How Animated Characters Add Value for Brands

From page to screen, The Mill/MPC transformed our recent whitepaper on animated characters into a live virtual panel broadcasted on YouTube. Chaired by Laura Swinton Editor-in-Chief at LBB, the panel brought together the teams behind some of the most successful brand characters in the last decade.
News December 5, 2021

The panel kicked off the conversation by observing that most businesses are now online or have made the move to adapt since the pandemic. With this, brands lose their physical ability to communicate with customers. That’s where advertising comes in.

Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer at System1 comments that in a technologically-disrupted world where companies are moving online, advertising needs to play a greater role in establishing and maintaining the mental availability of brands. When brands lose their physical availability, they can also lose their mental availability, and this makes one kind of advertising, in particular, more important: brand-building advertising. Orlando says that brand-building advertising requires us to capture the ‘broad-beam’ attention of audiences and elicit an emotional response. Today, it is much harder to cut through the noise and clutter of a crowded media space. Brand characters and living creatures that move, talk, with unique gestures and mannerisms, capture the broad-beam attention of audiences and help to cement your brand in their memory.

In this new digital age, O2’s loveable brand character: Bubl, has embodied the technological landscape while humanising it for their customers. Jenny Nichols, Group Planning Director at VCCP who leads on O2’s account notes that when they decided to create a mascot for O2, it was an interesting time for the telecoms provider as the retail market had taken a hit during the pandemic, combined with the fact their product is entirely invisible. With this, adopting a brand character seemed like the right solution to this challenge and to help make the brand seen again. With connection at the heart of O2’s product, Bubl was originally devised to make the brand more visible and during a time when it was essential in people’s lives. Jenny adds that the fact that Bubl is a robot yet humanises the brand experience, and is a testimony to MPC who have brought Bubl to life.

Laura steers the discussion to personality traits and attributes of characters that connect with audiences, with flaws, humanity and aspects of trying to survive being the key drivers that make these characters unique and successful.

From a strategic perspective, Laura explores what the craft brings to a character and how their imperfections are built. Silvia Bartoli, Concept Artist at MPC comments that when you sketch out a character in the design studio they explore many different versions of a potential character, from limbs to silhouettes until you reach the perfect one, and then they are brought to life with CG. Beautiful sketches of Bubl are shown in his design phase.

Prashanth Paramasivam, CG lead at MPC added that the best CG are the ones that go unnoticed and have audiences focussing on the emotions of the character and the story being told. Bubl is a good example of this. In fact, many brands have chosen to adopt an animal or fictional character as a brand mascot because it is easier to humanise rather than humans themselves, but with human characteristics being the reason they are endearing and enjoyable to watch.

The panel talked about other reasons a brand would choose to build a character such as to increase trust and transparency. Characters can help build memory and an emotional message that is delivered in episodic ways that last with audiences. Orlando comments that they can speak for product messaging, and be used as a device to farm out messaging across a business portfolio.

The discussion progressed into how important the design of a character gets translated onto different platforms. Silvia tells us her target is to make the character as real as possible, and with that, each design will work organically and consistent with any screen you see. This was MPC’s challenge in bringing M&S’s iconic Percy Pig to life in ‘Percy’s First Christmas’, as his character was already established in illustration. The uniqueness lies in the believability of the character, the way they move and talk which are things that are spoken about in animation meetings.

Laura rounds off the discussion by asking the panel a brand character that has stood out for them, with Jenny bringing up the memorable Honey Monster and Prashanth choosing the VW Ram. However for Silvia M&S’s Percy Pig still has the number one spot in her heart.

Did you read our whitepaper? You can check it out here.

Get in touch to know more about our research into animated characters and their value for brands, or if you’re interested in getting one created.