What you’ll learn in this article:

  • Why animation works so well for advertising and teaching
  • Characteristics of effective animated ads
  • How to get the best results for your projects

Commercial videos

Each year, we’re busier, and our attention spans are shorter. Today you have to grip people through the eyes and ears – in just a few seconds. The next step is to keep them engaged long enough to walk through your entire process, even when they’re bombarded with distractions.

What’s the best way t0 reach audiences and explain ideas? Tell good stories using animated commercial advertising.

It’s similar to my job in writing this article: To keep readers on-page long enough to learn valuable information, first I need to grab your attention.

Next, you expect to get loads of valuable information, plus some entertainment, right?

In this article, we’ll take a hard look into precisely what makes animated videos successful and how to ensure similar results for your own projects.

Animation is just one ingredient in the recipe for success

Audiences are easily distracted, and advertising budgets are limited. But animated explainers can help maximize your ROI.

They’re great tools for teaching complex ideas and selling things. In a child-like way, a good video can hold attention and call us into action. Even when we’re drowning in a sea of advertising clutter.

Animation lets people escape from ordinary life for a few minutes and enjoy an adventure. But cartoon characters alone aren’t enough.

How can you tell the difference between good and bad productions? Most importantly, how can you make sure your animated ads are super effective?

Good artwork, great storytelling, and a strong CTA

Most people recognize a good clip when they see it, but they can’t explain why it’s good or how it can help their organization. This article will give clear examples that show how the winners work their magic, based on insights from my 30+ years with leading agencies.

We’ll take a close look at the exact combination of qualities to look for:

  • Good digital artwork.
  • Great storytelling with plot twists.
  • A strong call-to-action (CTA).

That way, you’ll recognize the differences between ho-hum and stellar results when you’re planning your project.

Why it works so well

Before diving into the 5 best animated videos in 2021, I’ll answer the fundamental question of why animated commercials work so well. There are several reasons.

First, we all know that a spoonful of sugar makes bitter medicine easier to swallow. Funny characters make complex topics (including sales pitches) easier to tolerate.

When we watch a creative clip, people know that it aims to sell something or convince them to take some action. But they don’t care as long as it’s entertaining and informative.

We enjoy the entertainment enough to sit through the message that comes with it. And, when it comes to discussing controversial topics, animation videos seem less threatening – Goofy characters with a serious message can disarm viewers of any age.

Better memory retention

Most importantly, a good animator can create visuals that instantly explain complex technologies in ways that “live” presentations can’t match. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then the animated explainer is worth a million.

Scientific research shows that people only remember about 60% of the information they receive via written content and about 70% of what they learn through visual content.

Yet, when audio and visual content are combined with on-screen text and graphics, we remember over 80% of what we receive. Add an entertaining storyline, and retention jumps to 90% or more.

That’s why everybody is using commercial videos.

The winning touch

I’ve worked on several hundred successful ad campaigns. No matter how unique the creative approach is, they all shared some common characteristics – Expert animation, an engaging storyline, and a compelling call to action.

Good artwork is combined with a brief story to help the viewer escape reality for a few minutes. If a story entertains them enough, they’ll reward us by heeding the call to action and clicking on our links.

In the 5 standout examples below, I’ll show you what to look for in a winning production.

schedule a call bannerShow the audience something they can’t “un-see”

Competition for eyeballs is fierce, and face-time is limited. We need to cut through the advertising clutter and become memorable to an audience. Grab their attention in a way that stuns and paralyzes them long enough to sit through the message.

The trick is not to go too far in shocking your audience – We’ve all seen creative advertisements that could have been viral winners but instead were offensive losers.

From what I’ve seen, all successful clips have the common characteristic of burning at least one unique, iconic image into the brain…. There’s always a stand-out animated character that you can’t forget or some kind of digital artistry on-screen that you’ll remember long into the future.

Most commercial videos aren’t memorable; they’re forgettable. Do you remember the last time you watched an instructional explainer video to learn something?

