The Animated Strategy: Building A Strategic Plan For Your Products

Marketing consultant Jennifer Deare details the steps to building a strategic marketing plan for an animated project's success.

People who work in creative fields, particularly animation, can't afford to overlook the critical importance of a strategic alliance opportunity for product marketing. It's an imperative for creating a successful product in today's over-crowded, intensely fragmented marketplace, primarily because it allows you to put moneyor valuable promotion and exposure behind your product.

Your goal is to attract a distracted, fragmented audience to your product, and convince them that their investment of time will pay off in entertainment valueand that yours is more worthwhile than any of the myriad of daily entertainment choices they have.

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These advertising posters for Warner Bros. feature film Space Jam were so well-liked by the fans that they were stolen from the bus stations they were displayed in, faster than they could be replaced. © and 1996 Warner Bros.

In fact, second only to creating the product, strategic marketing is the most important element of your total package. It has become so important that very often the marketing and development of alliances begins before there is even a final script.

Today, the buzzword in animation, entertainment and licensing is "branding." But it's much more than a buzz word; building a brand is the only road to long-term survival and financial viability. Whether you are looking to create a one-time event or a series for network or strip syndication, you need to build a brand consciousness and a brand preference among your target audience. In today's marketplace, entertainment and animation has to be approached strategically similarly to traditional packaged goods. While it may, understandably, upset some sensibilities to consider creative product in the same vein as dessert toppings and bathroom tissue, you have to differentiate your brand in the marketplace. Otherwise, your product is merely another commodity and very easy for consumers to pass by.

Long-Term Strategies vs. Event Marketing

These are currently the two dominant strategies in animation marketing. The major studios Disney, Warner Bros., Fox, etc.tend to create events, especially for theatrical releases. They front-load the entire marketing effort with a multi-month, multi-million dollar effort. (In fact, many in the entertainment and licensing fields believe that the opening price point for a theatrical film to make a "blip" on the consumer radar screen is a combined $100 million for promotion and marketing.) The objective is to drive consumer awareness and desire to see a film over a short period of time, usually six weeks. Disney is the undisputed master of this strategy, creating events and tie-ins which are seen worldwide.

Long-term strategies are more appropriate for video releases and series. Arguably, each of these has a longer "shelf life," and the objective is to build an ongoing involvement between the consumer and the property which will result in repeated viewings and increased sales of merchandise as a franchise expands.

dearestrategy03b.JPGdearestrategy03a.JPG Just in time for the holidays, Fox has introduced the master toy line for the November-release, animated feature film, Anastasia. © Twentieth Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

Then, there are hybrids. Men In Black is a perfect example. Though not animated in its theatrical release, the animated series debuted this fall. In essence, the movie targeted to the mass market was the "event" which launched the franchise and the animated series which will be targeted to kids. My own son is too young to have seen the movie, but he certainly is aware of Men In Black and wants the merchandise. You can bet he'll be watching the series, because he already has a relationship with the characters from the promotions. With the play pattern and involvement begun even before the series even premiers, Men In Black already has a jump on its competition.

Getting To "Critical Mass"

Interestingly, the promotional tactics for each of these two branding strategies can be similar. The objective is to break through the clutter with a property and develop a critical mass of awareness. Ideally, consumers should see or hear about the property virtually anywhere they go.

One of the most effective is the strategic alliance. For theatrical release animation, fast food alliancesMcDonald's and Disney, Burger King and The Lost World, Taco Bell and Star Wars are the best known. Together, the combined advertising budgets for the movie and the restaurant chain allows them to reach critical mass very quickly. But not for long, which is part of the "event" strategy. Because the movies and promotions come one after the other so quickly, the promotions have to be big and they have to be fast to have an impact.

However, not every product has the kind of budget or potential that can sustain a fast food tie-in. For the theatrical and video release of Shiloh, Deare Marketing developed a tie-in with pet foods and a charity drawing on the natural affinity between dog owners and the heartwarming story. At the same time, the movie got significant exposure in a venue where movies are seldom promoted, so the actual value of promotion in that uncluttered environment is potentially greater than if the promotion had been a small voice in a very crowded venue.

Christopher Byrne, contributing editor to Playthings magazine, notes that in his research, parents are beginning to tune out to promotions because there are so many of them. "Targeting and reaching consumers where they don't expect it can be very powerful as it is increasingly difficult to be `heard' above the promotional noise at fast food and other `traditional' promotional outlets."

Playing Like "The Big Boys"

The fact is: Very few animators can compete with Disney or any of the major studios. But everyone can learn to leverage their unique assets to achieve marketing objectives.

Here, the packaged goods approach pays off. Tie-ins capitalize on the shared qualities of the entertainment product and partner brand, benefiting both partners. The entertainment property gets broad-based exposure and media support in alternative venues (e.g., supermarkets, mass merchants, etc.), and the packaged goods product gets a unique offer to differentiate itself from its competition in advertising and at point-of-sale. These promotions are separate from revenues and promotion generated through licensees, yet complement and enhance the franchise as a whole.

dearestrategy04.jpg In 1996, Disney and McDonald's entered a ten-year, exclusive, cross-promotional alliance. Promoting the limited edition video release of Disney's Snow White, the restaurant chain is offering special toys and kids meals. © Disney. Allrights reserved.

In developing tie-ins, it's important to match the essence of the animation to that of the partner. For example, a family-oriented video targeted to Christmas is ideal for brands which have a wholesome brand imageryand who promote competitively at holiday time. Moreover, since promotional licensing is an opportunity for a small animator, versus a profit center, the small animator can waive traditional fees and royalties in return for support. Partners win and the producers win.

Timing is also critical. Many brands are planning fourth quarter 1998 marketing plans and positioning a year to eighteen months in advance. In other words, time's getting tight for next Christmas right now. While changing broadcast line-ups and release dates present challenges, there are still many opportunities. At Deare Marketing, our proprietary database of marketers and products allows us to streamline the process by identifying potential partners quickly.

In preparing to develop tie-ins, the following tips can help you be successful:

  • Think about product and promotional applications as you develop your story lines and characters.
  • Look for opportunities to include marketing partners in the actual animated product, much as Disney and American Express did for Hercules.

  • Get to the essence, or feelings, behind your property. That should open up both your thinking and opportunities for developing promotions.
  • Approach your product as a "brand." Look for ways to expand it outside the traditional animation strategy and clarify the ways in which your product complements the potential partners' brands.
  • Develop a comprehensive list of what you offer a partner (be as specific as possible), and what you want in return.
  • Launch a creative program for promoting your product, separate from the tie-in. (Your partners want to benefit from all the efforts you're making to generate awareness to leverage their involvement.)

As production costs spiral and the competition even to be seen intensifies, promotion plays a critical role. Today, many creative people authors, animators and more are learning that it's not enough to be outstanding at your craft, you must be outstanding at promotion as well.

Jennifer Deare is the founder and president of Deare Marketing, Inc., a New York-based marketing and communications industry which specializes in strategic alliances, continuity programs, direct mail, promotion and strategic marketing. Over the past ten years, the agency has served a broad variety of clients, particularly in the entertainment, consumer products, financial services, retail and technology industries.

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