When Idea Cellular wanted to create a flutter with their new ad campaign, they did not go to the first family of Bollywood. Instead they chose a bunny to promote their brand. A bunny? That too an animated fellow called Honey Bunny. Experts smirked. But over six months later, Honey Bunny is having the last laugh as the ad has brought new customers and instant brand recall for Idea.
Think back to a decade ago. ICICI’s Chintamani ruled our evening conversations and even today we parrot his famous lines: no chinta only money, so says Chintamani. Then came Amaron Battery’s “lasts long, very long, ting tong…” animation ad.
But back then they were exceptions. Today advertisements with animated characters in them are a full-blown trend — one that admen, company spokespersons and end users all feel is here to stay.
Vaibhav Kumaresh, Director, Vaibhav Studios who created the famous Vodafone parrot says, “These ads break the clutter and catch the attention of consumers. It has also created a new zone for creative guys to get into. But most importantly, there is a much higher recall to these ads. How many people remember an SRK ad from 10 years ago? But they all remember Chintamani or the Vodafone parrot or Simpu from Channel V.”
And it’s not just ice cream ads or those promoting a music channel, that use animated characters. Remember Chulbuli in the Clinic Plus ads? Or the Appy Fizz bottle rapping with Saif Ali Khan? Or the Paddlepop lion for Walls Ice cream. Or the Kellogg’s monkey? The list goes on.
9X Media, which runs some of the country’s most popular music channels, has gone a step further. Some of their most popular animated characters are now being used by some of India’s biggest corporate houses, for TVC campaigns being run on various 9X channels. “We never created these animated characters thinking that one day we would sell them for ads. But I think they offer humour, they create a huge brand loyalty and continuity.
We are doing a lot of brand integration using some of our more popular characters such as Bheegi Billi and Honey Bunny,” says Pawan Jailkhani, Chief Revenue Officer, 9X Media. It’s a common sight today to see Bheegi Billi running away with a Walls ice cream or Honey Bunny singing the Idea tune, when you switch on any of their channels. “We are present in different regions and so, we often introduce local characters too in animated form to satisfy local taste. So if a company uses the Bheegi Billi cartoon for a car ad, in Punjab we introduce a Sardar into the ad and in Maharashtra we bring in a Maratha warrior,” he adds.
E Suresh, former founder-creative director of Famous House of Animation (in collaboration with Famous Studio) and currently Director at his own Studio Eeksaurus, believes animated mascots were always better than real people. “Look at it this way, the shelf life of animated characters is far longer than any celebrity or star. They transcend generations and age, race, creed and caste. Think Tom & Jerry and you will know what I mean,” he laughs.
Why is India Inc biting?
Most companies are finally seeing the merit of it, says Suresh. “In the USA or in UK, animation has been used for years to push serious messages across. Even the Amnesty International uses animation ads to spread its message.”
Suresh says after spending several years in the industry, it gives him great joy to see animated characters finally get their time in the sun. “We recently created a TVC for Yakult. Two Yakult bottles, that look like a man and a woman talk to each other about the value of goodness of this probiotic drink. The message is subtle, delivered in a humorous way and has a far greater recall among consumers/viewers than any regular ad,” he says.
Agrees Jailkhani: “These ads are a clutter breaker for companies. As the Indian advertising scene evolves and as a nation we become more receptive to new ideas, we will see more such ads and integration happening. Imagine a cellular company using a bunny to sell its product, five years ago. But today people love it. Companies therefore see merit in it, even though if you look at the cost, then a 3D animation is costlier than using a star or a model for the same ad.”
Kumaresh remembers Mangal Singh and Pandu Havaldar in the old Amaron battery add and how people can still instantly recall the “very long..ting tong,” jingle of the ad. “Which is the most remembered Alpenliebe ad? You will see the animated crocodile that played with Kajol in one series, gets the maximum hits,” he says.
Others such as Nestle Ice Tea, Miranda, Kellogg’s and Ponds now also use animated characters for ad campaigns. “Animation provides an out-of-the-box feel to the brand increasing the brand’s recall value. Animated characters break the monotony created by the innumerable human faces and their equally high number of associations with a variety of brands. Besides, animated characters come out as neutral, unbiased entities,” says entrepreneur and budding sommelier Neha Rajpal, who says she prefers watching the really cool ads on TV instead of the mundane soap operas. “I get the popcorn when the soaps run so that I can sit through all the commercial breaks,” she laughs.
Cartoons more convincing than stars
Ultimately however, the reason animated characters now fill our drawing room during prime time, is because consumers or to put it simple, people like us, have taken to them in a big way. We get the message, the recall stays longer and it seems we would even believe a cartoon character but not a celebrity who promotes five different brands on five different channels — talking about how amazing each of the products are!
“Animated characters have a universal appeal. They are more memorable because the audience connects with them in way that does not happen with human models. This is even more relevant in India because we are so culturally diverse that a model selling a product in an ad for one region may not be popular in other parts of the country.
Even our celebrities have limited regional appeal. So a brand shoots the same ad with different models based on the target audience. You don’t have to do that with animated characters. Talking mosquitoes that fear Mortein, Bisleri-loving sea monsters, party-hosting Kangaroo moms serving Nestea, Chintamani selling insurance, or the adorable talking parrot in the Vodafone ads, the audience loves them all. You can really stretch your imagination beyond every limit when you have an animated character, making it do anything you want,” says Akshata Udiaver, Editor of AllAboutAnimation.com, who has researched the rise and rise of animation in ads.
And the research shows, when she brings in an angle others haven’t mentioned yet. “Nowadays no matter what the product or service is, every ad is targetted at children, even when they are not the ones actually using the product. It is almost as if they are the decision makers. From electronics to food products, detergents to financial services, you find most ads exhorting the youngest members of the family to get the product. What better way to engage a fickle audience than with endearing animated characters?” she smiles.
Suresh, however, stresses that animated characters are not just for children. “A lot of them actually transcend barriers of age and culture,” he says, adding that everyone loves animation since there is a child in all of us.
Whatever be the reasons and the pull factors, the fact remains that animation characters are here to stay and as Kumaresh says, with growing demand, the future of animation in the field of advertising is bright. A passing fad? No way!
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