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Industry Report: Marketing

Monetizing Animation Brands Online


- Maurice Wheeler is co founder and Planning Director of Digital Outlook and he has over 13 years of digital marketing experience including 10 years at Digital Outlook.

When and why did you created Digital Outlook?
I started the company Digital Outlook about 10 years ago; we specialise and focus on kids, teens and parents; a lot of our clients are within that space.
We concentrate our work on three main areas: the strategy area, creative area and the marketing area, with a team of 45 people based in London and clients all around the world.

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Did your work changed in these last 10 years?
Yes, in the older days with TV it used to be different. You could put your brands on television and make good deals with the broadcasters. It was easy to license and merchandise the content.
Now things are changing. My son watches "Thomas the Tank Engine" and has all different gadgets related. This proves that merchandising does work with kids. But there is a fragmentation of the market, a same trend across Europe: steady increase of channels for kids, content and air time of programmes for kids, and on the other side we have a slight decline in children’s viewing habits; combining both together they show that there is a gap between the watching time before and now.

Is TV still a dominant platform to reach kids?
Pre-school children don’t look at Internet that much and there are different forms of engagement with the Internet; looking at numbers it emerges that they spend on average 15.4 hours of TV a week compared to around 9.5 hours of gaming, 7.8 of Internet, 5.4 of radio and music. So yes, TV is still the dominant platform in the market to reach kids.

Can Internet generate cash?
They are different cases. We created and put online a concept "Viva Voodoo"; we did our best to ensure it reached as many people as possible through donation and personal gift opportunities as well as selling advertising on the Internet. Although it was great fun, we didn’t make that much money out of it.
There is also the electronic sell-through space with iTunes, which has a selection of animation by companies who have already a big demand for their brands, and a large portfolio of content; iTunes in fact wants to deal with big brands, and this makes it difficult for independent producers.
Internet can generate revenue, but at the moment it is only a small amount. One of the reasons of this clash is that since years ago we have been expecting such a market, a tool where everyone could be equal. Another problem is that maybe we spend too much time comparing TV and Internet instead understanding the differences and strengthens.
On Internet there are different ways of building a brand affinity and finding an audience for your product. Producers have to think that TV and Internet are different, and they have to use Internet in a different way.

How can you use the Internet to push your brand?
There are two main points: first to reach a new audience; and secondly to let your audience engage with your brand like never before. "Noddy" is a good example of how we took a consumer need and turned into an opportunity.
"Noddy" is a brand owned by Chorion in the UK. It is very UK centric and not very well known outside, particularly in the US, and because the Internet is so demand lead it is quite difficult to generate that demand. So we thought of where there could be a need in the target audience, that is children and parents, and we realised that there was a gap within parents who are working or are busy, and do not find the time to see their kids as much as they wanted. We wanted to give them an opportunity to interact with the children when they are not with them, to talk with them in an exciting way; we tried to work with Messenger to create a time for story application. The idea behind it, is that the child can see the parents on a video chat and in the window they see also a story unfold, that they both can control. This enabled us first of all to understand an established need of the parents, secondly to enable it with technology as in this case Messenger, and third we managed to get an unknown brand to be at the centre of the stories.
The second way is to reach new audience with something that they want. Kids love playing games, they spend 60-70% of their time playing online. We created a game that so far has had 35-40 million games plays lasting on average 3-6 min each, a time that is comparable to good videos on YouTube. In this way we got a brand interaction introducing the characters and creating an engagement with the brand on a much deeper level.
Other ways are to let the audience engage with the brand like never before. We worked with "Mr Men", a big UK heritage brand. A problem emerged because we were working with American producers, who insisted on the need to change the brand.
Being a quite scary situation for the audience, we decided to create a blog, the producer's blog that talked to the consumers in a much opened way, asking to comment on the script, the character's development, assuring that they came along the journey with us, making them understand and realise that they were not going to destroy the brand. So it was important to get the parents involved.
The second example is "Walley"; we created a Bebo profile and enabled a genuine conversation with the audience, offering a personalisation and customisation tools, allowing the users to express themselves using the brand.
Another project we worked on with the company Aardman was "Jelly Beans". We allowed the consumers to express themselves through music and the characters. For example a hip hop fan had the possibility to have a hip hop wigged or wall paper, or download it as a messenger icon. It is about self expression and allowing to use your brand in a personalised way, and allowing to have a genuine brand ownership. It was a good experience because we also asked what the consumers wanted next on a monthly base. The audience has a massive ownership of a determined product or character.
Another example was with Xbox. Kids were able to create an avatar on their account and use different applications to personalise it. We also ran a competition on the Facebook page, asking people to use their avatar as their profile picture. Thousands of people did obviously do that. It is all about taking a brand, adapting it, changing it and making it yours as a formal tool of self expression.
The last point is how to interact with brands in new ways. Focusing on gaming, we created a Famous Five game enabling to interact with the Famous Five; a female focused application with "Space Buddies", the Disney DVD release, where you can dress up a space dog; "Stardoll", a very female focused website where you can choose different outfits and accessories. Interact with the brand and personalise it.
In summary TV is not dead, but Internet is not yet dominating; as we said, we do see everything changing every six months, TV and Internet have important roles to play. Internet is a great tool for marketing purposes, you can make sure that people know your brand and they can engage with it on an upper level. Internet also reaches million of people, but only when the studio will pick up your product and put it on TV, then you will start making a profit out of it.

What is the minimum budget you need to create a brand on Internet?
I think that you can make content and push it on the web with €5,000. Said that, at least in the UK, in order to make a good impact and see a good return of your investment, you must start talking of about €20-30,000. But it is possible to do something for much less. If you are talking about pan European brands, you probably need €50-60.000, but it depends on what exactly you need to do. This includes also the communication expenses. In fact, according to the advertisement rule, for every euro you spend for an ad, you will have to spend 9 dollars on promoting it. I recently noticed that on the Internet is a bit different, close to 50/50, because good content pushes itself, but still you need to build it, promote it and push it.

What do you check when clients ask you to push a content on Internet?
I think that with our clients, who have great content, we do not need to do much changes. In general I think that we look for a compelling, interesting and sharable content.

In the case of a small producer who has to produce content by itself, and needs money to promote it, is it possible for an agency like yours to co-produce and share the revenues?
The biggest problem is that Internet does not generate that much money. Because we make our own content, we would not be interested in a co-production, there is not a return. It happened that people with great content came to us, asking us to push the product, and also without our help managed to do great things.

Are you used to work with communication or PR agencies?
Mostly we work directly for a client, but often is a conglomeration of agencies, so we work in a team of agencies, as in the case of Xbox, where we do a lot of online work, community and social networking activities. Then you have a media buying agency, a PR agency, and events agency and others and we all work together to solve a common problem. It is not often to work directly through a PR agency; the best kind of campaign is media agnostic, without loosing media synergies, so no matter where it is placed, each individual agency implements an idea in their own way. It is important to work as a unit of agencies.
Internet is a tool to build an audience and grab attention, as in the case of Disney Club Penguin, that was not a Disney product but the result of the work of three people who built a site and caught an enormous audience.
It took them a while to achieve the results, but the strategic thing was to form a partnership with mini-clip, and they drove most of the traffic through them. They were the first to do a social network club for kids, with an element of novelty that is very important. It was then bought by Disney that offered a second contract if the success continued.


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