“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive”: Why Use Animation for your Health Campaign?

Arete
8 min readDec 21, 2022

“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.”

– Walt Disney

Arete is the expert storytelling agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations — we tell stories that make a difference — raising awareness, communicating vital information, and moving people to action. Through our specialised consultants, we use a variety of media, including photography, writing, film-making and animation.

All of these are powerful vehicles for storytelling; but in some contexts the need to be clear and concise is the number one priority to ensure messages are retained. In these circumstances, animation has proven to be a particularly effective medium, especially for health campaigns. As we come into Flu season, health concerns amongst beneficiaries are a concern for many charities and NGOs, and there is a heightened need to communicate effective health messages to large numbers of people. The Covid-19 pandemic brought the importance of health communication into stark clarity, and seasonal spikes of both Flu and Covid-19 are now expected going forward.

With insights from Arete animator Jody Clarke, this piece will explore animation as a medium for crafting effective health campaigns.

“90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster than text”. (Hubspot)

It is often said that we live in an age when visual content has outstripped written and audio media. But when and why is animation more effective than film? At Arete, we use first-hand video footage in most of our campaigns, but for health campaigns, most of the time we recommend that animation takes a leading role. The reasons for this are touched upon above by one of the greatest storytellers in history. While Walt Disney used animation for very different purposes, he identified why animation is so useful in a public health context. Animation can operate beyond the limitations of film; while certain things are very difficult to capture on camera, the only limitation of animation is the imagination of the animator and their audience. Animation can be used to depict or communicate just about anything. Its versatility and ability to communicate explicitly also make it very effective, as health campaigns are often required to both engage the imagination and communicate very precise actions that cannot be misinterpreted. As a means of communication for “quick mass appreciation” animation can effectively straddle cultural and linguistic barriers, crossing borders and getting information to a large number of people very quickly — which is essential for health campaigns.

Through animator Jody Clarke, Arete collaborated with the World Health Organisation to produce this animation, explaining how Monkeypox is transmitted, its symptoms, protective measures, and follow-up actions for anyone infected.

Capture Attention

With so much visual content out there, attention spans are shorter than ever. Animation can grab attention and spark imagination, getting important messages across by communicating quickly and efficiently:

“Animation can hold an incidental viewer’s attention a lot more than a video counterpart, as the limits with what can be done are literally endless. There is a vein of curiosity that runs through a viewer’s mind as they simply don’t know what’s going to happen next”

– Jody Clarke

Animation can convey something as mundane as hand washing in colourful and engaging ways. Limitless control over movement, scale and colouration draw attention to certain details, ensuring key information is retained.

Key messages can be easily compressed for use on a range of digital platforms, or in-person gatherings where time is limited; as shown by this shortened version of the same WHO animation:

Live Long in The Memory

As well as having the ability to grab and hold attention, animation gives one the tools to ensure a message is not easily forgotten, with the ability to create unique aesthetics, using distinctive colours and even creating memorable characters to tell a story:

“I think animation is a fabulous multi layered form of communication… the tone can be set with the style of the visuals, colours, the fluidity (or not) of the animation, it isn’t restricted to JUST the message as it would be with a video or email”

– Jody Clarke

Simplify The Message

Animation can be used to convey complex messages and even abstract concepts. The power to create any scenario and use metaphor through raw visuals gives animators the ability to break the laws of nature in a way that would seem out of place in film. By playing with scale, animators can shrink or enlarge items for emphasis. Animation also allows smooth integration of narrative storytelling and statistics, making key data more impactful, informative, and engaging.

The freezeframe above circles back to isolate parts of the message — condensing them for digestibility, distilling the message into memorable visual bullet points.

The example above uses fading and scale to add emphasis, in this case to show social distancing.

A Universal Language

Animation can also be particularly useful if content is intended to be used in different languages, effectively communicating through visual storytelling and symbolism alone. Leading with and highlighting symbols can also help the audience learn and identify symbols which may be important in a wider context — for instance warning symbols on food products or medication.

Cultural and social sensitivity should be central considerations in tailoring content to the audience and striking the right tone. Animation provides the flexibility to adopt a wide range of tones that may seem out of place in film. The WHO Monkeypox animation is the perfect example, giving a light-hearted feel to a subject that many may find alarming. Choices including colour, music, and voice-over all ensure that viewers do not feel alarmed. Animation is a medium associated with positivity, approachability, and light-heartedness, and the endless creativity it provides equips the animator for tackling taboo subjects where there may be fear surrounding the topic.

Yellow polka dots used to denote rash.

“I feel it was a great piece that effectively communicated the rather delicate message, and hopefully it will have raised awareness enough to make a dent in the figures”

– Jody Clarke

The WHO example addresses the subject in a positive way, making recommendations seem simple and straightforward and adopting a tone of friendly solidarity with viewers.

Arete produced the example below in collaboration with an NGO on the topic of Reproductive Choices. The NGO provides a variety of reproductive and educational services that empower women and girls to decide if and when they would like to become pregnant. The animation adopts a very different tone to the WHO example, integrating film and animation to address an extremely difficult and emotive topic.

“I have produced a few charity videos on very distressing subjects, that really could only be presented to universal audiences as animations. I think a representation of the subject, rather than the subject itself can often dissolve a barrier when it comes to engaging with the topic. A piece on child abuse was once animated with silhouetted stills, a kind of softly animated slide show in stages to be as delicate with the subject as possible — but then intercut with the occasional hard cut and BANG to simulate a child’s shock when a table is banged etc. This proved to be quite an effective way to convey the subject matter”

– Jody Clarke

The animation alternates between explicit illustration and encoded representation in order to make the subject matter palatable to its audience.

Emotive Control

Emotion is the greatest communicator available to us. While the majority of emotive content is made up of well-edited first-hand footage, film can also introduce factors that distract from the core message or the desired emotional reaction.

Human factors like the performance of actors, or beneficiaries feeling uncomfortable on camera can introduce distracting body language. Factors beyond one’s control, such as unforeseen issues with filming on location, can also detract from the focus. Conversely, through animation one can control setting and remove ambiguity from characters, exaggerating facial expressions and depicting emotion through symbolism.

At Arete, we empower people to tell their own stories as much as possible. It could be argued that using primary footage is a rawer form of testimony, but as demonstrated by this example, using animation actually allows one to get closer to the basics of an issue. By means of a flashback, the animation offers a window into the personal experience in a way that would not be possible with words and film alone.

Rapid Response, Timeless Asset

Health crises often emerge quickly and develop even faster. Agile communication is vital to keep up. A huge benefit of animation is that it is quick to conceive and produce, with minimal resources and personnel. It is also free of the many obstacles one can face when collecting footage on location.

Recommendations and statistics around health campaigns can change rapidly, and animations are much easier to update with new information when compared to film. So, animation can be used and reused, with the added benefit that older animation does not appear as visually outdated as old footage. Providing an asset for long term use in a wide range of contexts, Arete has produced animation for television, social media, events, and as advocacy tools for distribution to key decision-makers.

If you’re embarking on a health campaign, the perfect piece of animated content could go a long way towards achieving your goals. Speak to our experienced animators today and find out how we can help.

Animation is just one of the many ways our award-winning content providers can help you make a difference.

Contact us to find out how we can tailor our expertise to meet your needs.

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Arete

Arete is the expert storytelling and training agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations.