Why are ads with animals so appealing?

Analyzing 5,000 branded videos, Unruly Media recently compiled a list of the 10 that were shared the most on social. One common theme was animals. But why?

The most shared branded video of 2015 was Android’s “Friends Furever,” in which Roger Miller sings the “Oo De Lally” song from Robin Hood over a montage of animals playing together. The ad’s tagline is “Be together. Not the same.” and features 60 seconds of unlikely animal friendships: a lion cub and a puppy playfully wrestling, a lamb and an elephant calf digging a hole together, a cockatoo and a wolf(!) doing that thing from Lady and the Tramp.

The ad is literally nothing but animals being cute, and it’s been watched nearly 22 million times on YouTube and shared 6.5 million times on social media. Two of the other nine videos are animal-centric. Three, if we’re counting Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy as animals; the characters surprised mall shoppers in a February Disney video that garnered 5 million YouTube views and 4 million social shares. That means that either 30 or 40 percent of the most-shared videos had the animal theme in common.

“I think more and more, advertisers are trying to be part of a larger conversation so they need to elevate beyond the product, and that’s how they get to family and love. And puppies,” says Tom Lyons, managing director at HYFN. “It drives creative directors crazy, but the old cliché – puppies and babies – works.”

But not for every brand. Lyons points out that if you’re going to incorporate animals into your marketing, it has to fit with brand. He brings up Budweiser’s “Lost Dog,” No. 6 on Unruly’s list, as an example.

“Lost Dog” didn’t end up doing much for Budweiser in the long run, but people loved the ad nonetheless. It was by far the most popular of this year’s Super Bowl spots and more than half of its 30.5 million YouTube views came in the days leading up to the game.

“I would argue that puppies and animals are on brand for Budweiser because it’s all about Americana, and the sense of tradition and family,” says Lyons. “I feel like if Nationwide’s ad had puppies, it would have come off as disingenuous.”

He adds that Budweiser has “lost its way, a little bit” because while animals have traditionally been a part of the brand’s marketing, they used to be more characters than props. He’s referring to the famous frogs from the ‘90s, as well as “naughty” cat in the Purina Friskies ad that was shared 3.2 million times.

According to Dr. Mardie Sheiken, a Brooklyn psychologist, animal-based ads appeal to people simply because the animals are cute or even relatable, given how often people anthropomorphize them with phrases like “busy as a bee” and “work like a dog.” But there’s more to it than that.

“Certain animals represent certain things to people that they find positive. Dogs and cats represent family, and then animals like bears, lions and tigers represent strength,” says Sheiken. “If [the ad] is selling a truck or a car, people realize on a subconscious level that this brand must have a strong or a tough product.”

What did Android’s furever friends represent to people? In Sheiken’s opinion, inclusion.

“[Android is] trying to prove its more open-minded, and not stuck in the old paradigm and being more open to different kinds of families on a subconscious level,” she says. “It’s saying, ‘Our family is our family and we, as a company, are letting everyone know these animal couples didn’t go together before, but we’re OK with it.’ It’s subtle, but that’s the point it makes to me.”

Interestingly, another of the top-shared ads was “Love Has No Labels,” which the Ad Council released in March. The video promoted equality and diversity, with pairs of loved ones of varying races, sexual orientations, ages and religions posing behind an X-ray screen that made them all look like skeletons – in other words, the same.

Rounding out Unruly Media’s list are Scottish BMXer Kriss Kyle doing a lot of cool bike tricks in Red Bull’s “Kaleidoscope;” a visually-interesting ad for Samsung’s Gear S2; German supermarket Edeka’s holiday ad about a lonely old man whose kids are the worst; Cristiano Ronaldo going undercover for ROC headphones; and Adidas’ tribute to Argentine soccer star Leo Messi.



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