Carroll School of Management associate professors Henrik Hagtvedt, left, and S. Adam Brasel studied the impact of "agent animation" company brand logos on consumers. (Lee Pellegrini)

Animated logos are nothing new in the world of company brands, but two Carroll School of Management researchers say there are important differences among the types of animations used that can significantly influence consumers’ perceptions of companies.

In a recent study, S. Adam Brasel and Henrik Hagtvedt, associate professors of marketing in the Carroll School, found that “agent animation” logos – those that appear to move on their own in a lifelike fashion – encourage more favorable attitudes toward firms seen as dynamic and vibrant, such as entertainment companies like Pixar.

Object-animated logos – those that move in predictable, almost mechanical patterns – are aligned with more businesses that rely on an image of stability, such as life insurance and financial services.

The lesson? Don’t assume that punching up your company logo will be good for your business, say Brasel and Hagvedt, who reported their findings in the article, “Living Brands: Consumer Responses to Animated Brand Logos,” published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science

“Animation is a channel that brands can use to express their brand personality,” explains Brasel, “but that channel needs to fit with the message that brand wants to send.”

“As with the design of logo graphics, companies should take great care when designing logo animation,” says Hagtvedt. “The logo is in many ways the centerpiece of a brand’s persona, and logo animation can help mold a brand’s image. It is therefore important that this is done strategically, to fit with the brand’s overall identity.”

The researchers conducted five studies with 638 adults who looked at animated and stationary logos, along with exciting and sophisticated products. Among the study’s key findings was that agent animation is associated with dynamism, and can thus be tailored to signal sophisticated or exciting character traits, to fit with firms that have or seek those brand personalities.

Brasel and Hagtvedt also looked at more than 400 30-second commercials broadcast on television and the web and found an astonishingly low usage rate. For the television commercials, 62 percent featured static logos, 35 percent featured object animation (a logo being moved around the screen in a mechanical fashion), while only 3 percent utilized agent animation. Online advertisements featured even less logo movement: 93 percent featured static logos, and 7 percent object animation.  

“Low marketplace utilization suggests such animation could potentially provide early adopters with a competitive advantage,” according to the report. While there are advantages with being a first-mover, companies need to be careful of strategic miscues.

Given that the realm of TV and online advertising is so competitive, marketers want to make sure they don’t waste any dollars, says Brasel. “We know consumers aren’t paying much attention to commercials to begin with, so we want to make sure that every moment of the commercial has the maximum impact for the messages that it’s trying to tell. It’s surprising that more companies aren’t utilizing logo animation, because it’s a very low-cost, low-effort way to convey extra brand information. It’s just not currently being used.”

“Some brands go out and change their logo when they should not have, and it can cost them millions of dollars,” says Hagtvedt. “If consumers respond badly to the change, you have additional losses. On the other hand, if a brand becomes old and stodgy and loses brand equity as a result, that can also be difficult to win back. And that could be a reason to consider animation.”

The favorable effects documented in the studies suggest opportunities for agent animation within retail and shopping environments as well, according to the researchers, who say animation on in-store signage could draw attention to specials, deals, or items that are in oversupply.

“You see more electronic signage in stores now, so there are a lot of possibilities for animation in stores,” says Hagtvedt. “You can have little helpers for the customers at the end of a shelf, or you can have larger signs along the walls. There are also future opportunities on the horizon. For instance, perhaps one day we’ll see animated packaging.”

“Given that so few companies are doing it, there is a chance to gain a very inexpensive competitive advantage in the marketplace,” says Brasel. “It’s a low-cost, relatively low-risk way to increase advertising effectiveness, as long as they do a little research first to make sure it fits their brand and makes sense.”

—Sean Hennessey / University Communications