How Bandai Namco Entertainment America Is Harnessing The Power Of Anime

Anime has grown from a niche hobby, inspired by a Japanese art style, to a global mainstream phenomenon in the past 20 years. Bandai Namco has been on the forefront of that growing interest from around the world with cross-media brands that include manga, animated television shows, toys and video games. According to the Brand Finance Brand Strength Index, Bandai Namco has one of the most recognizable toy brands in the world, second only to Lego.

There are numerous signs of how anime has matured and become mainstream, ranging from Nickelodeon’s Avatar television series to the immense popularity of the Final Fantasy video games. Anime streaming site, Crunchyroll, reported earlier this year that it surpassed one million paid subscribers, generating over $83 million in revenue, with users streaming more than 1.5 billion minutes of video per month. Its per-user average is about 30 minutes per day. But one of the most prominent examples of anime’s influence is the recently released live-action movie, Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson and based on the manga and 1995 animated movie. Ghost in the Shell brought in $19 million this weekend, while Saban’s Power Rangers (which has anime influences) pulled in $65.1 million in the two weeks since it released.

That kind of popularity is what empowered Bandai Namco Entertainment America (BNEA) to launch its Month of Anime campaign in February—a promotion that included almost every facet of the company’s anime brands. With it, digital platforms such as Steam and the PlayStation Store ran sales on games at the same time brick-and-mortar retailers promoted toys and figures featuring Bandai Namco products. The fact that it came together speaks to the immense interest people have in anime and the Bandai Namco brands in particular. The media giant recently doubled down on anime by buying out controlling interest in the Japanese Anime Consortium, which mainly licenses and streams anime programming in both Asia and the West through the Daisuki platform.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4

Dennis Lee, director of brand marketing at BNEA, told [a]listdaily that part of the reason anime has become so popular recently is because “there have been a lot of personas that have grown up liking anime, and they’ve become famous or popular in one way or another. They might have their own YouTube channel, blog or became a UFC star or artist. That has helped anime content become much more mainstream that it was 15 or 20 years ago.”

Stephen Akana, brand manager on the anime team at BNEA, agreed by stating, “Look at Avatar: The Last Airbender or RWBY, which are Western-created content inspired by the Japanese anime style.” The two shared their thoughts about the growth of anime and how Bandai Namco, famous for games such as Dragon Ball Xenoverse, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm, Sword Art Online and many more, has been taking advantage of this growing wave.

What do you think has contributed to the rise of anime’s global popularity?

[Akana]: The access that people have nowadays when it comes to ways that you can consume anime has become a lot more accessible than it was 15 or 20 years ago. Being able to look at different streaming services such as Crunchyroll, Netflix and Hulu, where a lot of people are consuming different forms of entertainment. It’s been a really easy way for people to give anime a try—if the if it’s something they’re not familiar with it—or to get in there with the binge-watching culture.

Bandai Namco is one of the predominant publishers for anime titles in the West. Rather than there being just one node for people to sit back and watch something, people are able to engage with it. They’re able to play the game and live out the adventures of their favorite hero or get into fringe elements like cosplay, artwork and all those other things that inspire people.

What do you think contributes to anime’s mass appeal?

[Akana]: When you think about it, everyone can pretty much look back on their childhood and remember cartoons that they’ve either engaged with or were very special to them. I think there’s an element of nostalgia that comes to people when they see an animation that has been tailored so that it’s not just for children—animation that’s ageless—and I think that Japanese animation has embraced that. It can show all different elements and all different types of narratives through this creative form.

How do people discover new anime titles?

[Lee]: I think there’s a mix of different ways that fans will search for content that they like. A lot of it comes from social media and finding out what other people are enjoying. They’re also looking back at the different types of brands and shows they’ve liked previously as new content comes out and they’re going out and finding those as well.

[Akana]: Before the rise of social media, the connection that you had to niche hobbies were limited to those within your space. The access that people now have to find like minds on social media has expanded the anime culture through word-of-mouth. Now you’re getting mass recommendations from tastemakers in the anime space.

