What next . . . brand funded animation?

One of the most recent events that has prompted me to write this post, is the discussion surrounding the sponsorship of Somers Town (the new Shane Meadows film) by Eurostar.

Creative Review opens the discussion by saying:

The film is the first release from a new division set up by Mother advertising agency, Mother Vision, which aims to create “entertainment ideas and non-traditional communications”, and it was funded by Eurostar.

The benefits for Eurostar remain to be seen. Outside of blogs such as these, the brand’s involvement has been less trumpeted, and there have been reviews where it is not mentioned at all. Yet the movie demonstrates that such overt branding is not always necessary – we all know that it is Eurostar that operates the train between London and Paris that Tommo and Marek travel on, so we do not need the brand name shoved down our throats, in fact it would be a detriment to it if it was.

The success of the film also places Eurostar in the position of potentially being a brand that could grow to be seen as a patron of British cinema, offering funding to an industry that is always strapped for cash. This would require further investment of course, plus the even braver step of backing films that might contain no mention of trains at all. As it is, Mother and Meadows have managed to pull off a surprisingly difficult trick – making a film that is credible and watchable, which also serves as 85-minute ad.

Over the recent years much has been said about ad-funding and what the future holds in this area. Personally I think it is great, if you can get a film or project you want of the ground with little (or preferably NO) creative interference from the ‘the brand’ – then why not?

If we can tell genuinely entertaining stories that are authentic to the brand’s core values then it’s good news for everyone – brands find an audience, and that audience is entertained – Mother Vision.

The animation industry has taken a bit of hammering of late, given the recent ‘junk food ban’ imposed by the government. Long standing animation studio Cosgrove Hall, has admitted that the current industry climate is directly affecting their trade:

UK production studio Cosgrove Hall, creators of Dangermouse and other great British cartoons, is to cut its work force by 25%. The downsizing is being blamed on the junk food ad ban, which is impacting on the animation industry and exacerbating the already difficult UK production climate. Managing Director Anthony Utley said, “We are really struggling to keep our heads above the water.

However agencies and brands alike will always see the incredible potential of animation as an communication asset, you only have to look at the awesome success of the LloydsTSB by Studio AKA to reaffirm this.

We have several original content productions that we are looking to get off the ground, and as well as private investment, we are of course looking at ‘brand investment’. On our part, what comes with it is that the ‘brands values’ needs to be a 2-way thing – i.e. ‘ethical’. Do our own ideals fit with the brands own ‘values’? Eurostar is a ’safe brand’, and a lot has been said recently on how its helping towards reducing carbon emissions with so many business users now using it as the best alternative to air travel. However there are many brands out that are seen in less than favoured light, and I think that ‘content’ developers should be wary as to with whom they should associate themselves. Eurostar/ Mother vision must have given some great consideration to the collaboration with Meadows and his style (brand) of filmmaking.

Animation is long seen as an ‘expensive art’ requiring so much time to turn around (against live-action), in order to achieve the quality our audiences now expect… all this costs from ’script to screen’. Investor’s have tendency to favour investment with live-action since the production time can be a lot less and hence their return. I would challenge that theory now though, technologies in animation software and rendering allows for a lot faster turnaround time (see Trona as a case study). The beauty of animation is that once you have the pre-production complete, you can keep producing episodes and assets without reliance on the elements (watch Gilliam’s lost in La Mancha to see what I mean!). Merchandising components are easily arrange…again I think the Lloyds ads have got great mileage out of this, enabling them too use large amounts of the content in digital and print media.

So what is next for the industry? I see a lot more online ad-funded animated content coming into play, however it will be associated with both explicit and subtle global brand branding, some of which will be bad associations on either part. High quality content will be key, alongside ‘not-in-your-face’ brand support – but the brands will always be seeking that all important ‘return on investment’! Online content is much more measurable than traditional TV, so it really is a key placement going forward.