Put the pencil down.

If you’ve come for a lesson in animation, you’re in the wrong place. In this article, we won’t be making you into the new Walt Disney.

We hate to disappoint you.

Maybe next time we’ll have one of our awesome animators share their knowledge of the craft on the blog!

For now, though, we’re going to explore one specific question:

How does cartoon animation work… on your customer’s brain?

That’s right — everyone knows (at least in theory) how cartoon animation is created. What you might not know is how exactly it makes your target customers feel when they watch it. And if it’s any different at all from when you watch a live-action video, or observe something in real life.

For this week’s article, we’ll explore four effects of cartoon animation on your viewers. We did our best to source relevant scientific research, but still you should keep two things in mind:

  1.     We make marketing animations for a living, so we’re biased.
  2.     There hasn’t been that much research into cartoons and the human brain.

We wish we could just show you a fancy infographic that would say something like, “How does cartoon animation work? Here’s your brain on cartoons” — but last time we checked, it didn’t exist. Oh well.

Let’s get started!

Effect #1. Cartoon animation is more empathetic

To be honest, cartoon animation didn’t really strike us as something that helps people to feel and express empathy better.

Sure, we have all cried watching Bambi’s mother get shot. Or, you know, during any number of traumatizing scenes in Disney movies (thanks a lot, Disney). But that could be due to our tender age at the time, or the talent of the people involved in these movies, or the intense nature of the content. Or alcohol.

Turns out, that’s just how cartoon animation works!

It’s very good at one particular kind of empathy — making the viewers identify with the characters on the screen. When we see something that stands for us, we become emotionally invested. And when you can achieve that effect, you can market anything to anyone.

This might be due to the fact that cartoon animations are generalizations. They emphasize the most prominent features and erase all the nuance, so it becomes easier to see yourself in a particular character.

What this means for your business:

If you want to make a strong emotional connection with a customer through a cartoon animation, don’t talk directly at them. Create a character who is like them, and use them as a stand-in for what is happening in your customer’s life.

This is a principle we follow in the vast majority of our whiteboard and cartoon animation videos — and we have stuck with it when doing cartoon animations, too.

Effect #2. Cartoons create (marketable) nostalgia

Speaking of childhood experiences…

One other thing cartoon animation does is tap into the feelings of childhood nostalgia. You know, that blessed time when your responsibilities as a human being included enjoying yourself, eating well, and… that’s pretty much it.

How powerful is this connection to childhood? Well, most marketing research would have you believe that nostalgia is very effective at selling products and services. But because with cartoon animations it’s mostly implied, and not in-your-face, we don’t want to assign it any undue importance.

Let’s just say that, out of the four effects described in this article, nostalgia is the weakest one by far. Much like gravity is the weakest force in the universe — yet pivotal to holding everything together — this nostalgic appeal may be subtle… but it’s there alright!

For example:

Check out this success story about a game called Cuphead — fully drawn and animated by hand in the style of 1920s cartoons. It sold over 1 million copies just 2 weeks after release. And most consumers cited the animated aesthetic as one of the biggest selling points for the game. That’s the power of nostalgia for you!

What it means for your business:

Nothing much. No, really.

You don’t have to go out of your way to invoke the feelings of nostalgia in your customers. Just the fact that you’re using cartoon animations in your marketing will do that for you. It’s a cool fact, and we thought you should know about it.

But beyond that, you will want to focus on the substance of your marketing message, and not the finer stylistic points of your animated video!


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Effect #3. Cartoons make people pay attention

According to the VARK model of educational psychology, there are 4 modes of learning:

  1.     Visual — like watching something in action and absorbing the information represented in images and video.
  2.     Auditory — by listening to new information as it’s being presented, hearing the explanations, etc.
  3.     Read/write — by, obviously, reading the information and writing it down.
  4.     Kinesthetic — also known as “learning by doing.”

The majority of us have one dominant learning style, with the other three expressed in a weaker fashion. So we tend to gravitate to the methods of learning that fit our preferences: books, podcasts, videos, infographics, hands-on practice, and so on.

Cartoon animation, however, engages three out of four learning modes at the same time. That’s what makes it so powerful for educating and persuading your customers.

Now, why does cartoon animation accomplish this task much better than a regular video? After all, you have the same ingredients there: audio to listen to, visuals to observe, captions to read, emotional component to identify with…

And yet, it isn’t nearly as effective.

In a cartoon animation, the same components have been enhanced with one goal in mind — to educate the viewer and compel them to take action.

The audio isn’t just sound — it’s a narration that explains the concept in a clear, concise fashion. The visuals and captions aren’t just there to look pretty and important — they reflect and support the narrative. And the emotional component comes from identifying with the character (see Effect #1).

That’s what makes cartoon animation so well-suited for the vast majority of people, regardless of their preferred learning style!

What it means for your business:

Next time, when creating marketing content, ask yourself:

“How does cartoon animation work for achieving this same goal? Would it actually produce better results?”

Most of the time, the answer is yes! If you want to teach your customers about something in a memorable, engaging way, cartoons could be your best option. Not just because they are compatible with most learning styles, but also due to Effect #4 — which we’ll discuss now…

Effect #4. Cartoons are great at changing people’s minds

In marketing, there’s something we informally call “the credibility trap.” That’s when business owners focus on looking like a credible authority that they totally neglect everything else.

Here’s why it’s a problem:

Something credible doesn’t always compel people to buy from you. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous website design, formal credentials, industry awards — all of these can contribute to a yes… but they don’t drive it.

In short: if your goal is to get sales, it’s a good idea to go with something persuasive over something that looks credible, ten times out of ten. That’s what makes cartoon visuals such an amazing marketing tool: they aren’t credible… but they are extremely persuasive!

This scientific study illustrates the point nicely. Researchers hand out two sets of brochures with facts and figures about wind energy. The goal of said brochures is to debunk the most common myths about it and convince the skeptics that wind energy is beneficial.

Both sets are identical in content, except for one thing. Half the brochures feature a large, beautiful photo as the primary illustration. The other half have a goofy-looking cartoon in place of the pretty photo.

After measuring people’s opinions on wind energy before and after the study, researchers concluded that the cartoony brochures did more to change people’s minds about wind energy!

Not credible at all — but still super-effective!

What this means for your business:

This one is self-explanatory, really.

If you want your marketing to be more persuasive, and attract more paying customers for your products or services, you will want to start using cartoon animation.

Otherwise, your competitors will eventually get off their high horse and beat you to the punch!

Let’s make cartoon animation work for your business

Yes, whiteboard and cartoon animation videos are normally our “thing”… but guess what — we make awesome cartoon animations, too! Just check out our animation samples here.

We would be thrilled to create a high-converting, custom-animated video for your business. Let us know what style you’re interested in, or take your pick from:

       Motion graphics and cartoon animations

       Virtual Reality Animation

       Digital stop motion animation

       2D character animation

And more.

If you’ve ever watched a slick animated explainer video and thought, “I want one!” — today is the day! All you need to do is enter your details below, and we’ll arrange a free, no-strings-attached pow wow to discuss your awesome video idea!