Are these the world’s best animated video advertising campaigns?

Lucy Handley, special to CNBC

Sometimes humans simply aren't the best choice to star in an ad campaign: only an animated character will do. Cute cartoons can strum viewers' heartstrings (U.K. retailer John Lewis has used them in its Christmas ads four times in the past five years), as well as tackle difficult subjects (Melbourne's "Dumb ways to die" animated safety campaign won five Cannes Grand Prix in 2013).

New research now aims to identify the brands that best use animation in their advertising, taking into account their design, execution, narrative idea, memorability and brand consistency. The Awesome Animation study by film (and admittedly, animation) company Gorilla Gorilla! assessed more than 220 brands from the FTSE100, Superbrands and Business Superbrands lists.

U.K. retailer John Lewis has used animated characters for its Christmas campaigns four times in the past five years.

Is it unsurprising that Google, Apple and Facebook come out top? They use animation to explain new developments (Facebook's Recommendations feature, Apple's Health app) and perhaps tech companies are more prone to using this style of ad creative as their subject matter can be more complex.

Here are the advertisers that made it into the animated top ten.

1. Google

The tech giant was praised for its consistent tone of voice and the way it manages "to balance a light-hearted touch with often detailed or complex subject matter" when it uses animation. For example, its Project Sunroof ad explains how it created a map to show how much sunlight falls on roofs around the world, to help people work out whether it's worth them investing in solar panels.

2. Apple

A look at Apple's YouTube channel reveals that most of its videos feature live action rather than animation to get its messages across, but in September 2016 it produced five ads for its Health app using animation. Its "Mindfulness" ad isn't about promoting what the app actually does – rather it explains how mindfulness can help people become "less stressed" and improve overall health.

3. Facebook

When Facebook launched its new "Reactions" feature in February 2016, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it was responding to people's desire to express "love, awe, humor and sadness". It created an animation starring a line-drawn orange dog to explain how the updated feature worked.

4. Dropbox

Although Dropbox came fourth for its overall use of animation in ad campaigns, one of its executions was voted the best film of all the films the judges viewed. While arguably its product is less sexy than Google's, for example, (although the file-sharing site is worth $10.4bn) its "What is Dropbox?" animation beat all the others on the shortlist, and has been viewed nearly 7 million times on YouTube.

5. Aberdeen Asset Management

"Resist the siren call of short-term opportunity," breathes the U.K. actor Joanna Lumley in the company's "Multi-asset investing – Sin 1: Lust" ad execution. "Finding immediate satisfaction can encourage impatient and short-sighted behavior," she continues, over an animation showing a pirate being lured by a mermaid. The "Seven deadly sins" campaign aimed to "distill really complex messages," according to the brand's head of investment communications James Whiteman.

6. IBM

IBM sought to use animation to simplify subjects such as online security threats, cloud data collection and new technology for cities. It has created "5 in 5" trend reports looking at innovations in sectors such as retail, education and healthcare, and in January 2016 produced an animated film to show how its technology maps the atmosphere to provide weather forecasts around the world.

7. Haagen-Dazs

The brand – which used actor Bradley Cooper eating from a tub of ice cream to lure a beautiful woman in a 2013 advertising campaign –turned to animation in 2015 for a series of ads celebrating "real relationships". It worked with the U.K.'s School of Life to encourage couples to make an effort to pay more attention to each other on Valentine's Day.

8. Marks & Spencer

The U.K. food and clothing retailer used an animated film to explain the impact of its "shwopping" initiative, where consumers bring their unwanted clothes into its stores, for donation to charity Oxfam that sells or recycles them to raise money to help end poverty. Since 2008 it has raised £16 million ($20.35 million).

9. American Express

Amex used animation for a July 2016 careers campaign profiling various roles at the company and aiming to position it as more of hybrid of commerce and "digital science" rather than simply a financial services brand. It aimed to reach a variety of audiences including college graduates and tech personnel for its innovation lab.

10. British Gas

U.K. energy company British Gas is no stranger to animated characters, having introduced Wilbur the penguin in a spot advertising insurance product HomeCare in 2015. This year, it used hand-drawn pictures of engineer Arfan in an ad explaining how he went out of his way to find a part for a boiler on a customer's wedding day.

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