Most of us remember the topic of the last clip we watched, but not its details. On the other hand, a truly good clip gives us at least one unforgettable image or scene that we can’t “un-see” later.

If you’re like me, that’s the clip – once I finally stop laughing – where I pound on the Share button until my finger bleeds.

As I’ll show you in these 5 stunning examples, every successful commercial clip finds the right balance between artistic entertainment and commercial messaging. These great animated commercial videos were created by talented artists who connect with audiences and deliver strong messages – but without shocking anyone.

1. Grub Hub – The Delivery Dance


This GrubHub promo has all the elements for success that I outlined above – A weird character with a storyline that’s easy to follow, ending in a compelling call to action.

With his “bed head” and enormous potbelly fueled by (perhaps too many) GrubHub deliveries, this wacky character is actually a hero representing the typical customer.

But like I said earlier, funny characters and good products aren’t enough to stand out from the clutter of ordinary advertising.

Here’s what grips viewers: Our obese hero begins a spontaneous victory celebration when his food order arrives…. It’s the GrubHub Delivery Dance.

I wish I could dance like that.

The effect is weirdly compelling. It would be impossible without the magic of animation. 

And, successful clips like this always end with a plot twist. Here’s the surprise ending: As our hero finishes the dance, his equally chubby son likewise falls into the same groove. 

It’s priceless. The first time I watched this scene, I laughed so hard that I cried.

The Dance is impossible to forget. It explains how this clip got 15 million views within its first few months on YouTube.

What can we learn from this commercial video? People never change. 

Everyone knows that we’re trying to sell something, but they don’t care as long as they’re entertained for a few minutes.

2. Heinz Baked Beans Ad

How do you sell more beans? It’s a classic marketing challenge that we can all learn from.

Even though it was first produced in 2017, this Heinz baked beans ad is still a great example of commercial video wizardry. If you want to learn how to recognize a winning production, check out this promo.

It shows us there are exciting “back-stories” in humble places, even inside a can of beans. It’s unforgettable, and it shows each of the identifying characteristics that I described earlier.

Will Geoff invent gas-free beans someday?

This clip’s storyline is funny and engaging. Our animated hero is Geoff. He’s the bean-loving director of innovation at Heinz Company.

Geoff finds his love interest in the pasta-faced chick who works in the Heinz Spaghetti Department next to his office. It’s a case of love at first bite.

Beans are sexy

Innovating and testing for Heinz 57 varieties of new products in his lab, Geoff finally designs the ultimate gift for his new bride – The One for All, a new line of canned baked beans with various portion sizes.

The rest of the video is filled with funny scenes showing the couple’s pasta-fattened kids growing up, enjoying the full range of Geoff’s innovations. It’s brilliant because it mentions the entire range of Heinz products while showcasing the new baked beans packaging – A child/senior portion can size, a single adult portion, a double portion for a couple, and the family size.

The unforgettable moments in this clip show Geoff’s career in the Heinz research lab, alongside the stages of his life as he becomes a father several times, then finally settles into middle age. It has 400,000+ views on YouTube because it illustrates a heart-warming approach to selling a heart-burning product.

3. Lyft – Life always gets better with ride-sharing

The hero of this animated commercial video is a grandmotherly character faced with the hassle of owning and maintaining her car. The clip is so effective because of its storytelling.

It takes Grandma full circle from being a ride-share customer to being a Lyft driver herself. With tension-building music in the background, the story begins as Grandma stressfully navigates through crowded rush hour traffic.

Then she suffers the classic “pain point” for city drivers: While she’s inside a beauty salon, her car is ticketed and towed with lightning speed.

Anybody who’s ever driven or parked their car in a big city can relate to Grandma. That’s why this video is soooooo powerful – We feel sorry for Grandma, and we wish there were a solution for single drivers, especially the oldsters…..

BANG

That’s when we realize that we’re feeling sorry for ourselves as well as Grandma. We feel the hero’s pain. Myself, I don’t drive into the city because it’s too nerve-wracking.

Good storytelling is the reason for this ad’s success. As soon as we’re feeling sorry for Grandma (and ourselves), the magical solution appears on-screen — Lyft.

