All About... Brands in animation

Sony Pictures' animation channel Animax is attempting to capture the imagination of advertisers recently with the launch of an interesting new project called LaMB. The hour-long film is the first of its kind in Asia to invite advertisers to integrate their brands within an animated show. Brands will not only be able to place their products within the programme itself, but will have access to online and mobile spin-offs of the show. The programme will also allow advertisers to put up their ads on electronic and static billboards that feature in street scenes. There will even be the opportunity for regular, non-animated TV commercials to run on animated TV sets in the programme. The digital element will include online anime comics and web games with products placed inside them, which users can click on to get more information. Sponsorable mobisodes of the show will be downloadable to mobile phones. Animax is also planning to make its animated characters available as product endorsers. Impressive. But what are the advantages for advertisers in getting animated? 1. Most arguments for integrating brands into animated shows are similar to those used to justify its use in other genres, like reality TV or soaps. Ad-skipping technologies like Tivo make paid content a more attractive option than the 30-second TV spot. But animation does have its advantages. According to Gregory Ho, VP and general manager of Animax Asia, animation allows products to be integrated more seamlessly than other genres, because producers of animation shows have a higher level of control over the environment since they are not overly dependent on external factors like actors or sets. Animation is also good at engaging audiences of all age groups, he adds. 2. It is usually cheaper too. Venus Navalta, MD of Universal McCann Philippines, says: "When done right, animated platforms can be as good as the most successful spot campaign at a much lower cost." 3. The downside to animation is that it takes much longer than other genres to plan and execute the brand integration which requires considerable artistic skill to do well. There is also the notion that a cartoon character from an anime show may be a less credible platform on which to promote a brand than a human being. Some suggest, too, there isn't enough research to convince marketers of its effectiveness, while some clients shirk from the genre's associations with (particularly in Japan) violence and pornography. 4. By far the most popular form of animated contented for brands is gaming. According to Yankee Group, global spend in the gaming industry registered at US$180 million last year, and is expected to rise to $332 million this year. Chris Thomson, VP of marketing for Electronic Arts Asia, says that while games are "just another medium" for marketers, the important thing is to make the brand's activity "involved and interactive". Recently, EA entered a partnership with Ikea that allows players of its game The Sims 2 to buy a 'stuff pack' (on a disc or online) that lets them decorate their simulated families' homes with Ikea furniture. 5. Placing products in games is easier since the publishers own the copyright. This isn't true of manga, however, where publishers are more protective of what is regarded as an art form, and are rarely interested in selling their copyrights. Only music brands have managed to muscle in on manga, with Sony Music and EMI artists finding their way onto soundtracks. 6. The principles for entering the animated world may be similar for games and animation shows. But online games take brand integration further. Products can be changed to suit the occasion. A Coke can come wrapped in Christmas packaging, or an ad for ESPN football coverage in the run-up to Euro 2008, for example. So what's the secret to brand integration in animation? Explains Ho: "If it's natural, clever and entertaining, viewers will accept it." What it means for... Media owners
  • More revenue. Assuming media and production companies have the expertise to integrate brands into animated content, only the imagination is the limit to what can be sold to advertisers across multiple platforms - mobile, the web, games and TV.
  • Media companies may need to start hiring good animators, since brand integration in this genre requires the touch of an artist.
  • It might not be wise to oversell a programme, however. Could Animax be offering too much to advertisers too early with LaMB?
  • The idea that a brand of soap powder could suddenly morph into a superman-like hero figure in a non-commercial environment is understandably an exciting concept for marketers. Especially if it's cheaper than a 30-second TV spot.
  • But beware a backlash from gamers or viewers who are not in a state of mind to be advertised to. Brand integration must be seemless otherwise more harm could be done than good.
  • Go cross-platform. Animation is a medium that works better across a variety of platforms.
  • Don't dive in. Yes, animation is new and exciting. But it isn't for every brand. Fast food, soft drinks, beer and sporting goods, yes. High-brow luxury brands best to steer clear.

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