Monday, August 18, 2008

Cartoon Ads could save animated entertainment - leave out the boring parts


It's hard to beat cartoons (good ones)for getting the audience to at least watch/read the ad.

I don't mean just "animated" or stylized animation like some commercials today; I mean pure professional entertainment character based cartoons, like what top entertainers do: Al Capp/ Hanna Barbera/ Disney and others used to do.

Al Capp in Life

Boy, cartoon characters sure love their cream of wheat!

And you can't beat using a hillbilly to sell laundry detergent to keep your filthy rags smelling sweet!Al Capp Li'l Abner

In an era where it's getting harder than ever for a sponsor to get someone to read or watch his ad, it's a good time to bring back the concept of using cartoons to sell your products.
I stress cartoon again versus "animation".



Cartoons have a natural appeal to almost everyone (except those in charge). Here's my theory why: Cartoons are the people's art. It is art that distills the most fun things about life and cuts out all the boring parts. It focuses on the parts first that are fun to look at and humans are an extremely visual species.

For example: The shapes of girls are very fun to look at, but untended bikini lines are not as much fun, so cartoonists generally leave that part out when they draw pretty girls.

CHARISMA - Unique fun personality traits
We are also very social and are attracted to people (or characters) with charisma- strong unique entertaining personalities.

The most successful old cartoons combined these two traits and distilled them into their purest essences. They left out the bland, ugly and boring parts: they didn't need to show us every pore, mole and hair follicle, or every blade of grass, or every leaf on every tree.

They also observed life and gave us their unique comments on it, but didn't take it too literally. They just presented us with the fun parts and added a liberal amount of creative fantasy to it. They had imagination, which seems sorely lacking in cartoons today.

The extraneous details that aren't the fun parts of life are what many animation producers today dwell on, while getting positively outraged when you try to inject the essential parts of cartoons- distilled fun, appealing characters (appealing to the eyes, ears and emotions) and imagination.

The boring parts are what feature animation producers in particular think are what constitute "quality". They call it "believability". The audience will believe in a lumpy pile of millions of hairy pores with a bland movie star voice, rather than a simple well designed instantly recognizable personality with a clearly defined fun expert cartoon voice.

Or they go the opposite direction and make things so graphic, flat and stylized that they leave out the humanity and unique humor of cartoons and funny personalities. Cartoons for art directors instead of for the dirty unwashed masses whose ignorant tastes demand funny characters that look and act alive.

I had a meeting at a major studio a couple weeks ago with a very nice and polite executive who asked me to go lecture at their animation studio about how to create enduring iconic characters. "We've had some successful movies, but our characters don't seem to outlive their movie appearances. We want to know the secret to creating characters like Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera."

I take that as a good sign. An executive actually recognized the difference between a character who is instantly recognizable as a charismatic star and a modern shapeless blob of pores and hairs with a bland voice who just fulfills his role in a stock cartoon plot and then dies after the movie does its obscenely marketed blockbuster first weekend. But then you never see anyone with a t-shirt of the characters, it's impossible to write new stories for the characters.
Real cartoon characters are easy and fun to caricature. They have clearly defined designs and traits.

Real cartoon characters are so powerful, that in the hands or real professional creators the stories write themselves and it's easy to keep the characters alive for decades past their initial debut.

I'm getting a sense that everyone in the business is starting to be shaken into some kind of reality lately, and they are understanding that real cartoon characters are needed again, but they struggling to figure out what they are, where they come from and why there have been so few icons in the last couple decades.

I do know the secret(s) to creating real cartoon characters and it's not hard to understand conceptually but it's also not something that can be taught to anybody. Maybe I'll do a post about it later.

I'm personally lucky to be able to finally participate in the concept of "direct sponsorship" or what they have now renamed "Branded entertainment". I've only been pushing it for 20 years!

Anyway I got off on a tangent about other stuff, but the main point of this post was to show how powerful classic cartoon ads were when they used iconic well-loved cartoon characters and their creators to pitch products. It's an idea that is so obviously simple and sensible that I'm astounded how long it has taken for me to try and bring it back.

Another great way for advertisers to go is to get cartoon creators to create new characters as mascots for their products:

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It's not as good as having characters that are real characters who can exist in stories, but it's still much better than having commercials that everyone fast forwards through and swears at.