The storyline quickly walks us through Grandma’s flashbacks and old fears. It’s brilliant because it entertains us and harnesses the power of emotion to sell Lyft’s ride-sharing services.

The script follows a classic formula for success: We meet a hero; in this case, it’s Grandma. The hero is likable and hardworking but suffers from a problem. It’s the hassle of maintaining a car and driving in city traffic.

Of course, the hero always suffers from the same pain points as the target audience. We can see ourselves on-screen playing the same role.

The story shows the hero’s frustrations and then introduces a solution for her problems. This type of classic storyline always ends by showing the now-satisfied hero enjoying the benefits of a given product or service. Finally, there’s an easy call to action.

This Lyft clip cleverly covers both sides of their business model because the script is written to encourage the audience to ride with Lyft as well as drive for the company.

4. The Calling — GoArmy (Emma, and other variations)

The clip’s hero is Emma, a missile systems operator for the US Army. It’s a gripping story that starts by saying Emma was “raised in California by two moms…”

She’s a college sorority girl who morphs into a missile-wielding Patriot. Who could stop watching after hearing a line like that?

The digital artistry is lifelike and credible. But like I mentioned earlier, well-drawn characters aren’t enough to stand out from the crowd of good clips.

What’s different is how this clip expertly highlights those problems faced by young people burdened with a sense of entitlement. The story exposes some raw nerves when Emma enters military service, but she finally overcomes the challenges and learns her own strengths. 

The animator uses a simple yet effective style with clean lines and comic-book colors. In the end, our animated character morphs on-screen into the real-life soldier named Emma, on whom this true story is based.

It’s a powerful effect because every teenage video gamer likes to watch ordinary humans morph into animated warriors with superhuman powers.

This clip got nearly 2.5 million YouTube views in its first month online. That’s pretty good for a production with multiple variants: Emma, plus Janeen (1.1 million views), Jennifer (1.3 million), and a host of others totaling many millions of views. 

How can an Army recruiting advertisement be so compelling? The key is good storytelling that probes the pain points. 

Unlike old-school ad campaigns, these winning GoArmy clips use real stories about young adults who succeed against challenges. The audience feels the same pain points.

The best thing about this marketing approach is it speaks directly to the most desirable audience. Teenagers and young adults who are ambitious enough to join the Army as a career stepping stone – instead of considering military service as a last choice when other career options fail.

5. Gatorade – Heart of a Lio

This Gatorade advertising clip is at the top of the marketing game and a great example of an animated commercial video. It highlights the career of soccer star Lionel (Lio) Messi using a combination of powerful storytelling and good animation.

The story follows the development of a young athlete as he grows into his professional career….. Like those other top-selling ads described earlier, this Gatorade clip also uses flashbacks and dream sequences to illustrate the childhood challenges overcome by Messi.

As the clip runs through scenes showing the star’s career, it also uses a technique that you’ll see appear in every other good video. Unexpected twists in the plot and visuals that burn into your memory.

Have we even seen a male soccer team wearing women’s skirts? This ad features plenty of unforgettable moments like that.

Most importantly, it digs deep into the emotions. The script talks about Messi’s personal struggles before returning to Gatorade’s tagline: “When you have a dream to chase, nothing can stop you.”

There are also loads of animated wizardry to support the storyline. For example, as the successful star is seen leaving on a jetliner, the surrounding clouds create the form of outstretched hands. Subtle but impressive.

This is a strong marketing promo with nearly 40 million YouTube views. Yet, this ad sells Gatorade without ever mentioning the product’s actual name, only a tagline and logo.

In summary, it’s a winner for the same reasons that I’ve illustrated with the other four examples above: There’s expert digital artwork to support an engaging story, with enough unusual twists that we don’t forget it.

Animated explainers

If you’re interested in using animation to grow a business, you have the right idea. It’s the most effective way to reach people. Now that you’ve learned what to look for in animated commercial videos, it’ll be easier to find an agency that can produce good results for your projects.

Do you have a question about commercial animation? We can help.

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