How is Animation Used in Advertising? (An In-Depth Guide)

How is animation used in advertising? Good question!

I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you in this blog, to highlight how animation in advertising is used and how it may benefit you in future projects.

With over ten years in the TV advertising industry, I’ve worked on both animation and live action videos adverts. I hope to help you reach a decision whether animation is the best route for you and your business, or at the very least give some inside information.

Along the way, I’ll try to include some examples of why animation is a good choice and examine what happens when it’s used rightly or wrongly.

Animation vs Live Action Advertising

Consider all of the elements needed to make a live action video. There’s a lot, stay with me:

  • the filming location and location scouting
  • the weather
  • noise pollution – often overlooked and can be a nightmare to film around
  • lighting at location, additional lighting equipment needed
  • Presenter, actors, models and the casting or audition process that comes with them
  • technical equipment such as cameras, lighting, sound
  • then a crew to operate them, and their availability
  • a studio for indoor filming,
  • a voice over artist, and audition process
  • make up
  • set design or props
  • music licensing

The list goes on. And with that comes the need for some rigid organisation, to bond all of these things to come together for the day you shoot.

Ok, it’s a bad day. Let’s say that it’s pouring rain, the presenter doesn’t sound as you had hoped and your make up artist is sick. Production has to stop for whatever reason.

Your project is now at a standstill, whilst the others involved all still need paying. It’s costing you both time and money. Frustrating right? Especially considering how much you’ll be spending on your TV campaign (see our blog on TV advertising costs), keeping your budget tight is a must!

Throw in something like a Covid-19 pandemic to disrupt proceedings and all of a sudden it’s becoming a virtual impossibility.

Animation is a way to minimise the external variable influences often experienced when live action filming. In fact, pretty much everything about it is within your control. They both follow the same process, but animated projects are undoubtedly easier to organise and manage.

In the event that you need to make alterations, an animator can adjust content digitally and quickly.

Think back to live action. If you’re running a special offer in your advert and that offer changes, you’ll need to re-shoot the scene with the new offer. More filming, location issues, technical equipment and crew, make-up and so on.

An animation team, on the other hand, has the ability to renew it in no time. And that’s the biggie. Animation allows you a HUGE AMOUNT of flexibility. I can’t emphasise it enough.

Costs and Timings of Animation

An animated advert can be shaped to fit your budget. I’ve seen big campaign spends of over £100,000 and smaller ones around the £5,000 mark. Of course, you get what you pay for but honestly? Animation is a very affordable medium. It’s a great choice if you’re starting out and need tighter control over your budget.

The costs of live action and animation are on a par in some respects, because when you choose animation, you are paying for the time and expertise of the animator and the creative design process.

In terms of timescales, a fast working animation team can deliver the goods in as little as 2 weeks! A little longer depending on the concept, but either way, efficient and cost effective.

Is animation more suitable for some advertisers than others?

It’s fair to say that yes; some advertisers and their products or services do fit better with an animated campaign. I talk a little bit about branding later on in this blog and certainly, for some businesses animation probably isn’t the right path to go down.

From experience, I’ve noticed it can be difficult to establish a human connection through animation. Some particularly sensitive or emotional themes are best portrayed using real life scenarios.

Although sometimes this can be an opportunity to be creative to find a way around this problem. Animation doesn’t just have to mean cartoons and bright pictures. Animation can be subtle, and even challenging. This advert from the NSPCC won a huge amount of awards for the creative way they portrayed child abuse using a mix of animation and live action to deliver an amazing emotive advert.

NSPCC advert

Does animation fit your brand?

I think a good way for you to assess whether animation is the right choice for your brand is to ask yourself, ‘Who do I want to target?’ and ‘Is animation the right way to reach them?’

It’s largely dependent on your key brand messages and the suitability of your product or service. Let’s say you need to create a TV campaign for funeral services. Traditionally, we tend to think of darker, muted colours, a slower paced tone and a formal style attributed to the advertising.

