Seen Kotak Mahindra’s new musical ad campaign featuring Saavdhan Sing and Vishram Sing, two animated characters who flit through situations asking us to pause and slow down?
Conceptualised by Cartwheel Creative Consultancy, the ad stands out from the clutter of Covid-19 communications not just for its catchy song but for its animated approach. It’s a refreshing change from the plethora of home-shot lockdown videos that brands have been putting out.
“We were relatively late to the Lockdown Video Party. The inspirational/ motivational anthem sung by a galaxy of stars from their respective homes was already becoming a template. The other template was the montage of lockdown images. We chose animation, firstly to break clutter, and secondly to give us the freedom to portray whatever we wanted without being constrained by lockdown restrictions that were in place for live action shooting,” says D Ramakrishnan (popularly known as Ramki), founder CEO of Cartwheel. “But mostly the idea was to zag when others were zigging!” he says.
Fahad of Plankton Collective was the animator behind the ad while the character names were given by Ramki.
Could animation, a relatively less used format by ad storytellers in India, see a surge, given the limitations on film shooting imposed by Covid-19?
“It is a brilliant WFH (work from home) option. It’s a format that, in the right hands, allows limitless creativity,” says Ramki.
Agrees Anish Mehta, CEO of Cosmos Maya, a leading animation studio, “The creative freedom animation offers to brands is unparalleled. It provides them with wings of imagination.”
Mehta cites the examples of campaigns like Amaron Batteries (hare and the tortoise), Kellogg’s Chocos Fills and ITC’s Sunfeast.
Typically, kid brands have used the animation format, points out Ramki. Also, it was a favourite format in the old days for government public service campaigns where a difficult idea for change had to be depicted and animation worked best. K V Sridhar, former National Creative Director at Leo Burnett India and the author of 30 Second Thrillers, a book on the story behind the making of commercials, praises the the Ek Titli, Anek Titliyan ad (unity in diversity) and also cleverly animated family planning ads.
Sridhar feels that Vicks’ khich khich ad became a hit pan India because of the visual animated depiction of khich khich.
Although some brands that have used animation in the past — Strepsils Lion ad, Asian Paints Gattu ads and the utterly butterly Amul girl — have enjoyed very high recall, not too many have experimented with it. Interestingly, the Vodafone Zoo zoo ads made by Ogilvy that many think are animated are not — human beings were made to wear bodysuits and the sequences were filmed by Nirvana Films.
Sridhar feels even Asian Paints did not exploit the potential of Gattu well and he says characters like the painter boy and Air India’s Maharaja have not contemporised well, unlike the timeless Amul girl.
“There's no doubt that we have barely scratched the surface (on animation),” admits Ramki.
Complicated and costly
So, what has inhibited the wider adoption of animation in ads in India? Globally, Google, Apple, Airbnb have all recently employed animation with brilliant results, garnering millions of views.
“I have been involved with a few animation-based ads and they are not as easy to do,” says ad veteran and brand consultant Ambi Parameswaran. “In the good old days we used to do traditional ‘cell animation’ and Ram Mohan was the guru of animation. Then came computer-based animation and 3D animation. These are complicated and take a lot of rendering time,” he says.
Agrees Sridhar. At one time, animation was the toughest thing to do. It involved thousands of manual sketches, and you had to lock the frames and do layer by layer.
Adds Mehta, “Typically, a 30-second ad would take anywhere between 7 and 10 days to produce once the storyboard has been finalised. The post production (music, voice-over and editing) would take another 5-7 days. The more the number of characters portrayed in the ad, the more elaborate the backgrounds and frames of the ad, the more will be the manpower and systems deployed for it.”
Sridhar describes how animation really evolved during the Rammohan era. Today, E Suresh of Studio Eeksaurus is the leading animator (he created the Amaron Battery ads). “But advertising has never fed animation here in India. It’s children’s films and television series that have,” he says. Globally, he describes how Leo Burnett had created several animated mascots for food brands — the Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted flakes, and the Jolly Green giant for Unilever’s frozen peas.
For animation to work, it also requires a lot of hard effort conceiving memorable characters, sketching them out, getting them to resonate with the public. “Everyone wants Tom and Jerry sort of memorable characters,” says Sridhar.
Also, when multiple agencies are involved (and today duties for a brand’s digital campaigns and TVCs are divided between multiple agencies), detailed manuals have to be created on the use of these characters.
“When I worked on the SC Johnson account we used animated mosquitoes as evil creatures. The logic was that animating them would make them big and give them ‘villain’ like characters. They used to smirk and chuckle like our filmy villains,” recalls Parameswaran. “There were mandated ways in which these mosquitoes had to be animated. The original bugs were designed by an art director called Pegler in FCB Chicago. And so these bugs were called Pegler Bugs. We had a manual that we had to follow and all bugs, used in ads anywhere in the world to advertise RAID, had to be cleared by Pegler for many many years,” he adds.
Of course, as Mehta says, over the years, the production time for animation has reduced significantly. Costs too have come down.
Still, as Ramki of Cartwheel observes, animation is charged by the second, so it can become expensive. But live action films are very expensive too.
The bigger barrier, however, is mindset. Sridhar feels that though technology has made animation very easy, few have the time or inclination to use it for brand building that involves long-term thinking. “This is the gifs and boomerangs era and animation is used more for tactical advertising,” he says. The exception globally he feels is Japan, where animated characters are developed, marketed, get a life of their own and are used by brands.
“In advertising, many clients still believe that live action is more credible, impactful, and effective. More so because of our collective obsession with celebrities,” points out Ramki.
Nothing illustrates this better than the story shared by Sridhar in his book 30 Second Thrillers where he describes how Prahlad Kakkar had to enact the MGM lion having a sore throat before it was accepted by the reluctant client, Boots Company. He had to go meow meow, pop a strepsils and then roar like a lion. The ad eventually ran for ten years.