Hype and excessive hype surrounds animated films these days. It’s an endless parade of marketing strategy and clever psychological tricks that leaves audiences constantly in a state of suspense. The good news is that we’ve finally reached a point where we can ignore it altogether.
Erin Esurance was a mascot created to sell that most exotic of products: car insurance. She was a radical step away from the more traditional mascots and was given suitably contemporary marketing to appeal to buyers. Unfortunately she performed a little too well, and was pulled for a rather embarrassing reason.
This week sees the highly anticipated Sailor Moon Crystal series begin broadcast. Besides being an entirely new version of the original manga (and not a remake of the original anime), it’s also notable for eschewing traditional licensing-based release models, but interestingly, is not embracing the ‘all you can eat’ type that has defined web-based media. Why might that actually be a good thing, and could it be a model for others to follow?
The Simpsons continues to have a massive presence in almost all areas of pop culture despite being 25 years old and having to work a little harder than in the past. One of the latest efforts involves London soccer club Chelsea and is a real head-scratcher.
Marketing and promotional art is a key piece of the entertainment puzzle and has been a feature of the promotion business since long before film. Film posters are an art in and of themselves, but as Bill Cunningham points out in a guest post over at Truly Free Film, they haven’t kept up with the times.
Currently doing quite well at the box office is Pixar’s latest effort, Monsters University. It’s currently certified fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes (77%) and has been popular with audiences. However, thanks to an article by Steven Zeitchik over at the LA Times, I received a bit of a revelation: just how much of the film’s success was down to the marketing?
If you read Zeitchik’s article, you’ll see that he attempts to find out if there is a link between a Pixar film’s rating with the critics and its financial success. (He concludes that yes, there is a correlation based on the quality of the film.) However, what really interested me was how Monsters University has bucked the trend.
It is only the twelfth best-reviewed Pixar film but has had the second biggest opening weekend. Of course that means nada in terms of overall financial performance, but here’s what grabbed my attention and forms that basis for this post:
On one level, that spread is a testament to what Pixar has been able to do with this movie on the marketing end. Even though “Monsters University” isn’t as strong, the company was able to use clever promotional devices to bring us in. And why not? There’s nothing wrong with a studio ginning up a broad crowd-pleaser the critics don’t especially like.
Yes, The Marketing Was The Key
Pixar (and by extension, Disney) really pulled out the stops when it came to the marketing for Monsters University. Oh sure, there were the usual teaser clips, the onesheet posters and the usual smug game of wink wink with news outlets, but it was what they did differently that seemed to seal the deal.
The site for Monsters University is, what else, but a website for Monsters University, a college exclusively for monsters. Fictional (or real, your choice) Arthur Clawson founded the University, located in Monstropolis, in 1313. Today, Monsters University continues a tradition of academic excellence and the relentless pursuit of monster potential.
On the site you can apply for admission to MU, which boasts the top-scaring program in the country. Once admitted, you will have access to the Monsters University scream energy, door technology and business programs.
But don’t worry; MU isn’t entirely about academics. At Monsters University, you will enjoy a well-rounded collegiate experience full of clubs like Monsters UN and activities like, “Making Beautiful MUsic together.” Here are some of the other MU events you can look forward to if accepted.
Yes, they set up a real, fully-fledged website and had a lot of fun with it. You could create your own MU college ID, you could buy merchandise and on April Fool’s Day, the website got ‘hacked’ by ‘students’ from rival Fear Tech.
In a way, Pixar added a lot of value to the MU experience that did a lot to engage fans and consumers alike. Suddenly, the actual film itself was taking a backseat to all the fun and games of the whole concept of Monsters University itself.
That said….consider the alternative:
Would Monsters University have been such a success without the clever marketing?
If Pixar had done the usual effort with the marketing; posters, giveaways, Happy Meals, website with interactive games, etc. Would Monsters Inc. be near as successful as it has been? Would critics have given it a closer inspection with the microscope?
If one is to consider Monsters Inc sans marketing campaign, what appears to be left is an average Pixar movie and a very average story to tell. In essence, the disconnect between this film and the original could not be greater.
