Why was Avatar such an international hit? Pundits and viewers/reviewers cite animation effects and a combination of fantasy and real global issues such as themes of indigenous cultures, corporate eco-terrorism, and the supremacy of the forces of nature. What Avatar may not have pushed completely with their merchandising (though the audience saw it as they watched) was the integrity of the values that the viewers were pulled to the box office for time after time. Seth Godin may interrupt this paragraph with his adage that the Fox consumer division is just selling what people are buying…. But are they? When Joe Smith bought a movie ticket for the third time, he was probably buying values at that point.
This one oversight may be key, or a hint that if we bought sustainable values in the cinema, we might also buy those values again in the merchandise. Admittedly, the musing could be helped with research.
The animation market is certainly competitive. Most animations before being presented on screen are organized into business models that have complementary merchandise central to the investor attraction. In animation, most business models center around the creation of sturdy and interesting characters and story lines that can be converted into merchandise. Closely related, the genre of “edutainment” or educational entertainment uses a similar model to teach. The industries are closely related and legislators see this as well as children, with the EU citing a rejection of values in order to retain very narrow quotas on non-EU programming. This causes great opportunity and pressure to make globally sale-able animations.
What better way to treat a global market than to pick on a global wisdom? Creatives caught in the selling squeeze have recognized this and some results of this squeeze may soon find their way happily into television and perhaps even movie screens.
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When governments want to educate adults, they set boundaries through laws and legislation, though many sustainable initiatives are legislated to provide incentive and raise awareness in a variety of ways. When those same adults set boundaries for children in homes and schools, it is usually from an effect of a law, such as with recycling. In many creative industries, those adults that have had boundaries set for them are using this as inspiration for raising awareness for their markets.
The effect is voluntary from creative industries — it may not be expected in all and, when it happens, it may be very useful for sales, parents, legislators, public relations personnel, and educators.
Edutainment as a concept is, plainly, education mixed with elements of entertainment. The qualification to call an animation edutainment is usually some sort of consultation to a project or research. It is on the agenda for many countries to increase the use of handheld devices such as smart phones. So, in the context of education, it’s also a trend that meets hardware in that content that performs multiple functions and holds attention is of high value to merchandise or aims exclusively at this market.
Coruru, a forthcoming animation aptly named after Korean onomatopoeia for a growling stomach is a first Korean government-funded animation. The investors, a Korean government ministry, saw a need in Korea to promote healthy eating habits and ‘slow food’ ideals and methods to the 4- to 7-year-old age group and their parents. The Korean government has also supported the initiative with a street named after the lead character in Bucheon, one of Korea’s animation hubs, and some thoughtful merchandising that includes an organic food line.
As markets caught between serving the E.U. and the U.S .competitively create in order to bypass competitors and give their content an edge that has global travel potential, animators are beginning to select ecological themes for content. The trend may not imply a direct relationship, but strict programming quotas certainly assist in creating a highly competitive environment where innovations in content and merchandising can serve to set projects apart.
Eco themes in animation are deepening too. Although born from a different reason and combination, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were one of the first animations to use themes such as biological threats. The eco themes are coming to be used even more widely through animations and characterizations. The newer, more startling trend by those pulled by market squeezes to use global themes is consistency of eco-themes in merchandising, that Avatar merchandisers didn’t appear to completely capitalize on. Korea’s Detective Arki, from Eyescream studios, is one such example that, as a new exploration into the eco-market, uses recycled goods in its merchandising lines.
The notion of eco-merchandising, when it was discussed casually at the Seoul Character and Licensing Fair, was identified as one of the new competitive edges. One pundit raised the idea that older children will identify inconsistency in themes from screen to toy more so than adults and the ‘screen test’ for eco-consistency is on its way to market with Detective Arki.
One way animators have met hardware trends such as smart phones is by incorporating elements of augmented reality as supplementary games to their animations. While we still do have to manufacture these phones, many elements are recyclable and the entertainment uses less plastic than say an action figure.
Despite my initial description of animation business models being centered in strong characters and storylines, there are surprises concerning the merchandising of relevant companies work. Also presenting in Seoul to find co-production or distribution partners was Achtoons of Italy for the Italian ceramics company Thun. Thun used their collection of characters from their ceramic fairy tale world to inspire animation. Although Thun likely had commercial motivation, it serves as an example of volunteerism from a complementary industry, convergence for ceramics if you will.
What is voluntary from creatives or complementary industries may in fact not be at all so since those same people are subjected to legislation and drives as a result. What is described as a voluntary effect is an effect that occurs before legislation is in place in a particular industry. It may be that eco finds a place after some time, be it through push, pull or volunteerism.