Expert Speak: Animation advertising – India’s Dumb Ways to Die moment around the corner?

animation advertising

With outdoor shoots and production massively impacted during the pandemic induced lockdown, we turn to experts to understand how animation advertising as a medium of communication gained prominence.

History was created in 2013, when a PSA campaign from Metro Trains in Melbourne ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ featuring animated characters swept Cannes Lions. Conceptualized by McCann Erickson Australia promoted train safety. Animation advertising has time and again proved its mettle.

While globally, animation stints in advertising have proved to be fruitful, Indian counterparts animation quests have been rather limited. In times of current crisis, with marketers switching to animated brand campaigns, is it time for animation in advertising to come of age? 

Is Animation seeing its due credit? 

“Partially yes. I am saying partially because a lot of agencies and marketers still see it as a stop-gap measure and not as a viable alternative to live-action,” says Akashneel Dasgupta, Chief Creative Officer – Delhi, BBDO India. He would be happy to see it retaining relevance even after full-fledged shoots commence.

The pandemic has pushed everyone to think outside the box, change content creation strategy, and to recognize how creative and innovative a medium animation is for effective storytelling. 

Aditya Tawde, Chief Creative Officer, Post Office Studios observes that brands are now realizing how easily animation simplifies complex topics and can bring any concept to life without being bound by physical and logistical constraints – “What we can create is entirely dependent on one’s imagination,” he shared.

A 2019 KPMG report reveals that the Animation and VFX industry which stood at $1.23 billion will more than double in size to $2.6 billion in the next 5 years, giving a view of the potential the medium holds.  

Shruti Bhatt, Writer, The Visual Housefeels that the industry is finally getting a lot of (long overdue) attention from corporates and consumers alike given these unprecedented times we are in. However, as a genre and a storytelling tool, there still is a lot to explore in the field. 


Gulf Oil Lubricants India Ltd launched an animated video campaign in May featuring their brand ambassador MS Dhoni with the message #NewWayForward, emphasizing the significance of having a positive outlook when we are all set to return to our daily routine post-lockdown.

When asked what triggered an animated campaign, Ravi Chawla, MD, Gulf Oil Lubricants India says, “While sitting at home under lockdown, it would have been difficult to do justice to this campaign without indulging in any physical shoots considering the restrictions and safety protocols. Hence, the animation was the logical way forward for us to well illustrate this campaign.” 

“Animation, in this context, if nicely done, with a distinctive style that amplifies the message, can be memorable and stand out from the clutter,” adds Chockalingam S, Creative Head, OPN Advertising (the agency behind the Gulf Oil campaign). 

In hindsight, everyone would expect animation to boom in times like this, which is in certain regard, but with animation Studios not being functional it still hasn’t seen its due.

Rishabh Khatter, Business Head, The Rabbit Hole tells us that what has been seen is that at a normal scale, 2d animated videos are generally sorted out as hub pieces in the campaign, but with a production halt it moved up the ladder as hero content.

For instance, Sharekhan’s Project Leapp – an Animated hero piece where gaming animation has been used to explain the complex features of trading platforms in an industry first. 

“Crisis or no crisis, the show must go on. Animation as an audiovisual media has tremendous reach today, and the current crisis is but a catalyst to the imminent paradigm shift to this creatively efficient medium,” highlights Anish Mehta, CEO, Cosmos Maya. 

Animation in times of COVID-19 

Khatter shares that there have been a lot more inquiries from brands about what more can be done with post-production. “Traditional brands in the FMCG space, financial brands are willing to experiment with the genre and that’s great,”  he adds. 

Though animation professionals have continued to work from home, there have been several impediments. Working remotely cannot be as efficient as working in close proximity with your team in the studio. 

Mehta shares, “At Cosmos-Maya, we have been honing our WFH capabilities. New episodes of our shows are being produced on a daily basis. More than 80 half-hour episodes of 3D and 2D animation content have been produced since the lockdown was announced 3 months ago.” 

Animation done right? 

