The infuriating rise of patronising video content

Imagine you step into a bank to open an account. The staff are smartly dressed, the décor is classy, the brand is sophisticated but friendly. A helpful staff member steps over to hand you a leaflet. On the leaflet, you see this:


No matter how great the staff are, or how premium the carpet is, this leaflet has now destroyed a big chunk of credibility in the bank as a brand.

We wouldn’t put up with this kind of rubbish in real life, so why is it so common in video content? 


We’re grown ups, for goodness sake

You’ve all seen animated brand videos of a cheery stick man called Dave, John, Janet or Bob prancing around to a script along the lines of this formula:


“This is Janet, Janet wants X, but struggles with Y, that’s why Janet tried Z”. 


A script that talks to us like children, cutout character designs that no adult could possibly relate to. Language that is condescending and vague. Can we not do better than this? I believe that without clear guidance on character tone and purpose, a hard-earned brand reputation can be damaged by a single video.


Sure, there’s a time and place for animated characters, and many wonderfully elegant ways to do this. In a B2C environment, characters can be very powerful in humanising a brand in ways that print or web can’t. The key for me is ensuring a level of brand-to-viewer respect and the tone of the character can be the difference between content being hardworking, or brand damaging.


In a B2b environment, cartoon style characters and simple language has the potential to patronise and alienate the audience. I have seen so many wonderfully unique brand stories rich in innovation being diluted and sanitised into a cartoon character named Bob.

Even some of the bigger brands that I have helped have, at the early stages, defaulted to this kind of approach. In some cases, many people who consider animation see it as the only option available. A big part of my job is leading clients beyond this default setting towards something much more hardworking to the brand and meaningful for the audience.

Here are some examples of brand-damaging use of animation:

…and this, which not only patronises, but even includes some casual racism:

Now here are some examples of exceptional use of character design, script tone and overall respect for the viewer allowing the brand tone to be complimented, not diluted through their design:


Why is this happening?

  1. Under-skilled agencies

The reality is, there are many wonderful web/digital/design agencies that are offering animation without much in the way of technical or creative experience in this area. Many of them produce great work, but the process of working with something that is beyond the agencies comfort zone and skill-set results in vanilla work, and a troublesome process to get the job done.


  1. “Cheaper to do it in house”

In-house teams can produce outstanding work, and I don’t blame many brands for also giving animation a shot with their own teams. I do believe, however, that in the pursuit of saving time and budget, many brand teams don’t plan for the un-necessary strain on resource that an animation can bring to an already busy design team. Facing a deadline and a ticking clock, it’s understandable why content can often come from templates and stock content, and most of the time result in work that never truly works hard enough.


  1. Automation

One of the more troublesome rises in patronising character content is through drag-and-drop services that enable brands to create explainer videos in minutes. This is a wonderful concept in theory, but in reality explains why most videos follow a very similar formula, and why Bob and Janet are so damn famous.


We can do better than this

Not every video needs to be a big-budget masterpiece; there are many opportunities to create hardworking and meaningful character animations both in-house and on a budget. The biggest take-away here is that I want people to understand that there are more options available. There is life beyond a classic white-board video, there is a world outside of Bob and Janet, the language and tone of a video doesn’t have to be child-like just because your competitor has done it this way. With clear guidance and consideration, character animation can be an incredibly positive brand extension, and you can avoid the damaging nature of when it goes wrong.

This is what we do for our clients. If you want to talk about us doing it for you, get in touch.


Neil Rostance
Posted by Neil Rostance
Partner & Creative Director
Neil is Creative Director of Fat Free, passionate about leading clients towards meaningful moments through video. Neil's specialisms are in concept development, content strategy and creative direction at Fat Free.
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