Sunday, July 17, 2005

Animated Commercials an Often Overlooked Creative Treasure Chest

It isn’t surprising that most people primarily talk about animated cartoons and animated feature films and often don’t think about animated commercials. Yet, everyone has their favorite animated commercials and when you bring up the subject the floodgates of conversation are often thrown open. Advertising animation has been around for a long time and there is quite a history of really creative commercials. Often times because of their very brief duration we forget that these little gems are some of the best examples of animation as entertainment as well as information. The best animated commercials are as packed with entertainment and information as they can be. And the quality of animation and production values is often equal to or better than the best theatrical productions. Because of the sheer number of commercials that we encounter daily, each needs to be as different and as attention grabbing as possible. So it's not just the information packed inside an animated advertisement that’s important, it's also the way that the information is presented to the viewer. The more entertaining and memorable the commercial the more chance it has to capture that coveted portion of the viewer’s attention often referred to as mindshare. And the best commercials are the ones that gain more attention the more they are viewed over and over.

A commercial presentation encompasses both sight and sound as a means of stimulating an emotional response in its viewers. It has long been known that when you can make an emotional connection your commercial will be more effective. Viewers are not meant to just react to what they see but to actually become proactive. Some commercials are brand builders but the best commercials are market drivers. Humor and fantasy are powerful sensory connectors and for this reason animated commercials are an important part of advertising and a strong tool for accessing a viewer’s memory.

Before talking about the current opportunities of animated advertising it is interesting to review some of its history. Beginning around 1950 animation for TV commercials became an important segment of the animation industry. During the 1950s and '60s, animation in TV commercials was predominant, and for good reason. Certainly, animation was far less expensive to produce than live action. But, more important, it offered maximum creative flexibility, allowing advertisers to produce dynamic, original commercials limited only by the animator's imagination. Another important historical note is that this period in time was also a major transition for the animation industry which had previously been focused on theatrical presentations, some features but mostly those great seven minute shorts between movies. The slow economic death of the theatrical short made the switch to the emerging medium of television very attractive and commercials offered many talented creators an opportunity to continue to practice their craft. Commercial budgets often far exceeded those for entertainment productions.

Perhaps the first major products to capitalize on animation in advertising were the producers of breakfast cereals. They had been an active part of the mass media since its beginning. Most of the major cereal companies had sponsored radio shows during the 30's and 40's. As television emerged, they realized that if they were going to keep their market share, they were going to have to go to where the people were. So companies like Post and General Mills decided to take on the role of sponsors of major blocks of television content. It was not a passive role though as the companies and their advertising agencies were an active part in everything that went into the production of their shows. Part of this sponsorship included of course the commercials. The cereal companies were one of the first groups to jump on the idea of using animation to sell their products. In 1949 Bill Tytla, the former Disney animation legend, created an ad for Post Sugar Crisp cereal. The cereal was not very memorable, but the ad, featuring three bears, was the start of a phenomenon.

Tytla couldn't have realized it at the time, but his commercial opened the doorway for animated advertising as it helped to get advertisers, particularly cereal advertisers, thinking about how they could reach children. It also helped lay the groundwork for creating most of our Saturday morning memories.

It didn't take long for other advertisers and cereal companies to get their characters on the screen. Animation for commercials entered a “golden age” with such memorable characters as Sugar Bear, the Cheerios Kid, Snap, Crackle and Pop, Capt. Crunch, Quisp and Quake, Bucky Beaver, Freshup Freddie, the Bardahl Bad Guys, The Hamm's Beer Bear, and the Trix Rabbit just to name a few. There also were plenty of commercials that capitalized on well known cartoon stars like Bugs Bunny, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley-Do-Right, Woody Woodpecker and others. Some of the best talents in the theatrical cartoon business of the time made commercials. For example Tex Avery contributed the famous Raid “Kills Bugs Dead” commercials and the less well known Frito Bandito commercials. Those Frito Bandito commercials are considered racially stereotypical and offensive and were therefore short lived.

For all of the animated commercials made, there were perhaps none more popular, more influential or more memorable than the creations of Jay Ward Productions. Known mainly for Rocky and Bullwinkle, Jay Ward spent nearly twenty-two years creating a number of animated campaigns for the Quaker Oats Company. His studio put together spots for Scooter Pies, Aunt Jemima, Mr. Chips Cookies and the popular Quisp and Quake cereals. The characters of Quisp and Quake were created by Bill Scott who also created and was the voice of Bullwinkle. Jay Ward’s longest running series was the promotion of Captain Crunch. In 1962, Ward brought Captain Crunch, actually Cap'n Crunch thanks to an early voice over 'flub', to the television sets of America, a place where he remains today even though Ward's association with the brand stopped in 1984. Through the years, The Captain fought the pirate Jean LaFoote in his efforts to steal the cereal cargo of the Captain's ship, the S. S. Guppy. These commercials were amazingly popular, shooting Quaker from the back to the front in the breakfast cereal market. In fact, Quaker even had to build a separate production plant to concentrate solely on Captain Crunch and its eventual spin-offs.

Over time many advertisers preferred to go the live action route, relying more and more on special effects which often do utilize some form of animation and outrageous humor. Today CGI characters like the Geico Gecko and the AFLAC Duck are very visible icons for their respective brands.

With the emerging Internet and the continuation of the logical convergence of all media there are great opportunities for animated cartoon commercials. They still are one of the best ways to attract attention and gain mindshare. And smaller studios can utilize this as a great creative and economical opportunity.


Blogger iratei said...

I would love to find the animation that went along with an alka seltzer commercial or some such. It was very sketch-ily drawn, of a stomach being interviewed on something like a Dick Cavett talk show. The stomach gets so worked up that it stands on its chair and falls off, with a resounding splat. Wonderful artist! Is there a repository of stuff like this? THanks

1:51 PM  
Blogger JK said...

One possible source of this type of material is eBay. Often times there are animation art dealers who sell original painted cells and even pencil drawings of art work from these classic commercials.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always thought this was a classic commercial but have never seen it anywhere. I was just describing the commercial to my daughter (who had fallen off the couch and made a sound just like the stomach falling off the chair). She's the one that started to search for it. I would love to see this commercial again and see if it's as great as I remember it - although it must have been great if I have remembered it for 30 years!

6:43 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home