Is the advertising world truly understanding animation and are marketers open to experiment and leverage such technology to its full potential? Marginally better Dasgupta says, but there is a long way to go. 

“We still don’t think of animation first because most of us probably still don’t understand the possibilities it offers. All this while, we were shying away from creating IPs through animation, creating characters, unique brand properties,” he adds. 

There is a need to invest more – both money and time. “Agencies are often guilty of expecting an animation led execution to be quick and dirty, and of course cheap. That needs to change.” 

“Brands have now been pushed to think outside the box, and are starting to look at animation in a new light, and not just an add on or an alternative,” notes Tawde.  He also lists down a few innovative-creative solutions in animation for brands to consider: 2D, Motion Graphics, 3D animation, Cel Animation, Stop Motion. 

Khatter too feels that while animation and post-production are something that brands have understood well but have not relied on fully up until now. He suggests that it will take a bit more time and experimenting to get brands to see the complete potential and impact a well made animated video can do. 

“The constraints of the shooting have made brands a lot more privy to exploring the animated route. Many agencies are seeing older assets in the arsenal of brand content banks to see how to repurpose their images and TVCs to create new pieces of content,” he adds. 

20 years ago, in a clutter-busting move, O&M used animated characters for the iconic, award-winning Amaron Batteries campaign with the Hare and the Tortoise (Lasts Long, Very Long). “A brand new entrant in the market, Amaron immediately gained a 6% market share, and even today is a leader in its space,” Mehta exemplifies.  

The inclusivity of the medium in terms of storytelling allows it to consolidate all audiences. With animation, vivid, complex characters and layered stories can easily be created from scratch and showcased to a wide variety of people. “Advertisers can also tie-up with distributors to leverage the brand equities of existing animation IPs and characters. Animation as a medium is known to naturally invoke childhood nostalgia and pester power, both potent sellers,” suggests Mehta. 

Meanwhile, Bhatt reflects that the approach towards animation, along with awareness and understanding of the medium, is getting refined and improved every day. “The first two months of lockdown, animated content filled in for live shoots completely, which led to a surge in business as well,” she states. 

Also Read: Once Upon a Time… Experts dissect Digital storytelling during COVID-19

Animation Advertising – The Future 

What does the future behold for the industry? With a rise in animated brand campaigns in times of crisis, do we see them evolving further in the post COVID world too? “Yes, however, it completely depends on how this medium is leveraged during this time. If brands are willing to experiment with this medium and see the possibilities animation can offer. It will see a rise,” Khatter opines. 

Chawla informs that Gulf Oil is planning to launch another animated campaign soon. He further shares, “The future for animation has always been bright but the scope has now become wider given its more innovative and cost-effective. It will be exciting and creatively stimulating to see how it unfolds.” 

Giving an example Dasgupta explains, “One of the changes being talked about is the emergence of shows/movies where content reigns and there is less dependence on star value. Something that the OTTs bring to the table. The definition of what makes a blockbuster with this distribution model is totally different.”

“I would warrant risk and say that this change would trickle into advertising as well where the messaging will become more important than the messenger again. Like the good old ’90s and 2000s. I expect good things for the animation space,” Dasgupta explains.

Animation allows brands to develop characters that have a universal appeal. The art of storytelling when embellished with animation, helps break barriers between rural and urban audiences and touches a chord across age groups. For the COVID 19 community engagement campaign, Tata Trusts used a mix of audio and visual elements. 

“Each has helped emphasize the chosen messaging with our target audience. The animation films received a very positive acceptance and response that has encouraged us to use the format for our subsequent round of messaging too,” shares Deepshikha Surendran, Head – Brand & Marketing Communications, Tata Trusts. 

According to Chockalingam S, what’s important is to bear in mind that just because something is easy to do, it doesn’t make it interesting to watch. While there are some great examples of animated content coming out, there are also some imminently forgettable pieces that slip out. “When great storytelling meets great execution, animated content has a great future,” he exclaims.  


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