A Blueliner client in the business of children’s media recently engaged in a series of meetings with Dreamworks Animation regarding one of his feature film screenplays. Dreamworks’ interest was simple and straightforward: is this story marketable, and does it have “cross platform” appeal? From the beginning of the presentation process, story meetings actually included the Dreamworks marketing staff. In fact, story editors there concurrently serve as marketing executives. Simply put, story development is intertwined with product development on all levels – it’s as if the company serves as an animation production house as well as an interactive marketing agency.
The staff’s key question, not surprisingly, was whether or not the story and characters could be marketed across the board: video games, digital games, mobile games, music recordings, television, books, dissertations, toys, etc. The story would also have to play for boys and girls. Research included the movie’s title — whether it was simple enough for kids to say, and could exploit search engine optimization. Ultimatlely, what Dreamworks has found in recent years is that funny furry animals have proven to spawn more merchandise than other products (think “Shrek”). And thus, they were on the hunt for a “funny furry animal” project that would translate into the aforementioned platforms for cross platform marketing.
Today’s children’s media executives know that cross platform marketing, or transmarketing, is nothing new. We all remember the days of our “Star Wars” or “Strawberry Shortcake” lunch boxes, Darth Vader masks, and Luke Skywalker figures. (Dare I forget my Star Wars pillow and blanket). Only nowadays, there are more platforms than ever, and they are always changing, always growing. So how do these companies keep up?
Ken Faier, president of Nerd Corps, executive producer of “SlugTerra”, and presenter at the “Creating Brands in the New Digital Age” panel, concurred that when his company evaluates any new property (storyline, or show), they always evaluate what media will be used to advertise to that demographic, and of course the potential for retail products associated with the brand. Lori Camm, a Senior Content Producer and programmer for BBC Children, asks, “Is the core of transmedia just marketing? Or is it getting to a good story?” She suspects it’s a bit of both. “If you’ve got a good story and good characters, the kids will go to where they are.” Ville Lepisto, animation producer with Rovio, the company that produced the surprise hit “Angry Birds”, sees the cross-platform strategy as basically telling the same story over and over again, with different media.
“Angry Birds” used Tumblr as their key media content hub, and had a live Google hangout leading up to the release. Keeping their focus on the fans and delivering different content at the same time on different media platforms, where their fans would be, launched the property successfully with games, toys and other associated merchandise. Note that more platforms means that products associated with a brand can be launched at the same time. This differs from past marketing strategies, in which products were launched in cautious phases.
Another effect of today’s digital media is that children are receiving so many messages online, via social media, all the time. When movies and television were the key marketing platforms, products generally hit movies first and then became television series (so as to hedge the television investment). Or, if a television show proved to be successful, it then became a movie (ie. Hannah Montana, The Simpsons, etc). But then kids had time to process what it is they were watching. With omnipresent social media, products must be launched at once in order to leave an imprint. Especially when the consumers are children and parents. Today there are Facebook groups and blogs that generate more viewership than expensive, high-risk television programs.
The lesson, which extends well beyond children’s media clients – to create properties that can be launched on a variety of platforms, and preferably at the same time (or close to it). The days of 6-12 month brand “roll outs” are long gone!