Idea Blog

Animations for a Global Audience: Communicating Across Cultures

Denise McArthur 02.23.2015

The world seems to shrink more and more every day. First, we discovered we could hop on horses—suddenly, the village two days away on foot got a lot closer. Then Henry Ford invented that magical horseless carriage and a couple hundred miles was just a weekend getaway. Passenger planes made the Pacific seem like a pond, and today, thanks to the World Wide Web, instant video, and Google, it seems like the entire globe is within arm’s reach.

It’s quite likely, then, that your animation is aiming to reach more than the local village: you’re broadcasting your brand to the ends of the earth. But what if the whole wide world doesn’t exactly catch your drift? Sure, you can translate the words (stay tuned for our post on translating animations), but what about the actually message you’re sending? When appealing to a global audience, keeping your animation culturally translatable can be a challenge—here’s what we do to overcome it.

Less is More: Reducing Writing 

Animations are all about enacting narratives through action, not words. But that doesn’t mean text doesn’t enter the equation. Sometimes it’s helpful to label things in a visual metaphor—take the anthropomorphized data character in this animation for Avnet Archive Manager.

global audience

But during translation, replacing text becomes an ordeal. An animation for a global audience might sidestep tactics like this—but that doesn’t mean abandoning visual metaphors. Mu Dynamics presents two alien worlds to represent the difference between application developers and infrastructure architects—by explaining this via voiceover, rather than text labels, the video can easily be re-dubbed for a foreign language audience. 

Keep It Simple: Reducing Cultural References 

While Gangnam Style was undoubtedly a global cultural phenomenon, lots of other pop culture blips are more localized than we realize. A “wardrobe malfunction” may have a special meaning for Americans who lived through the 2004 Super Bowl incident, but across the rest of the world, folks were likely watching futbol over football.

Fortunately, our videos rarely play off such cheap cultural idioms. Better to play out universal themes—love, loss, fear, hope, and happiness, to name a few. Everyone can appreciate these elemental emotions and understand how your solution evokes them.

Engaging Without Alienating: Embracing Diversity 

If you’re aiming to engage viewers in Mexico, Japan, France, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka, you may not want all your characters as monochromatic as can be. The world is a big, beautiful, diverse place—your animation should reflect that.

While your characters needn’t look a Hands Across the World coalition, they should allow your audience to see themselves in your work. One approach is to use iconic design and imaginative colors, as in this gTeam explainer. Another is simply to include a range of ethnicities and cultures in your video, as in this Global English animation.

Animations That Transcend Local Cultures

As incomprehensibly vast as the globe is, it’s actually pretty manageable these days. Crafting an animation that resonates equally with audiences on each continent takes careful consideration, but it’s well within your grasp. Take these lessons to heart and watch your video become a global sensation.

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