Animation, then doesn’t seem to match up to the key messages in this instance. Funeral Directors are providing an emotional and humanistic service. To animate that for the purposes of advertising doesn’t seem appropriate.

Although again their are brands that will find creative ways to use this to their advantage, such as this video from Dead Happy life insurance:

Let’s compare it to an ecommerce business, such as Amazon. Bright, vibrant content works here. Introducing a character as a way of delivering your branding messages is one option.

One strong creative idea can be transformed into animation and then used as a series of adverts, changing the audio, the visual, or even the brand messages as your campaign objectives shift along the way.

One of the great things about choosing an animated campaign, is that a large amount of content can be produced in a relatively short space of time.

Once you have that content, it’s interchangeable across all mediums. So, you may have come up with a really strong branding message and it can be tweaked as needed to fit the purposes of social media, TV and so on.

A good animation should create synergy between your branding styles to allow for brand cohesion. For example, we made these TV ads for Winn Solicitors, which we then adapted for Radio and then out of home.

When is animation a good choice?

The recent pandemic is a great way to illustrate why animation is a good choice. With the increase in home working due to the Covid situation, shooting live action videos has been near on impossible.

I say near on, because some agencies have indeed managed it. Clever little souls. They’re been forward thinking in their approach and have created zoom type adverts, featuring actors during lockdown. Hats off to them.

Imagine organising a live video shoot under recent social distancing guidelines. Finding a location that’s not out of bounds, one that’s not too noisy, keeping everyone apart, mask wearing where applicable, cleaning and sterilising all technical equipment, involving self isolating crew and cast members at suitable times.

My brain hurts just thinking about it! Working from home is not a barrier as to what can be produced with animation; it can be crafted from anywhere.

If you have plumped for an animated video, any further follow on videos required can be easily generated.

Once you’ve created the initial content you can think of it as akin to cut, copy and pasting the content for use in a new or alternative way. In doing this, the branding themes remain continual and you get more use out of your created assets.

Animation is also a good choice, particularly if you’re new to TV advertising. When you first start your advertising journey, it’s difficult to know what will and won’t work.

It’s almost a process of trial and error until you see what is instrumental in helping you reach your goals. Choosing an animated style for your adverts comes with a huge amount of flexibility.

It gives you the option of making changes quickly and efficiently. Don’t like the way a character looks? We can alter her. Want to change the gender of the character from female to male? Actionable at the touch of a button (or a few buttons to keep my animators happy)!

If you had chosen to shoot a live action commercial however, think for a moment how inflexible it is in comparison. Don’t like the way a character looks? You have to find a new real life actor, most probably through an audition or casting process.

Then you have time and cost implications of reshooting, to implement your changes. All the work that went before is, in effect, wasted.

Stylistically, there’s no limit as to what you can create within the realms of animation. It really does offer a wealth of possibilities allowing you to create any style you like, budget permitting of course…

And also showcase locations or features that wouldn’t be possible with live action. For example this product demo video for Ebac which focuses in on particular product features.

Are there limitations when using animation?

Whilst I’m happy to sing the praises of animation, like anything, it has its limitations. I’d say that often clients come to our TV agency before starting the process, finding it difficult to visualise what the end result will be.

Using a mood board can help determine the direction of the video. A fusion of creative ideas combined with brand messaging is a good starting point to try and envisage what that advert will look like in the flesh.

My advice would be; that if you need to check you’re on the right track before ploughing ahead, ask your animator to compose a little snapshot for you. They’re quite easily able to give you a sneak peak to allow you a glimpse of what’s in the making.

Secondly, there’s a large element of trust which comes in to play between the client and the animation team. In the past, I’ve witnessed all singing, all dancing animations being sold to the client promising, ‘We can create these amazing campaigns for you!’ and unfortunately, what is delivered doesn’t always live up to the expectation.

The challenge from an animator’s point of view is to deliver exactly what is being asked and not to oversell what they are able to create, at the time of pitching. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been asked to remake an advert because the client wasn’t happy with what another agency had produced.

