Since the 1940s, animation has had a profound effect on how products are marketed. It allows advertisers amazing latitude for conveying their messages, transcending the boundaries of what is possible in photographic representation. It also enables marketers to speak directly to children through cartoon characters and to target adults through eye-catching special effects.
The costs of creating animated ads vary depending on the type of animation and the amount of production time required to produce the ad. Often the cost is comparable to that of live-action spots since, while animation requires costly artistic talent, it usually does not entail rental of a location or the expense of hiring live actors and large film crews.
In the early days of TV advertising, animation was a costly technique, and most products were advertised either through live demonstrations or previously filmed "talking head"-style presentations. But the few animated spots that ran in the early days of TV attracted so much attention that advertisers soon looked past the cost and focused on the technique's effectiveness.
The "Botany Lamb" series of spots is often cited as the first example of animated TV commercials. The 1941 spots for Botany Mills, produced by Douglas Leigh and directed by Otto Messmer, promoted the company's wool ties. At the end of each spot an animated lamb looked into a telescope and predicted the next day's weather.
Another early example of animated advertising is the "Reddy Kilowatt" character created in 1926 for the Alabama Power Co. and animated in 1947. The popular Reddy, who helped allay the public's fears about electricity in the home, was a friendly little character made out of five lightning bolts, with a round smiling face and a lightbulb for a nose.
Cel animation was for many years the most popular form of animation. It involved filming a sequence of images drawn and colored on individual acetate or nitrate cels. The introduction of videotape in the early 1960s brought with it some new animation techniques, and advancements in computer technology made computer-generated imaging an exciting animation tool in the late 20th century.
As animation got a firmer foothold in advertising during the 1940s, many new studios opened to handle the work. Fletcher Smith Studios began animation work in the mid-1940s, creating ads for New York's Roosevelt Raceway that featured a talking horse.
The Ajax Pixies were created by Shamus Culhane Productions. The Ajax Pixies displayed the high quality of work that Shamus Culhane learned while a trainee at the mecca of animation, Disney Studios.
By the 1950s, advertisers began to see animation as a way to stand out in a medium that was attracting more and more commercials. It also offered companies a means for bringing certain brand icons to life. Leo Burnett Co. created Tony the Tiger in 1951 for Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes. In addition to Tony, Burnett created such major cel-animated icons of the 20th century as Charlie the Tuna for Star-Kist Foods and the Jolly Green Giant for Green Giant Co.
Other animated ad characters introduced in the 1950s included the Hamm's Beer bear from "the land of sky blue waters," created by Campbell-Mithun in 1954, and Burt and Harry, animated spokesmen for Piel's beer, created in 1955 by animation studio United Productions of America and Young & Rubicam.
In 1957, when the animation division at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer closed, Hanna-Barbera Studio opened. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had worked together at MGM, where they created Tom & Jerry, the famous cat and mouse duo. Hanna-Barbera developed a "limited animation" technique with less detail in the characters and background, which was well suited for the small-screen format of TV. This new style of animation was imitated by many studios active in TV animation at that time and was attractive to advertisers as it was much less expensive to create.
By the 1960s, animation had been widely adopted in TV advertising. Among the early adherents were marketers of children's cereals, which created their own animated characters specifically to appeal to kids. In 1963, Quaker Oats chose Jay Ward Studios, creator of "Rocky & Friends," to develop a character for a new children's cereal, and Cap'n Crunch was born. Other popular cereal characters came from General Mills, which introduced the Trix rabbit, created at Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample in 1960 for Trix, and Lucky the Leprechaun, created by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1964 for Lucky Charms.
But animation was not limited to the realm of children's advertising. The early 1960s saw the rise of Mr. Clean, Procter & Gamble Co.'s household cleansing icon created at Tatham-Laird, New York. In 1960, Y&R created a spot for Bristol-Myers Co.'s Bufferin analgesic using cel animation to show how the remedy entered the digestive system, made its way into the bloodstream and produced relief.
Cel animation is only one of many animation tools available. For example, Pillsbury's Doughboy, created at Burnett in 1965, was a sculpted figure filmed using a stop-motion technique that seemed to bring the character to life.
Clay animation is a type of stop-motion animation in which clay (today usually plasticine) figures are photographed frame by frame. Slight changes are made to the figures between each frame. When these images are run in succession, the figures appear to move.
In 1986, the California Raisin Marketing Board introduced the "dancing raisins" via Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, and Wil Vinton using the Claymation technique pioneered and trademarked by Wil Vinton Studios in Portland, Ore.
In the mid-1990s, PepsiCo used the technique in a series of animated spots for Lipton's Brisk iced tea that featured clay re-creations of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Babe Ruth, Bruce Lee, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Coolio, Willie Nelson and James Brown. The agency was J. Walter Thompson USA, New York; the production company was Loose Moose Ltd., London.
With advancements in technology, computers began to play a larger part in animation, reducing the need for expensive artistic talent and speeding up the process.
Computer-generated imaging software is also used in the 3-D modeling of objects that can then be animated. In January 2001 for broadcast on Super Bowl XXXV, Weiss Stagliano Partners, New York, created the CGI commercial "Gravity Balls" for Hotjobs.com, which brought to life a steel ball from a gravity ball set, complete with a personality and emotions. Pixel Envy, Los Angeles, was the animation studio.
Often a combination of animation techniques is used to create TV spots. In the mid-1990s, Krech Productions created two 30-second spots for Ogilvy & Mather, Houston, and its client, Shell Conoco, using stop-motion and computer animation to bring to life marching armies of credit cards that could bend and wiggle on cue.
Other common forms of animation include anime and cutout. Anime, also called Japanimation, is a style of animation developed in Japan typified by characters that have a smooth, realistic style. American Honda Motor Corp. in its 1999 spot "The Coupe Mission" from La Agencia de Orci & Asociados, Los Angeles, used the anime style to show that driving its Civic makes even a trip to the grocery store feel like an adventure.