Video Marketing

The Power Of Animated Storytelling

Shawn 04.07.2014

People want to know more about the world. Heck, it’s written in our name – Homo sapien literally means “wise man,” from the latin word “sapere” meaning “to taste, have taste, be wise.” Our very nature is tethered to our ability to perceive and discern truth through experiences – both real and narrative.

And it’s the power of narrative experiences – our stories – that is capturing the attention of linguists, psychologists, and historians alike as they search for the answer to the simple question:

Why do we love stories so much?

Once Upon a Time…

animated storytelling1
Since the first man (or woman) smeared red ochre animal shapes on a cave wall, we have learned from drama and animated storytelling. These hand-painted bison herds seem to “run” in the flickering light of a torch, giving magic and life – narrative power – to a tale of that could be interpreted as a dry “how-to hunt” set of instructions. But these iconic drawings, and the oral traditions that accompanied them, weren’t just hunting instructions – they were legends and myths, trials and triumphs, and a way of understanding the complex world full of plot elements and drama where a hero can emerge victorious with his captured prey, or fade away starving in ignorant failure.

These paintings depicting the seasonal migration patterns of herd animals weren’t cells in a spreadsheet or text on a page – they were thundering storm of hooves that shook our bellies and filled us with anticipation and fear and urgency. Our life and death hung in the balance of hearing and understanding the lessons in these stories.

Modern man marvels at how long stories rooted in the oral tradition endured without the aid of writing tools, but it’s no mystery why hunters and gatherers remembered these tales for millennia. These weren’t “stories” – these were records of “How the World Became the Way It Is,” and ancient Homo sapiens used clever animated storytelling techniques to literally make this knowledge of life and death “come alive.”

In his seminal book, The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall explores our fascination with the oral, written, and visual narratives that comprise every human culture on earth. Every culture – even our modern one – tells tales packed with fact and fiction, and inevitably – truth. It’s a compelling concept, and Gottschall’s article, Why Storytelling is the Ultimate Weapon drew me in with his analysis of perhaps the most famous narrative sucker punch of all time – the Trojan Horse. Well done, sir.

A quick sidenote: I can’t help but notice, that while his book is packed with research and data, Gottschall uses simple 2D character animation to express his ideas in a explainer video. Coincidence? Hardly.

Peter Guber, author of Tell to Win, addresses the role of storytelling not just in human culture, but specifically, its power to persuade in modern business interactions. Guber argues that:

“Humans simply aren’t moved to action by ‘data dumps,’ dense PowerPoint slides, or spreadsheets packed with figures. People are moved by emotion. The best way to emotionally connect other people to our agenda begins with ‘Once upon a time…”

It doesn’t matter what you’re selling.

Every blog post or content marketing push is a Trojan horse, filled with agenda, meaning, information, and (hopefully) strategy, and if it’s packaged convincingly enough, people will invite your idea past the walls of critical analysis to engage with it, because of the simple fact that we want to interact with a dramatic story.

Kendra Eash at McSweeney’s poked fun at the power of visual narratives to evoke emotions to sell disconnected ideas. Enjoy.

Psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock, dub this phenomena, “Narrative Transportation Theory.” Simply put, it says that “when people lose themselves in a story, their attitudes and intentions change to reflect that story.”

If you can get people to connect with the elements of a story – characters, plot, drama – their attitudes and opinions actually change. Green and Brock go on to note that the power of the elements in your story – or how well it’s told – affects what people are willing to believe, something that makes all in the different in whiteboard animation when telling your story.

“The more absorbed readers are in a story, the more the story changes them. Highly absorbed readers also detected significantly fewer ‘false notes’ in stories – inaccuracies, missteps – than less transported readers.”

That’s some Inception-level persuasion, right there, and it doesn’t even involve physics bending fistfights with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Tell an interesting story and you can sack Troy or sell toner, because no matter how evolved we think we are, we all started “Once upon a time…”


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at

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