How has BNEA leveraged the popularity of anime to help promote its games?

[Lee]: That’s a multifaceted question, but I think that one of the elements that starts on our side is linking popular anime brands such as Dragon Ball or Naruto—and the characters that were developed for those series—with great content that utilizes the original stories or creates new stories that branch off that content.

That has definitely helped give fans new ways to interact with their favorite anime series and has—through a typical licensing strategy—elevated the brand overall from being just an experience that you watch to an experience that you get to interact with.

[Akana]: With Dragon Ball Xenoverse, it was taking points of nostalgia, bringing up key moments that worked in the series, and going with a “what if” scenario. Let’s turn what people knew on their heads in a way that can still speak to people who know the content, but doesn’t gate anyone out from it. It’s complementary, and people [who don’t know] may want to learn where it all came from. Maybe the access point for them getting into the anime scene is through gaming.

sao-new-boxartHow do you let fans know when a new game is releasing when they’re consuming content digitally and there may not necessarily be commercials?

[Akana]: We use a variety of different ways to do our promotions for our titles. One of the biggest ways is through social media, often through our community team and having them interact with our fans. We’ll also use paid social media placements to reach people on different networks to make sure they are aware of announcements and activities that we have.

[Lee]: We also have multiple channels for communicating with our audience. We recently launched an extension of our corporate Facebook page—Play Anime Games—where we were able to take all of our anime content and collate it through one singular feed so that there is a destination point for people who only want to see the anime arm of what we’re doing. We work on many different products when it comes to games, but we do think that the anime content that we have can reach a wide category. This extra channel has been very helpful.

[Akana]: We’ve also been partnering with the streaming networks. We have a very close relationship with a lot of the partners in the anime industry. Crunchyroll is a company we have close ties to, so we will run a lot of co-promotions with them. Since they have such a loyal and core fan base, we’re partnering to hit anime fans where they’re at.

What contributes more to the popularity of a series such as Sword Art Online? The light novels, the TV show, or the video game series?

[Lee]: I think people become interested in the brands through the original content, which may be the manga or the anime series. With Sword Art Online, people get hooked with the experience by watching the anime and learning about the story, world and characters. Then we, from the video game side, add on to that with an additional experience—new stories and ways to flesh out the characters while adding new characters. The majority of the audience starts with the original content and video games are supplementary to that. But there are instances where the video game expands out to a different audience that the anime series wasn’t reaching on its own.

[Akana]: The first Dragon Ball Xenoverse game released when there wasn’t a lot happening on the anime side. You could almost argue that, with the amount of engagement we had with that game, the general mass audience could name the game before it could name a show. There’s a volley back-and-forth, where the game and anime keep adding to people’s interest and engagement with a brand.

Does the attention movies like Ghost in the Shell get help improve the success of other anime brands?

[Lee]: I think, in a way, it does inadvertently help grow anime overall through exposure to more fans. Similar to how comic book movies have grown the comic book industry, fans of the movies look for other ways to find out more about those characters and franchises. When they go to the comic book stores, they’re exposed to other stories that they could be interested in. The same thing happens with anime.

How did the Month of Anime promotion come together?

[Lee]: Our portfolio has such a varied line-up of anime titles. Many times, it’s not easy to cross-promote these series together, due to different rights holders and artists. But one of the ways we did that was with the Month of Anime promotion that we ran in February. There, we took a look at ways to increase our catalog sales while giving more visibility to our new releases from January and February. We partnered with retail and ran a lot of promotions with our community team while partnering with Funimation, Viz and licensors like Aniplex to put together a cohesive package for our anime titles and merchandise.

Doing that definitely helped give us a significant lift and it generated a lot of interest in anime video games along with the interest in anime overall. It turned out to be very successful for us, the retailers, and the anime industry as a whole.

Month of Anime[Akana]: I think that speaks to how far the anime genre has come. We able to work with these traditional retailers, not just from an IP standpoint, but from a genre standpoint. If we had thought of that five or six years ago, they probably wouldn’t have agreed to do that. Now, the anime genre has become synonymous with the current generation of 18-30-year-olds (millennials)—they consume the content that these brick-and-mortar stores want to promote.

[Lee]: Our partner GameStop had an Anime Day, where they had events in their stores with customers who came in cosplaying. They also had a lot of giveaways, and we gave away Steam codes for full games so that people could try out anime titles. Then there was the sweepstakes that GameStop ran, with a trip to the Anime Expo in Los Angeles as the grand prize. Again, it’s about coming up with fun promotions to help generate interest in anime and partnering with the right consumer-facing retailers to reach a wide audience.

Why Jack In The Box And DoorDash Are Expanding On Their Delivery Deal

Food keeps getting faster with the help of delivery services, and Jack in the Box wants to make sure no craving is left unserved.

Thanks to a partnership with DoorDash, the entire Jack in the Box menu is now available from more than 830 locations across 229 US cities as late at 1 a.m. (and 3 a.m. in select locations). The restaurant’s latest marketing campaign, “If You Crave It, We Serve It,” features Jack, a dedicated crew and the “ultimate crave-crashing vehicle” in the Crave Van.

“We want to bring Jack in the Box customers the best experience possible anytime, anywhere,” Jen Kennedy, director of product marketing at Jack in the Box, told [a]listdaily. “Delivery is a big part of that. With on-demand delivery now a major player in the food service industry, we want to make sure we are keeping up with consumer demands. We are excited to partner with DoorDash for this expansion, and we hope our customers will appreciate the accessibility we’re now able to provide to help crash their cravings.”

Everyone’s had that moment when they turned to someone and said, “You know what I could go for right now . . . ?” #CraveVan answers the call with humor, and food. Jack in the Box utilizes humor in many of its campaigns, although the company wouldn’t elaborate on its target audience.

“Jack in the Box seeks to reach a mosaic of consumers that crosses demographic groups but share a mindset and motivations about what they eat,” Adrienne Ingoldt, director of marketing communications at Jack in the Box, told [a]listdaily. “They celebrate adventure and variety in many aspects of their lives, including their food.

“The humorous campaign reinforces the brand’s new platform by highlighting its reputation for having a menu with unique and unexpected products available around the clock. The campaign incorporates this brand truth—delivering on customers’ cravings no matter what they are and when the craving strikes—into a series of funny situations that show just how far Jack is willing to go to give customers what they want.”

While cravings, in general, may be targeted at anyone who’s hungry, a new spot aimed specifically to gamers will air in select markets April 3. The actual Crave Van may soon be hitting the streets, according to hints made by the restaurant.

Jack in the Box is one of many restaurants taking advantage of the growing food delivery market, expanding its customer base while saving overhead associated with restaurant dining rooms. The NPD Group predicts that off-premise food service will outpace overall restaurant industry traffic growth over the next decade.

“If delivery fits a restaurant operator’s business model and is operationally feasible, now’s the time to consider adding it as an option for customers,” the analyst firm stated alongside its January findings. “It’s one way to stay competitive in a changing foodservice market.”

Polaroid’s President Provides Picture Into Company’s Paradigm Shift

The digital revolution over the last thirty years has forced a pool of brands to revive their business strategies in order to survive. Some brands have strayed, sunk and eventually been swallowed. Others have withstood the waves to stay close to the perimeter by proving a knack for staying nimble.

For rebooted iconic heritage marques like Polaroid, they’ve leveraged their near-century long company cachet, albeit originally an analog one, to piggyback onto the currents of new tech to reinvent their approach to products and marketing. It wasn’t smooth sailing, though. From 2001-to-2009, the privately-held American company filed for bankruptcy twice and went through six CEOs in a four-year span. They’ve since solidified the shaky structure and emerged to be social-savvy by bridging the gap between digital and instant.

