“Now that’s a spicy meat-a-ball!” I heard in a bad Italian accent, followed by gales of laughter from the break room. The team were entertaining each other by imitating their favorite TV ad from the past. They each remembered every line, song, and product in detail, no matter how long ago the ad ran. Why?

The secret of combining animations, emotions, and learning is pretty simple. If you can connect with your audience in any emotional way—for example, amusement, anger, or pleasure—you open up a more effective channel to learning and comprehension.

The other day, a friend amazed me by remembering the name a high-school teacher from decades before. “Yeah, Mrs. Bechelstrom,” she said. “She really cared about me. I’d work my fanny off for her.”

We know that if you connect on an emotional level with another person, you communicate more effectively with them. This applies in particular in the case of online learning, which, by its very nature, tends to be impersonal. It can be greatly enhanced by including an emotional dimension.

Of course, there are limits. When it comes to things such as learning about a product or understanding a new 401(k) policy, overt emotion isn’t appropriate. But such is the beauty of video: no matter what the subject, you can make an emotional connection with the use of graphics, music, and voice-over, and your subject matter will be more readily absorbed by anyone watching.

Adding emotion, excitement or just plain entertainment makes information easily digestible. — James Ringrose

An excellent example of leveraging attitude through an animation video is the “Ford Tough” series with Dennis Leary. These advertisements are aimed squarely at a testosterone-soaked, hard-boiled working man with a cynical and somewhat angry outlook on life. The early versions of these ads were seen as being really “in your face” and raised quite a few eyebrows. However, they proved to be very successful; a toned-down version of the series continued for some time.

Through the aggressive use of cynicism and masculine bravado, Ford achieved a visceral connection with the truck-driving community. You either loved the ad, or it flew right over your head because you were unable to identify with the sentiments (emotions) they implied. This, in an environment where most vehicle ads show happy families (calling on another strong emotional thread) with puppies.

So the things to remember with animation videos are:

  1. Understand your audience and what drives them emotionally. Are they emotionally engaged with the subject? Is there an obvious emotional connection? For example, one rather cynical trend we see these days is selling Alzheimer’s pharmaceuticals to baby boomers through the use of readily identifiable emotional connections with aging parents.

  2. Develop your animation video to reach your viewer via emotion that is then combined with the intended message. This enforces the message rather than distracting the viewer.

3. Balance the use of emotion or attitude with the overall goal of teaching your viewer something.  Use emotions to enhance communication, not to overwhelm the subject. You don’t want your viewer sobbing with grief or howling with laughter instead of absorbing the intended message.

Using animation videos for business and e-learning is a fairly new subject. There’s much to be learned about the capabilities and effectiveness of this medium. The good news is that learners enjoy animations. They delight in those that provide something more than a predictable, bland representation of the subject matter. What we as producers owe them is a respectful use of their emotional responses in order to help them learn the subject.