Brands have used animated characters in ads for low-involvement products like food, but more recently this format has appeared in direct-to-consumer TV commercials promoting prescription drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with ensuring that people understand the risks and benefits of these drugs. “The presentation style of an advertisement, including animation or rotoscoping, becomes important if it has the potential to disrupt consumer processing of this essential information,” a research team led by the FDA wrote in a new study in the JAR, available online now ahead of December print publication. Their work explores whether the animation or rotoscoping tactic in ads “inflates efficacy perceptions, minimizes risk, or otherwise hinders comprehension of drug risks and benefits.” It also offers insight into these ads’ effectiveness.
The presentation style of an advertisement, including animation or rotoscoping, becomes important if it has the potential to disrupt consumer processing of this essential information.
In experiments, researchers tested fictitious ads for drugs that treat dry eye and psoriasis against a convenience sample of nearly 1,000 participants (divided about half for each product category). They examined whether animation or rotoscoping could affect the processing of information differently than live human actors and whether that impact varied by medical condition. They also tested for recall, comprehension, perceived benefit and risk, and attitudes and behavioral intentions.
Drawing from the uncanny valley theory, the researchers expected that the eeriness of rotoscoped characters would “evoke discord in the viewer and a sense of revulsion,” and that such aversive reaction “may inhibit recall and cause negative feelings.” But, in fact—bucking earlier research—the type of character did not affect memory at all. “Neither retention of risk nor retention of benefit information was affected by character manipulation.”
Among the findings:
- Neither animation nor rotoscoping had any effect on the comprehension of or perceptions of drug risks or benefits, or even behavioral intentions towards the drug.
- Animated ads resulted in “more negative attitudes toward the character, ad and product.”
- On some occasions, rotoscoped ads also produced less-positive attitudes than did live-action ads. But future research should explore lagged effects of recall, given the possibility that ads “featuring animated characters are recalled over time better than those with live-action or rotoscoped characters because of the less positive attitudes they induce.”
Read the full study here.