can do is hear the voice.