ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 3.10 - January 1999
Commercials in `98: Talking Animals and Trendy Gimmicks
by Chuck McBride
Universal's Babe helped bring the "talking animal" theme center stage in 1995.
© Universal City Pictures.
As a guest to this publication and, for the most part, the world of animation, I hope I offend no one by stating the obvious. A lot of people in this business have been very busy making real animals look like they can talk. I actually like some of the commercials, but as I've been thinking of what animated commercials I've seen over the past year, it's sort of creepy how many talking animals are out there. I can now laugh at a friend's campaign that uses talking dogs because, as he recently mentioned, he could. And why not? The, `Everyone is doing it so I'll do it too to make fun of them,' rationality is delightfully sarcastic if you ask me. Of course, this also means that the talking animal animation genre has reached a point where it will soon be over. Slowly but surely in boardrooms across the country, clients will look squarely into the agency's eyes and say, "The talking animal bit, don't you think it's a little familiar?" The world sort of works like this. You try to do something different. Then everybody else joins in. So you move on.
Gimmicks Get Old Quick
Of course jabbering critters aren't the only trend we seem to be stuck in. We've also entered the frozen zone. You've seen it, right? You're watching the ad, the picture freezes, the camera appears to move around the subject as everything remains motionless. Suddenly, everything unfreezes and action continues. I have to admit, it looks really cool. I even went out and wrote a script that used the technique after the first time I saw it. We presented the idea to the client and everything. Thankfully it was killed.
I guess I don't like being on the popularity wave of a style or technique. They tend to dictate the idea and can easily be duplicated. The chances of being the first one to use it seem slim. That's probably why I don't write many commercials that call for animation. Famous cartoon characters? Uh, no thank you. I used to live by an old rule -- never use a pun. I'd like to make another one. Never use a Warner Bros. character in a commercial. The first few times was fun...but that was eight years ago. I'm starting to get tired of watching my Saturday morning pals hocking mayonnaise and phone companies. Besides, Sid and Marty Krofft had it all over the other programs and they didn't even use animation, just guys dressed up like stupid dragons and stuff.
Coca-Cola's "Delivery Truck" ((Colossal)/Edge Creative) is an innovative blend of computer and traditional animation giving the spot a unique look of its own. © (Colossal) Pictures.
Lipton's black & white "Rocky" spot (Loose Moose/J. Walter Thompson) was a unique stop-motion piece. © Loose Moose.
I did see the animated Sprite beverage commercial "Sun Fizz" (Olive Jar/Lowe & Partners/SMS) that was hilarious. The little animated sunshine on the juice bottle came to life and the kids did what you would naturally do if some little animated sunshine on a juice bottle came to life on your kitchen table. They screamed bloody murder and ran for their life. The fact that this ad takes into account that cutesy characters are used to sell kids junk food then turns the tables is genius. Animation for so long has served as a marketing device for kids that it's refreshing to know that there are people out there that see through it. Maybe now we can move on to more inspired uses of the art and craft. You know, like South Park.
If I set out to do an animated commercial right now, I'd probably want to invent something in the process. Which is probably why the freshest commercial animation you see today was created for one campaign and one campaign only. The Coca-Cola "Delivery Truck" ((Colossal)/Edge Creative) is a good example. At least they were able to develop something new. Wait a minute! Maybe they were just doing something old to look new. You see how critical this can get? The Brisk boxing spot with Rocky was interesting too. I don't know if those type of characters existed before but they do now. More often than not, I see animation used to make ads cute for kids or more likable for adults. For me that only cheapens the time and artistry this industry has spent on the job. I spend most of my time trying to write television scripts that don't turn the characters into a cartoon. I find it ironic that few cartoons used in commercials ever turn into real, believable characters. Hence, why so much animated advertising must borrow them from other forms of programming and media.
There have been a myriad of collage, multi-textured sort of stream of consciousness stuff, that I can't remember who they were for, but they sure did look cool. Eye candy. Make a note here, when an agency gives you a job like this, try to weave in a story line. Next year, if I'm asked to do this again, I might remember it. Animation as a clever idea in and of itself is not going to do any of us much good.
Mazda's "Cool World" (Rhythm & Hues/ WB Doner and Associates) spot created a bizarre reality only possible through new digital technologies. © Rhythm & Hues.
I'm sure with the endless possibilities that emerge from the ever more sophisticated digital equipment, concepts will always be last to catch up to the more strange and unusual pictures. The pure idea of altering reality plays a large part in where animation is going. No longer do film images have to be presented the way they were originally photographed. Reality, which we take for granted when we see a filmed image, is no longer safe. Everything can be rearranged. Perhaps we'll soon see whole films shot knowing that all the noses on people's faces will be removed in post. A world without noses, yet everyone is acting perfectly natural. I like that. There's something very subversive about it that Huggies the Bear sorely lacks. The idea of digital manipulation as an idea could wellspring in a number of venues. A cyber reality that knows it is a cyber reality. Confused? Good. So am I.
I'm going to crawl out on a limb here. There will be less and less talking animal spots in 1999, but a few will remain. Viva Chihuahua. Although eventually they will have to be killed and replaced by yet another talking animal. Look out Budweiser Lizards. There are going to be more of what looks like, `it's old but it's new' animation spots. There are also going to be more `frozen moment' type spots, although none from me. Most of all, I look forward to the animated commercials that have nothing to do with any of these and that I can't even imagine.
Chuck McBride.is a Creative Director at Weiden & Kennedy currently working on the Nike account. He has previously worked on Levis, Got Milk? and Isuzu campaigns. His favorite color is purple.
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