The Science of Character

The key to effective communication is engagement; the key to effective engagement is emotion; and the best way to evoke emotion is by employing character.

Think of all the most memorable television advertisements you can think of – perhaps the Cadbury’s drum-playing gorilla, ‘Compare the meerkat’, or any of the John Lewis Christmas ads. What do they have in common? They all feature compelling, memorable characters.

In order to make your audience truly understand and appreciate your messages, you must make them feel like the story relates to them, in some way. Although you can sometimes achieve this by explaining exactly how they may be affected, it doesn’t always need to be that direct. One sure-fire way to ensure your audiences care about your story or product, is through the use of character. Using a character in your brand marketing injects something invaluable into your story, something that is inarguably one of the strongest methods of demanding engagement – emotion.

Let’s say you’re discussing complications of diabetes. Tell your audience that globally, a leg is amputated due to diabetes every 30 seconds, and they will be shocked. Introduce them to an affected character first, however, along with powerful imagery regarding their altered quality of life, and they will be horrified. Take a look at our disease awareness campaign for Mölnlycke (link below).

One of the latest blog posts from Aardman (the animation company behind Wallace and Gromit) featured a similar topic1, and highlighted the case of the Henry Hoover – an industrial vacuum cleaner with a face stuck on the front, and a lid that resembles a bowler hat.  Despite this simplicity, Henry is one of the most recognisable characters in Britain today and consequently, is used in just about every school, office and town hall up and down the country. Henry has even spawned a whole family of anthropomorphic vacuums available for purchase2 (Hetty being my personal favourite), and yes, you can even buy a Henry Hoover bedsheet3. Character is powerful.

Another example featured by Aardman was ‘Nad and Tad’ (link below) – an animation they produced about testicular self-examination. The way in which this serious topic has been approached is an absolute masterclass in the use of character for engagement.

However, our favourite example of character being employed to maximise engagement comes from our very own animation studio. Last year, we created a 2D animation (link below) for ‘My Happy Planet’ – a company that produces 100% biodegradable, plastic-free wet wipes4. We could have approached this in a number of different ways, but we ultimately chose to use the character of a young turtle for this. We began with an opening sequence to build up the cute character – allowing the audience to fall in love with him. Only then did we show the harmful effects of the improper disposal of non-biodegradable wipes. The introduction of character here significantly impacts the audience’s engagement with the key messages, as it activates people’s emotions – overall making for a much stronger piece of storytelling (one for which we went on to win a coveted Telly award).

If you have a brand that needs some character, why not send us an email?

Chas Smith



  1. Eferman, D., 2020. Warm Follows Function. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 November 2020].
  2. 2020. The Home Of The Henry Vacuum. [online] Available at: <–DVeThplJhb02BRoCT9kQAvD_BwE> [Accessed 27 November 2020].
  3. 2020. ‘Henry Hoover And Friends’ Duvet Cover By Raise A Storm Designs. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 November 2020].
  4. My Happy Planet Wipes. 2020. Home – My Happy Planet Wipes. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 November 2020].

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