Applying Andrew Reid’s Advocate Advice to Animation

Published a while back was a post over on Fast Company by Andrew Reid that’s all about fans, or rather, fans and influencers and the ease at which both are interchanged and confused. The concept of fan and fandom is often used on this blog, but when it comes to culture, it is harder to distinguish between fans and influencers because they are essentially one and the same. Nobody proclaims love for an animated property for the sake of influence unless they’re paid. Reid brings up many interesting points, but he also lists a few rules that animation studios would be wise to consider. Let’s Take a look.

What Fans Really Define

When we discuss fans and fandom within the confines of animation, we really mean the vast majority of people who just happen to like a particular show or film. In our minds, they are as much advocates as they are fans, and the vast majority of them accept criticism that is warranted.

While Reid uses the term ‘advocate’, it’s hard to see where such people fit into the world of animation. Jeffrey Katzenberg is an obvious advocate, but he’s clearly got something to gain by doing so. Can ordinary people be advocates for animation? Arguably, bloggers are to an extent, but where to draw the line between them and pure fans? It’s blurry, complicated and unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Coaxing Influencers, or Rather, Fans

Where Reid’s article is wholly appropriate to our cause is in the guidelines it gives to giving advocates a nudge, or the coaxing they need to be more efficient. For animation, (normal) fans would fulfil the role of the advocate. They’re quite accurate; let’s dive in!

Don’t fake the funk

Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog have been caught by this trap far too many times. Pixar is the role model; promising on, and delivering stellar films continually delight fans. Walt Disney was also aware of it; he aimed for, and demanded, perfection with every picture. The brand and company he built with the results are a testament to its mportance.

Never incentivize

How are animation fans incentivised? Well, freebies constitute and incentive and while it can fool kids, adults are wise. A once-off or exclusive is a form of incentive, and they can have similar results. Ever buy an item with an ‘exclusive’ or ‘limited-edition’ extra? That’s an incentive. A real incentive is something that a fan can truly value but it likely won’t substantially grow your brand or revenues.

Don’t sweat NPS

For an animation studio, feedback from fans is much more valuable.

Give them a voice

This is something that studios excel at relative to other industries. There are fan sites all over the internet, and corporate efforts like D23 illustrate how studios can get in on the act too and succeed. It also pays to listen. While you don’t have to blithely agree with everything you hear, fans can give honest feedback that can steer decisions and make them work in your favour.

Ambassador programs are underutilized

Do animation studios even have ambassador programs? Well, sort of. While they don’t have the kind of programs outlined in Reid’s article, they do utilize their characters as ambassadors t great effect.

Could humans fill a different void? What about adult fans? Consider again the service Tugg and its goal of setting up screenings that are essentially organised by fans for their own benefit. The link between it and this point is that whoever organised the Tugg event is an ambassador; they want to entice others to see the film they love. The fact that they are doing it honestly is what prevents them from being mere salespeople.

Animation studios could fo a lot more to have local fans advocate for them in some official way. (They’ve been doing it unofficially for decades with group screenings and conventions.) What could they be?

Concluding Remarks

Fans of animation are, in a way, essentially forced into being advocates thanks to the marginalisation of the technique in mainstream entertainment. Anything that can be done to help them from an official standpoint should.

Using Neuromarketing for Animation: Good or Bad?

 Via: Fast Company

The other night, we watched the Morgan Spurlock documentary POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It was an entertaining enough look at how products get into films and how studios use them to help pay for and promote them.

Interestingly enough, there was no explicit mention of animation. Not to say that it doesn’t go on of course. Pretty much every animated film contains promotion to some extent. Yes, the film itself is a form of ‘promotion’, it being the vehicle that drives all the ancillary sales of merchandise and DVDs. Need proof, look no further than the final Harry Potter film. It contains no advertising whatsoever apart from on, the Harry Potter itself.

However, one aspect of the films that I found most intriguing/disturbing, is the whole idea of neuromarketing. In the film, Spurlock is basically shoved into an MRI and shown images of products. During the analysis afterwards, he is shown how his brain reacted when shown an advert for Coca-Cola: it released hormones that indicated he wanted the Coke.

As scary as that may sound, its been known about for years. What is not so well known, is that movie studios use it to perfect their product before releasing it. In the course of the documentary, we see Spurlock having a look at the schedule for the day of the neuroanalysis firm he visited. The film right before his: Toy Story 3.