Don’t believe me? Monsters Inc. is pretty much the exact opposite of Monster University. The former relied on a superior story and concept with a normal marketing campaign and did solid business. The latter on the other hand, has a tired story married to an innovative marketing campaign.
Which is better to have? Ideally of course, you want a clever film and a clever marketing campaign. Such gems are hard to come by though , but when all is said and done, the marketing campaign is quickly forgotten only to gradually turn in up car boot sales in the years to come. The film, on the other hand, lives forever, and can deliver a lot of value to a studio in the long term (just ask Disney).
It’s hard to deny that the innovative marketing campaign behind Monsters University was the engine of its success at the box office. Without it, it’s highly unlikely that the film would have pulled in quite as much as it did. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the film holds up as the years wear on.
My concern? That a clever marketing gimmick obfuscates the requirement to produce a superb film.
Today’s post is more of a recommendation than anything else. It’s to direct you to a recent piece by Peter Gutiérrez over on The Digitial Shift and it’s about how seamless marketing and content are on the web, especially when it comes to kids.
Although we all wish there was more of a balance between kids and adults when it comes to animation, the fact of the matter is that in the US and many other western nations, animation aimed at young kids is vastly predominant. What’s interesting though, and what Peter’s article discusses, is just how easy it is to fool kids on the internet when it comes to content and marketing.
I highly encourage you to read the entire thing, but what you should dwell on is not so much whether it is right or wrong (marketing to kids is not, inherently, evil) but why it has to be so subtle and psychological in nature. Why do networks, etc, feel the need to deceive kids when it comes to either advertising or promotions?
Furthermore, can such underhand tactics actually hurt animated content in the long term? My hunch is that since networks and studios overly target kids. They in a way, contribute to the stigma attached to the technique by teenagers and young adults.
What are your thoughts? What do you suggest be done to right the situation?
The Yowp blog is a favourite of this blogger because it not only does an excellent job of dissecting many, many early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, it also manages to dig up plenty of the associated marketing and promotional material related to them as well. A recent post concerned the celebrations of Yogi Bear’s ‘birthday‘:
Sure, the company began with the deals you might expect—for comic books, toys and records. And it grew from there. But a couple of promotions from the pre-Flintstone era at the studio (which is the focus of this blog, though we stray a bit) are admirable considering the coordination that was involved in pulling them off. One was Huckleberry Hound’s presidential run in 1960 (which combined comic books, cereal offers and personal appearances). The other is the Yogi Bear birthday party of 1961.
Driven By Data Not Desire
In today’s multi-media, web-enabled and YouTube-driven mediasphere, marketing has become a true science. Sure, advertising legend David Ogilvy knew as much back in the 50s, but even he always emphasised the art of marketing and advertising as being the most important element.
Google has since perfected the data-driven approach, wherein data on consumers is gathered and analysed until useful information is extracted. This information is then either used by Google itself, or sold to others for their use in advertising. Such trickery is superb at learning a consumer’s habits and also exploiting them.
The Decline of Social Marketing
The problem with data driven marketing and promotion is that it focuses much more on the individual rather than the collective. Just think about Yogi’s Birthday parties; they were designed to bring people together.
The feeling of being part of a community remains a very strong driver of viewing habits and fandom in general. The feeling that we are part of a group that shares similar tastes is far and away the biggest factor when it comes to how we determine which shows are our favourites.
Fans and fan-dominated social events (like conventions) are distinct from the kind of events that this post is talking about though. The former are geared towards existing fans whereas the latter are geared much more to potential fans.
Today, many of these potential fans congregate in the online space, either on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. Such platforms are much more efficient and, from a studio or network’s perspective, much cheaper to advertise on than a physical event.
The problem is that as we head ever further towards a future where there is a screen for each individual, there will be a tendency to ignore the physical space in preference of the virtual one. On an adult level, this may not be an insurmountable issue, but for kids especially, it could spell disaster.
That’s not mere fear mongering either. Animated features in their current form depend on the social viewing experience of the cinema. If kids grow up preferring smaller screens with content tailored to their desires, what do you think that will result in?
Finding the Solution
Viewing content will always be social on some level or another. The challenge will be how to do so when technology that permits people to watch any time any where is the norm. Will it still be possible to gather a group of people together to watch something? Large events like the Super Bowl will be fine, but what about smaller animated TV shows? How about getting kids to watch shows in groups at home, will that become a challenge too?
