It is true that animation has a great deal of entertainment value through humour with audiences of all ages, especially kids. But entertainment is not the only benefit of using animated content.
While live action as a medium has been widely used to deliver social messages in the most direct way, animation nurtures neutrality in the delivery of the message, simultaneously retaining simplicity and enabling universal relevance timelessly. Animation being a medium of social change communication is not a new phenomenon in the West.
In India, especially in recent times, live action is the obvious choice of medium for social communication. Mostly, they are in the 'tear jerker' mode to grab eyeballs and pass on a message, but the efficacy of these campaigns is not measured in terms of how much they trigger behavioural change in the society.
Animation with its inherent characteristic of maintaining neutrality in social communication delivers efficacy along with memorability. Animation doesn't get associated with caste, race, creed, socio-economic class and religion, making viewers not judge the characters based on those parameters. In live action, the viewer would associate the protagonist with a context, be it socio economic, race, caste or any of the above parameters and this may hamper the sharpness of the message.
This is one of the reasons why animation as a medium scores over live action. Animation allows social messages to hit hard amongst the target audience without sparking fear, psychosis or rejection.
The award winning social communication film 'Dumb Ways to Die', commissioned by the Australian Metro Trains in an effort to increase awareness of rail safety, would not have been so well received had the story been executed using live action. It would have looked like a 'Zombie Dance' film! Only an animated character can be shown dying of a snake bite and regurgitating froth, or as a child being trapped inside a washing machine, or as a character being sliced in half and having its head set on fire without being rejected for its grotesque representation.
Animation makes the unreal real while still keeping the relevance of the message intact. The neutrality of an animated character can be used to deliver a social message without isolating a specific community or culture, and this helps animation as a medium to increase the influence of any communication campaign that has a social/environmental cause in focus.
It doesn't matter whether we are targeting the old or young, the simplicity of animation always enables better reception of any message. The simplicity that comes with animation was the reason we connected to animation as kids, and it is the same reason why we still connect to animated content as adults today. Amnesty International has been using animated content for years to deliver their powerful social messages. These metaphors become easy to understand even though there is an element of fantasy in them.
Animation enables viewers to crack metaphors and decode social messages embedded in the film thus making it more exciting, enjoyable and memorable. Even Doordarshan's social communication films used animation in the 1980s. 'Ek Titli Anek Titliya' gave simple messages of love, unity and peace through cleverly animated content. Using animated content as a medium to deliver social messages is not a new concept, but recently, we seem to have forgotten the impact it has delivered as many social communication campaigns now choose live action over animation.
In our own film for Rotary International, 'Fateline', which was created to promote e-learning facilities, humour is absent, and in its place, clever metaphors drive the message. This is what led to its impact as a campaign. In social communication, a viewer either disassociates or dismisses the message of the film as somebody else's problem. For instance, we explicitly depict a man with lung cancer suffering due to smoking, and all smokers watching it are unaffected, as they feel they may not share the same fate.
They may want to think that the person in the film is exclusive to these hardships. In another example, if a live action film shows an Indian boy, a dark skinned girl or a Jewish uncle, it is often sub-consciously rejected with the 'that's not me' thought. But a generic animated character gains a universal acceptance and retains its relevance across borders. Animation reduces the chances of rejection when it is carrying a social message, as the characters used in animation are neutral, innocent and not specific to genus.
Social communication for behavioural change can have a longer impact using animation due to its extendable nature. Live action too is impactful, but must have longevity. Take the example of the heart-touching Gondappa advert used in Lifebuoy's 'Help a Child Reach 5' campaign. Can it be extendable? One cannot make a series based on Gondappa, as the character is relevant only in that one film.
Can the communication be sustained across other mediums and tools with ease over the years? With animation, the efficacy of the message can be sustained much after the campaign is over on TV/internet through mobile applications, games and even extended to other interactive mediums such as comics, virtual reality and movies to name a few.
Animation being a timeless medium can remain relevant for decades. It is an inherent property of animation. The film 'Ek Titli Anek Titliya' will find its relevance today amongst our generation of kids despite being over 43 years old. The Tom & Jerry series is 77 years old! It's about time we stopped looking at animation as mere child's play, and identified its strength in driving change in human behaviour in the context of society, our ecosystem and the environment.
(The author is founder-director of Studio Eeksaurus, an ad film production house)