Now you might say to yourself “But Charles, Toy Story 3 had an emotional story to begin with!” Well, yes, it does. However keep in mind that even stories can be analysed to make sure they extract the right emotions from the audience. Fast Company discussed the practice back in February when they took a look at the rise of “neurocinema” and how it is likely to affect future films.

Animation is not immune as this quote regarding Rango from Steve Sands, head of neuroanalysis firm Sands Research demonstrates:

Often animation can be more engaging for the brain than real actors. Look at the strong response to Avatar,

And check out the image below that shows brain activity while watching the trailer for Rango.

 Via: Fast Company

The downside to all of this? Well for one, now you know that the opening montage in UP was nothing more than a tightly crafted, artificial play on your emotions. There was no need for skill in the writer’s room because the data told them exactly what they needed to do in order for you to well up. Michael Barrier hits it right on the head when he calls it “emotional manipulation” because that’s exactly what it is. The images flashing before you were specifically and intentionally made to engage your emotions. You just can’t help it!

Now, you could argue that that is the case with any such scene in any movie. Films are supposed to engage emotions after all, that’s why you watch them. However, Mike nails it again when he compares UP to Dumbo (emphasis mine):

The difference between, say, the opening sequence in Up and Dumbo’s reunion with his mother can be summed up in one word, the old Disney shibboleth “sincerity”.

Why rely on your own or your team’s judgement when you can just do a neuroanalysis and have the data tell you exactly what you need to do. That’s not filmmaking, it’s sheer laziness and insincere because the emotions are not meant, they’re demanded. Major studios would rather have it that way though, because if you’re going to cough up $300 million on film, it had better perform as expected, and the data never lies*.

Will this result in better films? Meh. However I would much rather see a film that allowed me to control my own emotions rather than having them dictated to me. It’s practically cheating with your film and nobody likes a cheat.

*Garbage In Garbage Out applies but it’s safe to say that the marketing firm knows what it’s doing.

Fast Company Profiles Disney’s Rich Ross (and Misses the Point)

Fast Company recently ran a profile on Rich Ross, the current head of the Walt Disney Studios (i.e. the division that actually makes the films). The article itself is well worth a read seeing as it’s slightly above the usual blind admiration that non-trade publications and outlets are infamous for.

The article points out some bleedingly obvious things, but still manages to miss the point of exactly why Ross is a TV guy running a movie studio.

The movie division has not been Disney’s most profitable arm for many years. Yet it remains the company’s big intellectual property “wave maker,” to use the phrase you hear a lot these days inside Disney’s executive suites.

Unfortuntaley, “making waves” is defined as finding a hit franchise (read: Pirates of the Caribbean) and running it into the ground. This is somewhat unfortunate as Tangled did quite well (considering) and while it was unproven, it was a solid film that was always going to do well.

This brand stewardship is the source of controversy surrounding Ross, Iger, and Disney in general these days. A lot of movie fans–ticket buyers, critics, and industry professionals included–hate seeing films reduced to such crass commercial terms. Hollywood still promotes itself as our manufacturer of dreams, relishing the cultural currency and aesthetic cachet that comes with the territory.

Arguably, this is true, except for the small matter that this has always been the case. Hollywood has never made a movie for the fun of it. Films are made for one reasons and one reason only: to make money.

Having said that, there is a fine line between making films for the audience and making films for the studio and it would appear that that line has been crossed this decade of the new Millennium. The old adage of Walt Disney seems to have been lost:

We don’t make movies to make money.
We make money to make more movies.

Notwithstanding the small fact that making more movies will make you more money, but I digress.

So how exactly has the Fast Company article missed the point when it comes to Ross’ promotion? Well, it muses over the fact that he is from a background in television but completely fails to opine that most studios in Hollywood are run by TV folks these days (yes, Bob Iger was at ABC prior to Michael Eisner’s departure).

For that, we need to visit a second article by Edward Jay Epstein in Adweek that chronicles how the vast majority of revenue for the big 6 comes not from the movies themselves but from TV rights to said films. Such an arrangement has (according to the article) assured that any movie put out by a studio has a solid ability to be sold or packaged for TV. The result is that a TV person familiar with the medium is best placed to run the show, as Epstein puts it:

They know a crucial reality: whatever hurts TV’s ability to sell ads, hurts their own bottom lines. Consequently, when new-age players such as Netflix, Apple, Google, or even Hulu (Hollywood owned) threaten to undercut the ad base of the traditional TV networks, they’re also threatening to gut Hollywood’s golden goose

Hence Ross’ promotion from Disney Networks to the hallowed movie studio.