All these remain somewhat of a mystery at this point in time, but one thing is for sure, if we do not find a solution, it will make for some radical changes to animation.
What would you do to stimulate social viewing of animated programmes? Leave a comment below with your idea!
The impetus for this post is this chart, which I found over on 9Gag the other day (just for a few minutes as I needed a quick wind-down from work!).
What’s the most interesting thing about this graph? Why it’s the slump in the teenage years of course!
What’s really interesting though, is that as far as the studios are concerned, once someone goes over that cliff at the age of 12-13, they never come back. The truth is a bit different though, and it’s perhaps something that studios could do better to market.
We’ve seen the likes of some Nicktoons getting onto DVD/Netflix, but Disney and Cartoon Network are hopelessly behind. We’ve got the PowerPuff Girls and a few single discers from the latter and nothing at all from the former (where’s Kim Possible?).
Some marketer somewhere should be able to come up with the ideal formula for when to re-release older cartoons and cash in on the nostalgia kick.
The other day, the girlfriend bought InStyle magazine for the Taylor Swift article. Long story short, she decided to flip through the entire thing with an eye to creating a blog post about the ads. Well, today I’ve stolen her idea in order to write about one ad in particular.
Dual advertising has been around since day dot, especially in the entertainment industry. How else could studios get their films in magazines and extend the brand beyond the cinema? Espousing a product’s connections to a film or vice-versa is a well worn marketing gimmick that has been proven to work time and time again.
While toys are perhaps the most obvious choice, there have been plenty of example in live-action too. The James Bond films are great examples, he drives an Aston Martin, wears an Omega watch and drinks only Martini.
So without further adieu, let’s have a look at today’s subject:
Yes, it’s not an animated film but that’s OK, it’s put out by a studio who used to (and to a certain extent still do) make their bread and butter from animation. Just sit and study it for a minute (you can click through for the full-size version).
Here we have an advertisement that is for O.P.I. Nail Lacquer that has something in it to make the polish appear cracked or worn. Fair enough, but what is that at the top of the page? Why it’s the logo for the Pirates of the Caribbean set of movies that [gasp] is in theaters right now!
Right, so, the ad attempts to tie the pirate movie with the cracked nail polish. Fair enough. I don’t see much of a connection between the two anyway, so how does the ad accomplish this task? By putting a mermaid in there!
Now when you think of Disney + Mermaid, Pirates of the Caribbean is not the first film to pop into my head. While there may be mermaids in the latest installment, that’s certainly news to me. Although to be fair, they have thrown in a pirate ship in the background for good measure, even though it’s just sitting there doing nothing.
Secondly, the tag is “Nail color you’re sure to TREASURE!” OK, but again, why do you say that when all there is in the background is a boat and a mermaid? When I think of treasure I think of a chest of gold, no? Ostensibly the “treasure” connection is supposed to be upheld by the already implied connection to “pirates”. However, visually, there is nothing to reinforce it and as a result, the tagline seems wholly inappropriate to the setting.
Lastly we have the only truly obvious connection to pirates:
Gut-wrenching pun aside, it is buried down in the bottom right corner of the ad, where you have to have read the rest of the ad before you get to it.
All in all, this is the kind of dual-branding advertisement that makes you wonder how on earth these two came together. Sadly , it seems that it has a marketing department stamp all over it. No thought seems to have been given to the context of the product or the film. Yes, a pirate film is hard to sell, but that should not mean throwing all sensibility to the wind, right?
I mean, nail polish? No-one outside of an ad agency or marketing department desperate to share ad costs would even consider putting the two together. It’s not a particularly dumb move, but it doesn’t exactly shine with inspiration either.
Smart tie-ins can greatly improve a film’s commercial health and can provide a positive association between the product and the film. Done well it can bring in millions for both parties, but done poorly, it can leave each looking desperate and foolish.
Someone certainly seems to think so.
It’s also nice to see the Mickey Mouse seal of approval of this as a healthy snack and the Disney trademark thrown inside a green leaf for good measure. They sure do seem to be confident of their status in the food industry, eh?