So if possible ask for demo shots. Here’s an example of our Terraclean advert which showed the client the level of Photo realism that could be achieved within their budget before even making the ad.

If you’re unsure as to what you should be looking out for, my suggestion would be to go along and chat to your animator about what they’re working on at the moment and what they have created in the past.

Ask to see their portfolio to check that what they offer ties in with the kind of thing you’re after. A good agency will be willing to share this, along with being transparent about what they can and can’t do. Or you could just make life easier for yourself and contact us here at The TV Agency.

Who should use animation?

Whilst I’d love to say that animation is for everyone, there are certainly groups of people it suits over and above others. Take the example of an ecommerce advertiser. It’s likely they don’t have a physical element to their business.
They may not even have a tangible product if their company is service driven. Without a location to film at, I’d be inclined to suggest choosing the animation route, explaining to my clients that an agency can create all these material things in visual form.

Recently we developed some explainer videos for Ebac, a white goods manufacturer. Animation allowed us to isolate certain parts of the video, to zone in and discuss specific features and benefits at length as we’ve already shown earlier in this post.

Are you new to the TV advertising industry? Again, animation is a great starting point, the flexible nature of it meaning you can learn as you go, rectifying mistakes with relative ease along the way.

Is there a right and wrong way to use animation?

Animation is most successful when it’s clear to recognise who the advert is aimed at and what exactly it is they’re trying to encourage their audience to do adn this is true of any advert, not just animation. Perhaps advertisers are looking for viewers to make a sale, download an app or respond to an offer.

Clear goals and objectives from the outset keep the animation on the right track. From my experience, those advertisers who are unable to define what success looks like to them in the first instance struggle down the line.

It’s a bugbear of mine to see adverts which don’t show a logo or display their brand name until the closing seconds. It’s wasted time in my opinion and every second could be utilised better during the animation.

Something to keep in mind, is that no matter how strong a creative idea may be, it might not always translate well into what action you want your viewers to take. The two don’t always go hand in hand. Consideration needs to be given to the goal of the campaign.

For example, look at this TV advert for Royale Life although live action it makes the mistakes we’ve just discussed because they don’t use animation as well as they could of

It’s been shot really well, includes a celeb presenter! The logo starts on the screen but fades out? I don’t know why you would do this? Because now you have several shots and the majority of your ad with no branding and then that basic mistake of including the web and phone number for the last few seconds of the end frame.

If they’re measuring the success of this campaign on response it won’t perform as well as it could have if they’d included the web address and phone number throughout. That’s not to say it won’t work, it’s just a more difficult journey for a viewer if they’re not sure what and who the advert is for.

Compare that to this TV advert for Seascapes promoting the same product which does utilise animation throughout, it’s quite clear what action they want viewers to take and who they are.

Is animation for me?

You’ve probably noticed a recurring theme of flexibility throughout my blog, but the flexibility that animation offers really is worth shouting about. When you have produced content you are happy with, that’s yours to keep. It’s reusable. It’s easily changeable.

As your brand grows in a new direction, animation can reflect that, with minimal effort. It eliminates the need for expensive, time consuming and logistically challenging live action re-shoots.

Budget wise, animation can be adjusted to suit any budget. Whatever your spend, there’s scope to build something. Figures as low as £5,000 or even £2,000 in some cases have proven sufficient enough to get an animated video produced.

By choosing animation, you’ll avoid some of the pitfalls of making live action videos, usually turning out to be costly mistakes. Therefore, it stands out as a more budget friendly option and certainly a way to regain control.

Finally, I love animation because it’s something you really can have fun with. There’s no limit to the creative ability during production. I see my animators using various types of animation to get a great end result: 2D, 3D, CGI and so on.

We have some great technical wizards who can whip you up something fabulous, sometimes in a little as two weeks. What’s not to love?

Are you ready to use animation in your advertising? Let’s have a chat, call us at The TV Agency on +44191 432 5333!

Written By


  • Animation
  • TV Advertising