How branded animated content outstrips strained budgets and production challenges

Animated content for long in India has failed to deliver value due to quality issues. But the Covid-19 crisis came as a shot in the arm for animation, which has come to the rescue of brands and publishers. finds how the animation space is redefining itself from being a children genre to be accepted by all

Akanksha Nagar
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Though shooting for TV and OTT has resumed under certain conditions in unlock 1, production continues to be an uphill task. Amid the lockdown restrictions, content publishers tried multiple options to overcome production obstacles, and among them was animated content.

As the media and entertainment industry increased its dependence on technology to deliver engaging content and keep users hooked, it also adopted animation to a great extent, giving a boost to a struggling medium.

Animated content came to the rescue while conveying messages, especially related to Covid-19, when organisations had to send our mandatory and educative content to employees and customers.

However, the problem is that Indian animation is troubled with the lack of appealing narrative and talent even though it might help overcome the challenge of tight budgets and issues related to live production. But will brands in India ever consider animation as a long-term strategy? What could be the possible challenges for them, and how can they make it appealing for not just kids but the youth as well? finds out.

MVS Murthy

MVS Murthy, Head Marketing, Digital and Corporate Communications at Tata Mutual Fund, said animated content is quite easy flowing and is as easy as making a two-minute noodle if you have the ingredients handy.

The brand had run an animated content campaign around Janata Curfew Day, giving meaning to every hour of staying inside the home. It did nearly 50 creatives in 22 days.

Imagine doing this in a non-animated manner amid the lockdown?

"Most of our communication partners enabled their creative teams to work from home. And in their respective roles, concept, copy, visualisation and animation are all happening seamlessly," he said.

Even Pocket Aces' 'animation content platform Jambo tripled its growth amid the lockdown. Its team also grew from six to 11.

Ashwin Suresh

Ashwin Suresh, Founder of Pocket Aces, while explaining how the crisis acted as a natural growth graph for the channel, agreed that animated content does overcome production challenges.

The channel, before the lockdown, was producing three short-format content videos a week. It has now scaled it to 20 videos a week, while also launching a web series, Namooney.

The series:

Suresh said, "We realised how scaling up content on the channel in this time would be quite effortless because there are animation studios that can work through video calls and voice calls. Now the channel has nearly 10k subscribers, and by the end of the series, we expect it to grow by 50k, which is a phenomenal growth for us. We have seen a similar kind of growth on Instagram as well."

Kunal Rao

Kunal Rao, Founding Partner of integrated marketing agency One Source, said animated content as a genre that has off-late picked up in India but he now foresees a lot of lighter content (vis-a-vis serious content) coming to the fore, since animation as a medium lends itself to that.

This will be a good time for Indian players in the space to tighten their buckles in a positive sense because a lot of content creation is coming their way, he said.

Kunal Mukherjee

Kunal Mukherjee, Country Director, TotallyAwesome, too, said Covid would be the perfect opportunity for companies to explore work-from-home talent and create collaboration funnels for a smooth workflow. The creative industry can save location and other costs through work from home. Animation content in India has primarily focused on kids, and the next move will be towards Anime, Manga and other formats as the audience matures and exposure through platforms such as Netflix leads to better exposure of global content.

Aditya Bhat

However, Aditya Bhat, Head, Jio Creative Labs, suggested that animation can be the cherry on the cake but cannot be the actual cake itself because there will be a fatigue level also in the consumption from the audiences' end.

"Gone are the days when you needed a couple of crores in making an ad. With Covid-19, the budget has been impacted, and thus there will be a relook and consolidation on the media spends. But there's also going to be an entire perspective on how much to spend on making an ad. That is something that will be currently questioned. One is going to be clever, innovative, and creative. Therefore, there is a lot of opportunity for animated content, but this should not be the primary mode of communication for any brand," he said.

He mentioned how certain messages could go with animation while certain other messages that require a larger depth of emotions cannot be communicated via animation. 

It is often said how sentiments are not often expressed in animation. And for many brands and publishers, this acts as one of the many apprehensions.

How can one ensure animated content is more meaningful while making it appealing for younger audiences?

Bhat said certain emotions can and cannot be rendered beautifully via animation, and therefore not suggested for those who want to create a long-term brand with an emotional impact.

Nilesh Talreja

Nilesh Talreja, Founder of UCID (Unconventional crafts, ideas and digital), said if the story and the narration are insightful and delivered well, animation too successfully strikes the right emotional chord. There is no taking away from the fact that seeing human faces emote, brings alive a brand or for that matter any story.

However, if the stories itself are strong, meaningful animated content can be very impactful, Murthy said. 

