Animal Farm was one of my favorite books from high school. Orwell’s allegory was smart — politics and revolution were difficult issues to critique — but a gang of livestock made them more accessible to generations of readers.
Over 80 years later, recent buzz surrounding Aflac's newest yoga ad has brought me back to the farm — we love taking financial advice from animals. Like Orwell, financial companies have used, and are still using, animals to make their advertisements more relevant to viewers. Aflac draws on the duck, and Geico has featured a talking gecko and pig. Even when humans are involved, they often lean toward caricatures. Geico has used Pinocchio and cavemen, Flo of Progressive seems like a robot, and Allstate's viral Mayhem videos often feature everyday objects personified (and Dennis Haysbert’s voice is awesome).
Orwell writes: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” Maybe the same is true for ads. When it comes to discussing tough, or otherwise boring topics, consumers are intensely attracted to the entertainment that animals proffer. It’s a strange philosophy — none of these animals have the slightest logical connection to the brands that they represent. Why a pig? Who is Flo? Did she study business in college? We don’t know. What is clear, however, is that the link between these random representatives and their massive campaigns has led to dynamic storytelling. The connection has been working for over eighty years, and most likely much longer than that.
As featured in Marketing Daily, both brands and consumers love a story. "The data supports the emotion captured within the qualitative work," author Jon Last notes, and it is storytelling that designates campaign success. For Orwell, animals created a story that has sold millions of copies worldwide; for advertisers, animals have made storytelling an option for selling millions of products worldwide. A British gecko saving you money lends the field of car insurance a memorability and entertainment value that it would otherwise lack.
Storytelling is not only smart, but necessary. As demonstrated by a 2014 Facebook study, ads designed to convey a continuous story can increase user visitation rate to a site’s landing page by 87%. Adweek also reported that National Geographic has made diligent use of visual storytelling to become the most successful media publisher across social media platforms (their Instagram account has over 6.5 million followers). The goal of advertising is to foster a powerful connection with consumers, and telling a story, whether through human or animal characters, is an advantageous way to do so. Tactful storytelling is arguably one future for successful advertising, and in moving forward, we would be prudent to take guidance from the past.