Has McLaren’s ‘Tooned’ animation series crashed out on the opening lap?

If there’s one thing most people know about Ron Dennis, it’s how much of a perfectionist he is about.. well everything really. Here is a man who has built McLaren up to become the most respected of all race teams, second only to Ferrari in some people’s eyes.

So when I first watched their new animation series – Tooned, produced together with the creative wizards at Framestore, I was curious to find out about McLaren’s goals for the project and how it would push the boundaries for branded content in motorsport.

Motorsport, as we all know, is the world’s most costly sport, and most F1 teams have moved beyond the bounds of sponsorship and corporate hospitality to other means of generating revenue. Williams has its Advanced Engineering and Hybrid Power divisions, who have been developing their KERS technology for road cars in partnership with Porsche and Jaguar.

Caterham will soon launch its Composites business, providing advanced lightweight engineering services to clients in aerospace, automotive, marine and motorsport sectors.

Ferrari has long possessed a successful automotive and merchandising business which supports their racing, and McLaren has several businesses in Applied Technologies (medicine, biomechanics and precision sports), Electronic Systems and even a bespoke catering and hospitality service called Absolute Taste.

Then of course McLaren Automotive is now making a serious dent in Ferrari’s road car business with the 12C & 12C Spider.

So it may come as a surprise to learn that McLaren feels the need to make their brand more ‘accessible’, to help it appeal to a wider audience whilst also building greater brand loyalty.

McLaren F1 already has a highly developed social media presence, with @TheFifthDriver (222,530 Followers), @LewisHamilton (987,957 Followers) and @JensonButton (1,085,879 Followers) all regularly engaging with fans and doing a pretty decent job of making the brand accessible.

Ron Dennis, Executive Chairman – McLaren Group, said: “McLaren has always aimed to be pioneering in everything it does. McLaren Animation’s remit and objectives are therefore consistent with, and complementary to, the ethos of continuous innovation on which the McLaren Group has been built. We were pleased to find a world class partner in Framestore to bring our vision to life”

McLaren tooned animation G13 Has McLarens Tooned animation series crashed out on the opening lap?

So I reached out to John Allert, Group Brand Director of McLaren Marketing, a few months ago to find out what they were trying to achieve.

Tooned

Tooned is a 12-part animation series featuring Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Alexander Armstrong. Each episode builds on Button and Hamilton’s camaraderie and insatiable urge to race each other, with ever more comical adventures that test the patience of Armstrong’s character, ‘Professor M’, as he introduces the dynamic duo to the new developments he and his team have ‘carefully’ designed.

“Tooned, offers a unique platform for McLaren and its partners to achieve exposure to a wider audience, as well as to integrate brand messaging in a format of a high-octane sport not known for an ability to laugh at itself,” said Allert.

“There has also been a gradual shift in the power and influence of children over family viewing habits – not only in terms of what they watch, but also in terms of how they watch it, on PCs and smartphones as well as televisions.”

“Into that gap we’ve decided to launch a sophisticated CGI-animated series that follow a tradition established by films such as ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Wall-E’: story-telling that is thematically big in scope and can be enjoyed on a number of levels, appealing to kids and parents alike.”

The content is being developed in a way that can involve McLaren’s sponsoring-partners by providing an additional platform on which to promote their branding and McLaren partnership. McLaren Animation are even considering a Tooned movie for the cinema, with a full merchandising and branding programme in the vein of Harry Potter and the seemingly endless line of Marvel superhero films.

For the time being, each three-minute episode is being broadcast in the UK on the SKY Sports F1 channel at around 11:45am before each race, but if you’re outside the UK or watching F1 on the BBC then you’re not able to see it, unless via the pirated copies available on YouTube.

McLaren tooned animation G8 Has McLarens Tooned animation series crashed out on the opening lap?

Allert, who was formerly Chief Executive of Interbrand UK, joined McLaren in 2007 to develop the group’s branding and partnership programmes. He’s a well-known heavyweight in the branding world, but I’m less familiar with his experience in outreach and community engagement.

When we were last in contact, I raised questions over McLaren’s strategy for Tooned, how they intended to integrate TV into the online experience and whether they had anything interesting planned on the technology front – perhaps using augmented reality to connect fans at race events with those around the world in an interactive gameplay with the animated Jenson and Lewis characters.

Allert confirmed that their plans were well developed, so during the last few months I had expected to see the campaign shift up a gear, long before this weekend’s fourth episode.

How is the series doing?

Before I start, let me just say that the cartoons themselves are brilliant – they’re witty, mischievous and deliver an 11 out of 10 in making the McLaren brand feel accessible.

Simon Whalley, Chris Waitt, Henry Trotter and the creative team at Framestore have delivered a product that has tremendous potential to achieve all the project’s aims, and more.

McLaren tooned animation G12 Has McLarens Tooned animation series crashed out on the opening lap?

But I’m curious as to why we’re a third of the way through the series without any evidence of a social or online strategy, far less anything more leading-edge such as augmented reality or companion viewing on a second screen.

Looking at the brand’s exposure, purely from a TV perspective, the vast majority of the Formula One audience here in the UK are missing out on McLaren’s efforts to widen its reach.