For instance, look at the number of people who recall the 'Ek Anek Ekta' animation. Not just those born in the 70s, but even millennials seem to enjoy it. Stories are the fulcrum, and if they are made thoughtfully and meaningfully, they will strike a chord and build familiarity for the brand with its unique narrative for the audiences.

The video ‘Ek Anek Ekta’:

However, both Rao and Suresh said it is here where India will now need to move from technical growth, which we have achieved consistently for some time now, to storytelling in animation, where we are still in the nascent stages.

Then there is a general perception that animated content appeals to kids only.

This is also in part due to the 'cartoons' analogy being used. From Mickey Mouse to Lion King, down the ages, animation has been targeted at younger audiences. But turn the pages to today, and we have the likes of Archer and Castlevania on Netflix, which are darker in tonality, verbiage and more.

The audiences have shifted towards animation over some time, and not overnight. There came a time when the likes of Kung Fu Panda and Shrek were watched by the young and old alike.

Audiences evolve and gravitate towards what suits them, and animation as a platform will see brands joining the bandwagon too, Rao said.

With video and voice being preferred over reading instructions, more and more brands have started using animation to deliver educative messages using animated videos, and this trend will only increase, said Talreja. He said how his agency is getting demands for creating content for older and vernacular audiences as the animation is replacing the need to reach out and explain features and benefits in person.

Even Murthy agreed that animated content is not consumed based on demographics.

The advent of technology, availability of software and influences of animated content across the globe due to a scale-up in its production is making this form of content more commonplace.

Rao, while sharing his experience, said he has worked on everything from SaaS to BFSI to business consulting in terms of client sectors with animation requirements. He said how it is suitable for brands across categories as well.

Murthy suggested that any category that has a long story to say or is working on changing behaviour or wants to demonstrate the use of a device can all use animation.

A corporate story will still need a human narrative. BFSI, FMCG, consumer durables, automobiles wanting to promote self-service in these Covid times can all leverage this form of content. However, Talreja said brands in BFSI and DTH services could also explore this space.

Bhat, although, emphasised the fact that the message one wants to deliver in what budget and with what objectives matter more than the category of the brand. It should be based on media planning and messaging. Similarly, frequency is not related to animation but the media objectives.

Talking about the branded content opportunities for publishers in the animated space, Suresh said, "This space is exactly like what branded content was four or five years back. Some brands are early adopters and later adopters who you have to educate, and there are tech companies, software companies who are more progressive in that way. Our channel will help other brands as well to explore this and show them the opportunities here."

The channel is in conversation with a few brands for branded content opportunities and will have them on board by July.

Overall, experts agreed that brands might need a little bit more education on this subject.

What could be the possible challenges they might experience while exploring this for the first time, apart from the education?

Undoubtedly, there are many challenges in exploring advertising as a content medium, from consumer shift in preference to perception, from brands' shift from reluctance to acceptance, from creators' shift from comfort to future-proofed content.

But with the immense opportunities, Rao said there are too many to ignore animation as a viable content medium.

"If you don't have great stories, if your brand does not have an everyday purpose, if you don't have an agile marketing team that can test, execute and scale, it is going to be challenging. The medium is constantly there at you like these gigantic waves. If you have all the three points I mentioned, then you have a great surfboard to enjoy the Moana!," said Murthy.

Animation needs a different kind of approach, where you are thinking out of the box while being limited by the possibilities the medium offers. So every challenge or limitation can be compensated by the complementary strength of the medium, said Talreja.

Content in India has typically been powered by the three-piston engine of cricket, humour and star power. With two of these getting ruled out to a great extent due to Covid-19, humour will come to the fore. Surveys already say humour is a great driver for viewers. Brands that are able to find a seamless fit with the genre, will first and foremost do well. The key here is seamless.

On the animation front, brands and publishers have already foreseen this shift in content dynamics, and Rao feels they are already preparing for the future.

In fact, content marketing as a whole is bound to see an uptick in India, where animated content will see more and more buy-in from brands, he said. 

We are, after all, one of the largest unrestricted-access democracies in the world, and that sort of aids content creation, which put together with the factors mentioned above, will steer towards animation.

Audiences like snackable stuff and if it is cool, they don't mind taking quasi-ownership of the content and sharing it on one's behalf. Even brands need to tell stories 24X7. And somewhere with the ubiquitous mobile phone in hand, brands are now armed with an always-on medium.

Hence, animated content can be a great opportunity to leverage by creating a content factory.

Also, the animation is the fastest in terms of concept to delivery, said Murthy.

animated content