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The Key to Purposeful Animation in Advertising

With the rise of social media and other digital mediums, animation has taken a front-row seat in the world of marketing and advertising.

Having spent well over five years as a social media and digital advertising designer,  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the space evolve and change over time. Now as a designer at idfive, I’m excited about how animation can work for universities, nonprofits, and other mission-based brands. 

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have been recommending video and animated content as the next greatest thing since sliced bread. But while it’s true that having motion in your ads can help enhance the content and steal away user attention, if you aren’t following some best practices then motion can be a detriment to your message and overwhelm your audience.

It’s important to not just produce an ad that’s animated because you can or because you’re being told it’s recommended. Like anything in design, animation needs to serve a purpose and add to the experience rather than steal the show.

Taking a look at a few examples, we’ll cover how animation should be used to convey messages and emotions. 

Display advertising

For this particular animation for the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy, there’s a unique reveal of the woman which immediately draws interest to the ad. 

Next, the image copy and CTA button subtly animate in through a simple fade-in. If you notice, the brand logo is always present during the animation. This is definitely a plus — it’s essential to establish the brand upfront and in the first 3 seconds for brand recall.

The content within the ad could be condensed. It starts with a prominent “Top 10 Best Pharmacy School” headline and CTA combo, but then we’re given two more attributes of the school, and then a whole new section that replaces the original Header and provides even more attributes. While that ad is only 10 seconds, it’s throwing a lot of messages at us. Audiences wouldn’t be likely to pick up on all of them unless they watched the ad a few times. 

Social media ad

Finding ways to highlight product differentiators and communicate a more robust message can be challenging in a busy social media feed like Facebook or Instagram. As we see in the Naked Juice ad example, animation can play a key role in pulling this off. 

The ad immediately introduces the product front and center before bringing in any actual messaging. Next, a fluid transition brings in the first message and allows the type to interact with the scene. The ad accomplishes this all while reintroducing the product a total of 3 times to account for any drop-off or scroll-throughs. 

Note the subtle scaling-up of the logo on the bottle at the end of the animation. This is a great example of pulling elements off the packaging and giving them some life. In this instance, it helps to bring emphasis to the logo without being forceful. 

One recommendation for this animation would be to have the branding present at all times to ensure people don’t miss it when scrolling through their feed. 

Type reveal for social media ad

This social media ad from NutriGrain is a great example of how to use animation to create a simple text reveal. Through a short and sweet animation, the ad delivers the Unique Selling Point (“Now with no artificial flavors”) in under 6 seconds. It even does so with the product itself. 

One thing to note is that most social media platforms will loop animations for up to 90 seconds. What’s especially great about this is that you can build a seamless loop (where the first frame is the same as the last) like the NutriGrain ad manages to do. 

The NutriGrain ad also keeps the branding on the screen at all times, even as the product disappears and comes back in. This not only increases the likelihood that users will see the logo, but it also gets around Facebook and Instagram’s rule that only 20% of an ad’s surface area can be text, because the text on logos doesn’t count. 

So, to bring it all back, here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Brand prominence is a key element to consider on any ad. Preferably, the logo should always be on the screen. If animating the logo in, get it on the screen in under 3 seconds.
  • Keep animations simple and clean whenever possible. Avoid making ads cluttered with information and imagery.
  • Purpose, purpose, purpose. Just because you can animate it doesn’t mean you should. At a certain point, too much animation can actually detract from the ad.
  • Animation can be a good way to divide up a message into digestible chunks. It’s important to note this doesn’t mean you should go cramming more messaging in just because you have the ability to. Keep the character limit to a minimum and the message streamlined. Ultimately you only have 3 seconds to get your message in, make it count.
  • Avoid using busy backgrounds as these can be a distraction and deterrent for the main message.
  • Rule of thumb is to keep all animations 15 seconds or less. If you can’t convey your message in that amount of time than it likely means you need to simplify it.
  • Remember that animations and videos can loop on most platforms. Just because your piece of content is 6 seconds or less doesn’t mean it can’t hold the same weight as a 30+ second animation. Find playful ways to take advantage of the looping feature and to keep your message simple and concise.