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Attention, please! Original Animation for Advertisements


An increasing number of companies are using original animated stories for their commercial films.  The animation boom, which was led by the worldwide hit movie “Your Name” in 2016, may be behind it.  But the trend already started around 2006, and companies see a lot of benefits in using original characters.

Widening Platform for Commercial Films

In Japan, expenditure on advertising has grown year-on-year for six years running, with online advertising showing two digit growth for four consecutive years to 2017.

It is becoming more important to make content aligned with the needs of smartphone users.  Traditional adverts, which rely on commentaries by actors or sports personalities, are not getting attention on small mobile screens.  It needs to entertain and not bother viewers first, before delivering the messages.

One way of keeping this new generation of consumers is to use a series of small animated stories with relatable characters just like them.

Pioneer on Commercial Films Still Leading the New Trend

Cup Noodle has always been a pioneer in advertising.  They broadcasted one of the first motion picture adverts on TV over 50 years ago.  In 2006, it ran a series of animated story films in collaboration with the director of the iconic movie Akira (1988).  Recognisable characters eat cup noodles on spaceships and on Earth, while they live in a dystopian future to seek a brighter new world.

This “Freedom” project had a big impact, with seven episodes of OVA films made available (as well on Blu-ray).

It was an eye-opener for advertisers, and many followed.

Ten years on, their 2017 series of animated advertisements comprise four short stories following four young couples finding precious moments for each other, noodles in hand, even during a world apocalypse.  It is quite evident that the creators enjoyed the freedom to create a world suitable to convey the messages in an exaggerated and highly eye-catching manner.

Making It Look Fun, Attractive:  Recruiting Youngs

In 2014, Makoto Shinkai, the creator of “Your Name.” produced an animated short film for a tutoring company, which specialises in university entrance exams.  It is a very hard time in young students’ lives, but the use of beautiful scenes and relatable characters soften the pressure they are under.



This 120 second film is available online, and 30 second and 15 second versions are on TV broadcast, even four years after the launch.  The original characters do not age as they do not exist in real life.  This enables these films to be on air for longer without feeling out of date.

Shinkai also directed a series of films about a young engineer who works at a new airport construction project in Vietnam.  The advantage for the company was that it managed to show the processes and the people working on national projects without getting into the sites, avoiding health and safety issues altogether.  It is criticised for idealising construction sites, which suffers image problems as a “3K industry”, dirty (Kitanai), hard (Kitsui), and dangerous (Kiken).  The animation softens these images to make young generation interested.

McDonalds in Japan used original animated characters for its recruitment campaign in 2016.  With nationwide franchises, they created versions having different regional accents; it could have been in a different language if necessary.  The characters were also used on tray mats and posters in-store.  The ease of localisation and of transferring images from motion films to printed matter are another advantage of using original animated characters.

As the working age population dwindles, companies must project the right stories in the right tone to make candidates empathise with the lives portrayed as their bright future.

The Change in Animation Production Industry

Animation films used to be unsuitable for advertisements as it took significantly longer to produce compared to live action.  In the last ten years, the advance in digital technology enabled it to be shorter, and therefore more competitive.  Collaboration opportunities opened for both businesses and production companies, and initial indications are very good.

The animation industry is a significant part of the national business strategy, and is a proud element of modern culture in Japan.  But it is not immune to the recruitment crisis and international competitions.  It needs to exploit technology to increase productivity.  Understanding and complying with clients’ marketing requirements are very new to many production companies, but essential for their survival.

With the flexibilities afforded by technologies, the unique creativity of Japan’s animation industry, and advertisers looking for fresh ideas, it is one to watch for future development.  It will not take long to see the next phase.


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