Case Study: How Toonami Strategically Used Anime To Market Their Brand - Part 1


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Leveraging Anime To Build A Brand

Good news anime marketing fans! The industry of Japanese animation's influence on Western culture has has been quiet in its growth; but it has, nonetheless, become a colossal commodity that owes a great deal of thanks to one television network in particular - Toonami.  

Turner Broadcasting’s programming block Toonami has popularized some of the most influential and critically acclaimed anime titles to date. For many English speaking fans, the word “anime” first became a household term after being exposed to this specific broadcasting brand -- unless you were exposed to the classic Speed Racer. In fact, Toonami's innovative approach to marketing their content could be adopted by your agency or brand, and brands can consider how to strategically partner with anime projects to target a very engaged viewer. In part one of this two part blog case study, Hollywood Branded will show you how Toonami strategically used anime to market their brand. 

Blog - How Toonami... (2)

A Chance To Innovate

Toonami first grew its legs on March 17, 1997. Originally designed to be an evening cable block dedicated to action oriented content, it soon became much more than that.

Cartoon Network Programming Executive Mike Lazzo wanted to create a cable block centered around action cartoons. This already existed in previous attempts with Super Adventures (1992) and Power Zone (1996), but they needed a space for more serious content. So, Lazzo enlisted Sean Akins and Jason DeMarco to create a home base that would soon become known as Toonami.

The two creatives developed a strategic blueprint that would serve as the blueprint to form what they believed to be the 3 main reasons that Toonami thrived as a marketing organism.

They weren't the first, but they definitely looked like they were.

Understand that Toonami was not the first block to bring anime titles to the West. Titular titles such as Gigantor, Astro Boy, Voltron, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon had all received English voice dubbing previously on other networks; although, they were quite bad. Toonami was the first to present them with their culture seemingly still in tact. They presented themselves as curators of Japanese artistic exports. Fancy right? 

Demarco, now Senior Vice President, explained his approach to curation when interviewed by Vulture:

I will say, I don’t think anyone in the network really understood what we were doing, because when we came we said we wanted to use hip-hop; we wanted to use drums and bass; we wanted to interview skaters and comic-book artists. We wanted it to represent all of what we thought was exciting about youth culture at the time. And in a way that didn’t talk down to kids and wasn’t like, ‘Eat your vegetables,’” (Vulture 2017). 



About The Toonami Network

They had a clear vision with a defined set of values. Demarco and Atkins brainstormed to infuse rebellious youth culture with the eccentricity of anime.

Set in space with a CG animated host named Moltar, the block was designed to bring awareness to a specific culture and a specific way of life (this of course being anime). It was given an unmistakingly distinct look and feel. The aesthetic presented itself as a foreign, otherworldly, and ultimately unique cargo ship of content. The network oozed with originality.

Their first few shows consisted of a mix of anime and American cartoons including Johnny Quest, Thundercats, and Voltron. After acquiring the rights to Sailor Moon from the USA Network, they soon acquired the global behemoth Dragon Ball Z. Then, the action block was approached by Bandai, one of Japan’s largest toy makers, to become the launchpad for their new Gundam series.

Bandai noticed the positive attention Toonami was cultivating around anime, and they saw this humble cable block as the most lucrative destination for the debut of their new franchise.

Creating partnerships with Japanese retailer brands further solidified Toonami as a national base for exclusive content.

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Acquiring National Attention

Consumers had a reason to continue coming back to Toonami for more, and the press became invested as well. In 1999, The Wall Street Journal famously published an article in response to the rapidly spreading appeal of anime amongst the youth in their article headlined, “Violent Japanese Cartoon Show Draws Kids' Eyes, Parents' Scorn”. 

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Toonami knew that they had created a new demand. By filling a niche void with valued content, Cartoon Network had gained a loyal consumer base.

In part two of this series, we’ll show how Toonami leveraged itself as a global influencer by using an already existing market. If waiting for part two seems too long for more marketing insight, fret no longer! 

product placement guide

Leverage Your Conent

Another way to increase your brand's awareness is through product placement. This is a great way to get your brand seen and heard using the leverage of other people's content, and Hollywood Branded provides dozens of blogs and podcasts to help you along the way. 

Check out the blogs our team wrote on the subject:

And make sure you check out our e-book guide to Product Placement by clicking the image below!  It provides insider advice on how you can best leverage content partnerships for your brand.

Product Placement & Co-Promotions 101 Guide