“To infinity and beyond…”

Most people will recognise the above quote… from a computer animated, plastic toy named Buzz Lightyear. Buzz and his ragtag gang of toys have entertained and delighted us since Pixar created them way back in 1995.

Since then, Pixar have led the way in character design and storytelling. Recent Pixar movies have dealt with difficult topics such as mental well-being and the afterlife, handled delicately, through beautifully crafted characters and story.

“The Milky Bars are on me…!”

Advertisers have known the power of character-based storytelling for a long time. Characters are strategically deployed to sell anything from fish fingers (Captain Birdseye) through to tyres (the Michelin Man).

Fred Flintstone was recently resurrected to become the latest iconic character to feature in an ad campaign for UK bank, Halifax. Created by adam&eveDBB, the ad tells the story of Fred Flintstone and his wife Wilma visiting a Halifax branch in their search for a modern bank. A great piece of advertising playing on both classic character creation and a nostalgic emotional attachment to those well-loved characters.

In advertising the goal is, obviously, to sell the product, but even if you only initially remember the character, the product awareness, albeit at a subconscious level has already been made. Not a bad thing when you’re looking for a campaign to raise initial awareness. The character-based approach can equally be used internally to bring to life difficult to communicate issues and communicate a whole range of messages.

Campaign characters

Combine the power of character design with that regular drum beat of messaging and you’re on your way to producing a memorable communication campaign.

Over the years we’ve employed character design in award-winning campaigns, animation, film and digital communications. They can inject emotion, engage, inspire and entertain colleagues and break down barriers with hard to reach audiences both internally and externally.

We’ve used a cartoon family to convey complex strategy and created crime noir characters to alert students to the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. We’ve developed interactive characters for training programmes and a blend of real-life photography and comic book superhero animation to bring to life a cutting-edge company’s internal brand.

Most recently we’ve used character design as part of a safety campaign for Southeastern. Health and Safety is one of those notoriously difficult areas to get cut-through and motivate employees to change their daily behaviours.

That’s where character design can really help.

Creating a character

Taking a leaf out of Pixar’s book, we created a character full of emotion and motivation. The result was…Alert Bert, the new face of safety at Southeastern. Bert is instantly memorable, and challenges colleagues to think differently about safety.

Bert has been a real hit and colleagues have really taken the little fella to heart. It’s great to see so many colleagues interacting with him, posting their pics with him online and taking him out and about. More importantly Bert has been the gateway for colleagues to engage with Southeastern’s five safety behaviours which have yielded real, tangible results.