Animation, Persuasion, and Neuromarketing



In a strange coincidence, the concept of animation in videos hit me from two different directions last week.

your brain on animationLast week, I published my Brainfluence Podcast interview on whiteboard animation featuring Carla Clark, Ph.D.: Your Brain on Animation. Carla is The Draw Shop‘s neuroscience and psychology expert.

[Quick digression: if you haven’t subscribed to The Brainfluence Podcast, now would be a great time. We have blockbuster episodes coming up – global branding guru Martin Lindstrom, renowned psychology writer Maria Konnikova, and best-selling business author Jay Baer! Head over to the podcast website, or subscribe at iTunes or Stitcher.]

In our conversation, Carla and I discuss the peculiar effects that animation has on our brain, starting with hijacking our attention system. The combination of the human hand that appears in most whiteboard videos, the constant motion, and the gradual reveal of visual content keeps our attention riveted.

Not familiar with the whiteboard video concept? Here’s one from persuasion expert Robert Cialdini (who was featured in another Brainfluence podcast) that illustrates his famous Six Principles while he narrates:

Even if you don’t care about the animation, the content of the Cialdini video is worth spending the 12 minutes viewing time.

Hearing the persuasion master succinctly explain his principles is no doubt a big part of why this video has garnered more than six million views. (Watch the video and you’ll know that’s social proof!)

And, as Carla explained, you will likely remember the content better than had you been watching Dr. Cialdini explain the content from a podium. Studies show a significant boost in content recall when it is animated.

Animation can hold attention and increase recall of content. #Neuromarketing Share on X

Visual Metaphors in Animation

One key way animation increases comprehension and recall is the use of visual metaphors. Instead of simply mentioning a confusing process, for example, the concept could be illustrated with a geometric maze or tangled ball of yarn. Our brains love all kinds of metaphors as they can simplify and solidify abstract concepts.

Of course, presenters can intersperse images, including visual metaphors, in a standard presentation. If the transitions aren’t too jarring this, too, should grab attention and assist recall.

Visual metaphors boost comprehension and concept retention. #Neuromarketing Share on X

A Tale of Two Videos

Now, synchronicity enters the picture… Some months ago, I recorded a video session with Michelle Adams of Marketing Brainology in which we talked about neuromarketing and my book Brainfluence.

I just found out that Michelle had edited and published our conversation. Not only that, she created two versions – one straight “talking heads,” and one that incorporated animation for some of the points I was making.

If we wanted to, we could probably do an A/B test of comprehension and recall using Michelle’s two videos. (That’s not currently in my plans, but it would be fun.)

Which version do you prefer? Here’s the talking-heads-only version:

And, this one incorporates some animation:

The animation isn’t precisely the “whiteboard” variety – the background isn’t white and there’s no human hand – but the approach is visually very similar.

To Animate or Not?

What do you think – does animation add to the experience? Should we be doing more animation, or is this a technique that will become annoying once we’ve all seen it many times?

My take: it’s all about the content. If all Pixar did was create gorgeous backgrounds and lifelike animated characters, we’d get bored quickly even with their visual wizardry. But, Pixar crafts amazing stories that are full of emotion. We don’t think about the animation, we think about the characters.

If you are going to create an animation, don’t expect your viewers to be engaged by the medium alone.

Rather, deliver content that would be engaging however it was presented and let the animation make it even more compelling.

Use animation to make your content even more compelling. #Neuromarketing Share on X

  1. Jason says

    Really liked the animation. But this is a great piece on influence told in a very straightforward manner even with a subtle and honest call to action. No hype just good information and told as great story.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jason!

  2. Eli Domingues says

    Hi Roger,

    Generally I think animations are a really good tool to make people more engaged in the content, stick around longer and even retain more information.

    However I think context should be considered, as well. In the case of the videos you have posted, it is clear that it’s an interview. We all watch tons of interviews through news on TV and Online, and having a whiteboard-type animation, in my opinion, can actually disconnect viewers from the content because this is something that is not expected or seen during interviews.

    During interviews, we expect to see more of the person being interviewed – The focus should be solely on the person. I think that in this case it might even do damage to our trust factor as your image gets obstructed by a “foreign object” while we’re unconsciously reading your nonverbal cues, making us feel disconnected from you.

    Also on trust – In my opinion it makes me feel that the interview has been “tampered” with as to make you look better.

    That’s not to say replacing your image with something else while you’re talking can’t be done – I see it on TV all the time, but the image is usually directly related to the subject – for example: An image of the president signing an important legislation while he talks about it.

    I think this would have been a completely different story if you had an actual board next to you and a sharpie in your hand and you were drawing as you talked – There would be no disconnection there.

    So to add to the commenter above me, I really liked the animation, too. I could sense my brain going AHHHHH OOOOHHH MOVEMENT, but I was thinking from the perspective of your question: Do you like the animations? As soon as I put myself into a general viewer perspective, I felt very differently. Overall, animations are great but I think they’re better suited for “explainer” videos, rather than interviews.


    1. Roger Dooley says

      Great perspective, Eli. I definitely see your point. Maybe the best of both worlds would be to have the intereviewee stand up, go to a whiteboard, and actually illustrate a key point or two. Not quite the same concept, but it would be a way to visually underscore a key point ro two. And, it presumes some ability to draw.

  3. Erik du Plessis says

    Great stuff.
    Would be interesting to see (say) EEG on both presentations.
    Even a follow-up questionnaire.

    I was interested by the comment that it is more popular outside the US than inside.
    I have been invited to talks in all continents about neuromarketing, but never in US. (I thought there might be economical reasons for this).

    What is your take?

  4. Jon Wayne Faust says

    Awesome stuff Roger, I just finished my animated book trailer for Helicopter Harry and the Copter Kids and I will now incorporate short white board animations. Keep the great stuff coming.

  5. Derik Beck says

    Overall very interesting article. Yes….. I would animate where it makes sense and I believe serving information through animation may be more retained by the viewer versus just having another video. Animation also provides the ability to step outside the box, add additional creativity and visually explain a difficult problem. Sure, you can use video, but the animation provides an element where you can really expand on the topic visually. Seems there are more “videos” than actual animations which may be one of the reasons why animations may help the viewer retain the information. Just the lack of them provides an interest. Another reason is we have all watched interviews before. We have a sense what to expect with a interview, but when you throw animation into the mix, there is an uncertainty of what happens next. We actually launched a new series focused on delivering the message via animation and it’s called The Cottman Man Educational Video Series. In the series our “man” is animated to explain various issues a customer may face about their vehicle. We launched about 7 videos with 7 more coming in about a month. The overall reason we went with animation versus a “talking head video” is to try to deliver the various messages about important issues regarding the consumer’s vehicle in a fun and an entertaining way. Also when you have to hire live actors you get into licensing issues, additional costs, etc which could have been reallocated to improving the animation itself. We hope our animations resonates with all ages not just those that own vehicles but to everyone. If interested, here is the link to the animations/videos:

  6. Tyler R says

    Great article well done! I would never have thought about using animation of any kind for professional presentations. I was originally looking for ways to be more persuasive while interviewing. Having seen this it could be interestingly beneficial to use subtle animations or illustrative techniques whether I’m in an interview or making a presentation. Thanks for the info.

  7. Charles Ndungu says

    Sure, you can use video, but the animation provides an element where you can really expand on the topic visually. Thanks for theposting

  8. saikrishna says

    Animation can be described as the creation of the illusion of motion through a rapid sequence of still images. It’s really intresting article. Make people more engaged is the important thing. I think it is worth doing it. Roger Dooley, thanks for the posting.

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