Race BBC (million viewers) Sky Sports F1 (million viewers)

Australia

2.7

0.7

Malaysia

2.7

0.9

China

2.9

0.5

Bahrain

3.6

0.8

Spain

3.5

0.5

Monaco

3.1

0.6

Canada

2.3

0.9

Europe

3.8

0.5

Britain

3.2

0.5

Germany

2.4

1.0

Hungary

3.6

0.7

Audience data: provided by BARB.

As you can see from the table above, BBC’s coverage has yielded an average of 3.07 million viewers per episode, compared to 0.69 million watching on Sky Sports F1, so the current deal with Sky means that McLaren are missing out on 77% of the available UK F1 audience.

The TV figures wouldn’t seem so bad if perhaps McLaren’s online strategy was paying off, however there is no online strategy (that I can see). A few enterprising fans have uploaded the episodes to YouTube resulting in Episode 1 (Wheel Nuts) achieving 437,000 views, Episode 2 (Slicks) – 24,900 views and Episode 3 (Track To The Future) – 46,400 views.

We reached out to John Allert at McLaren for comment, but have yet to receive a response.

You only get one chance to make a first impression and with online audiences, this is further exacerbated by an inherently low threshold of boredom – even for content as well made as Tooned. Novelty is a precious commodity and my concern is that McLaren may have squandered this, unless their social outreach really blows us away when it eventually comes.

But one of the foremost principles of social media is to foster audience discovery, sharing and self-actualisation (boosting people’s self-esteem and status in their own social circles).

Branded content needs to be available, shareable and provided in such a way that leaves an opening for the brand to play an active part in the engagement with that content by the audience.

Instead the content is not readily available to those who may have missed its original broadcast on Sky Sports F1 channel. Videos posted by users on YouTube are not under McLaren’s control and therefore cannot be measured and optimised.

And of course, if people do feel a greater affinity towards McLaren as a consequence of the toons, there’s no clear channel in which they should express that sentiment – thus market intelligence is being lost and delivering a joined-up multi-channel experience to McLaren’s fans becomes nigh on impossible.

McLaren’s new animated series deserves to do well, I just hope it can move beyond its creative beginnings and start engaging with the audience McLaren are hoping to reach.

Images: Framestore.

Gallery

  • hdsport82

    Well surely there is no way the BBC could show it without falling foul of some rules around advertising/undue prominence so for McLaren Sky are the only real option in the UK.

    Sky do put it ‘free’ on their website for everyone. Perhaps it could do with being promoted better to let people know. Episode 4 is already up http://www1.skysports.com/formula1/video/12870/8044044

    • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

      The first two episodes weren’t made available on Sky Sports – initially – although as you pointed out, Episode 4 was made available this morning.

      Even so, there are no social sharing buttons next to the video on Sky’s web page, so yet again I just see the opportunity being wasted – no way of stewarding the user engagement or measuring response.

      Professionally, it drives me to distraction when I see marketing expenditure being wasted.

      I agree McLaren’s hands were probably tied in taking advantage of the BBC’s audience (due to ad restrictions), but that puts even more emphasis on getting the online strategy right.

      I’ve worked very closely with Sky in the past, so know how compelling their marketing data can be (my teams used to provide it), but I suspect McLaren may have signed away the exclusivity of the series to Sky and are now wishing they hadn’t.

      I look forward to explaining the situation more clearly once John Allert responds to our latest questions.

      Btw, I loved Episode 4 – the folks at Framestore (who write and produce the series) have managed that tricky balance of making it fun for kids and adults alike. It’s just a shame more people aren’t getting to see it..

  • Qudos Animations

    Interesting news. Seems like they are riding off the style of animation that has been dominating UK screens for most of 2012.. Advertisers appear to be going for the very humanistic looking 3D aesthetic this year.. I wrote an article about it – would love your feedback. I might have to revise it to include this example though! http://www.qudos-animations.co.uk/dominate-animation-in-all-dimensions.html

  • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

    You make a great point about the use of 3D animation techniques to convey the human spirit of a theme, without getting bogged down in absolute realism.

    After all, millions of us watched Avatar and soon forgot the characters were animated.

    I suspect we’re entering a period where an animated film can be created more quickly (and cheaply) than traditional film making. The workflow is also clearly more flexible – I heard that Alexander Armstrong popped into the studio to record his audio piece just a ‘few days’ before the episode was broadcast.

  • Gelert

    Will the series continue in light of Lewis’ move to Mercedes next season…?

  • Lazaro

    I think McLareen needs to improve their online marketing efforts. They’re doing a good job with Tooned but it can be better. I can only see each episode on Youtube because I’m located in Panama city, Panama. Now with Checo in the team, this is the opportunity to provide subtitled episodes for the spanish-speaking fans from Mexico to South America.

    • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

      I’ll speak to McLaren before the end of the season about how they’ll approach online in 2013 – they’ve got a good product to connect with audiences, but as you say it needs to be accessible to everyone

  • Sam

    Will Tooned be available on DVD ? As my son is a massive Mclaren fan and loves Tooned