Animation or Actors?

Advertisers are rolling out their holiday-themed ads, many of which are sure to feature a cartoon reindeer or other festive animated character. However, recent research from the Nielsen Company suggests that, although marketers have a lot to gain with animated ads, they may be sacrificing audience engagement with commercials that don't resonate as well with savvy consumers.

The use of animation in television advertising (vs. live action ads) has become an attractive option for marketers, freeing advertisers from many of the creative limitations of live action film, and often times providing significant cost savings.

In an analysis of television ads across all product categories, the study found that, in general, live action ads were more effective than animation ads. For all major categories, live action ads scored 22% higher than animation-only ads in Brand Recall (the percentage of TV viewers who can recall the commercial and its advertised brand 24 hours after viewing it).

For marketers looking to utilize animated advertising to drive grocery sales this holiday season, says the report, that creative style does seem to work more effectively for some CPG categories. For example, animation ads for the food ingredients and seasoning category, essential for every holiday dinner, resonated significantly better with consumers.

Impact of Animation on Brand Recall




Only Animation

Only Live Action




Food Ingredients and Seasoning



Source: The Nielsen Company, October 2010

Live action creatives were more effective than animated ads across all major demographics as well. While live action ads resonated equally among both genders:

  • Brand Recall was 27% stronger for females and 17% stronger among males than for animated ads
  • Adults 35 to 49 saw a 24% increase in brand recall for ads that used live action vs. animated
  • Among viewers aged 13 to 35, only showed an 11% change between live action and animated creatives.

When looking at consumer packaged goods (CPG) specifically, ads in the personal care category appeared to struggle the most when using animation. For certain personal care products, brand recall was twice as high among spots using live action vs. an animated theme.

For additional information about the study, please visit Nielsen here.



2 comments about "Animation or Actors?".
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  1. Aaron B. from, December 10, 2010 at 10:26 a.m.

    Audience resonance is probably greater with live-action ads for specific product categories because marketers need a stronger, personal connection between product and consumer. Animation can do some pretty amazing things if the story is right and the production company commissioned has the right parameters. However, what the study doesn't clarify is the audience's reaction to the "like me" scenario, where TV spots are cast and written so as to target specific demographics.

  2. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., December 10, 2010 at 12:39 p.m.

    I'm tempted to agree with Aaron. I think it's especially telling that women show significantly higher retention of live-action messaging, since they're (classically) cast as "relaters." Bottom line, I think humans are wired to relate to other humans, and to attend to, and retain messaging conveyed by humans who simultaneously semaphore trustworthy, desirable, or "like me" characteristics.

    BUT ... it's also possible to read too much into this. First off, humans also relate to catchy jingles and trivial-but-sticky memes (e.g., "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." "You ate it, Frank."). And they pay huge attention to forms of animation that capture or convey the clever, intimate resonance of human expression (e.g., anything from Pixar).

    I suspect that what's really being tested, here, isn't so much the choice between live action and animation per se, but the choice between live action and forms of animation that let marketers save lots of money, like 2D text and graphics, or simplistic 3D rendering without organic subjects. And I wonder what the scores would be like, comparing the best live action with top-end animation from world-class creatives in love with their subject matter.

    Since saving money may be the hidden 'big deal issue' here, I'd also be interested to see how machinima (live-action animation produced in 3D immersive environments) fares against real, live people.

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