With the likes of Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol nowhere to be found in the smartphone and selfie era—artistic expression is now inspired by thumb-stopping influencers and a convoy of social creators bringing branded content for the new generation.

At the start of the year, Polaroid continued its comeback campaign and made more moves as an easy-to-use consumer electronics lifestyle company across categories including instant digital cameras and printers, 3D printers and pens, virtual reality, 4K TVs, home security cameras and mobile phones. The suite of products bank on the brand’s notorious nostalgia while reintroducing them as a curator of innovation who pushes boundaries. The combination of products is a ploy to attract the young Instagram-and-Snapchat-using consumer who prefers simplicity, fun and immediacy.

Platforms like Polaroid Swing, an app that captures one-second snapshots as “living photographs”—think Harry Potter movies—and one that champions photographers, is helping position the brand to broaden their portfolio of products, too.

New product introductions with social use cases are proving to help, and premium point-and-shoot cameras and instant print cameras in the digital imaging market are on the rise, per an October study by the NPD Group, which stated that sales of instant print cameras grew 166 percent, as more than 3.5 million units were sold. Fujifilm is leading the market in instant print camera sales, followed by Polaroid.

Scott W. Hardy, president and CEO of Polaroid since 2009, has largely been responsible for supplying the vision for the brand’s swift turnaround and saved it from toiling to oblivion. Hardy joined [a]listdaily to shed light on the camera company’s preservation and revival.

Scott W. Hardy, president and CEO of Polaroid
Scott W. Hardy, president and CEO of Polaroid

Polaroid has been in business for 80 years. How are you reintroducing the brand to millennials and Gen Z? What is the brand story you want to share?

Over the past few years, the instant photography market has seen a significant amount of growth in the millennial and Gen Z demographic. We like to refer to these demographics as digital natives—people who grew up with digital devices like smartphones and tablets. What Polaroid is doing with our current instant product line is bridging the gap between digital and instant, giving consumers the best of both worlds. For example, our Polaroid Snap instant print camera line allows consumers to capture a digital image and an instant photo. And our Polaroid Zip instant photo printer offers consumers a way to print physical photos of their smartphone pictures. We also offer the Polaroid Swing App which allows Gen Y artists to create moving photos with one easy tap. Today, having both digital files and instant prints is important for this demographic when it comes to social media. We consider Polaroid pictures as the original social network. Polaroid instant photos are really the first instance in history where people were able to capture an image and instantly share it with friends and family, like we do on social media today.

What is Polaroid’s strategy for constantly remaining nimble and revamping for the digital age? How are you leveraging and banking on your globally recognized brand profile to form strategic partnerships?

We view ourselves of curators of innovation and operate in a very fast and flexible partnership model where we can adapt to changing technology trends. Polaroid has a very strong following on social media. This, and the fact that we are one of the most recognized global brands has helped us secure a number of strategic digital partnerships around the world. Additionally, we have a broad demographic appeal that has allowed us to form partnerships with a wide variety of brands. For example, in 2016 we partnered with brands such as Janie and Jack and Etsy in the US, Nescafé and Topshop in Europe and Easy Taxi in Mexico.

Polaroid is increasingly marketing the company’s classic instant camera for the social media era. How is The Pop primed to prep Polaroid for consumer acquisition, all while preserving the classic experience?

The Polaroid Pop is the latest camera in our instant digital line. As I mentioned before, this line was designed to give consumers the best of both worlds. Up until now, all of these products have given users the ability to print two-by-three-inch full color photos with the option of printing with or without the Polaroid Classic Border Logo using something called Zink zero ink technology. We received feedback from consumers looking for the classic Polaroid three-by-four-inch photo with the Polaroid Classic Border Logo. So, for our 80th anniversary, it made sense to launch a camera that satisfies that demand. The Polaroid Pop gives consumers the ability to print photos in the classic Polaroid format using Zink technology. Additionally, the Polaroid Pop is a full digital camera, offering consumers the ability to save 20 megapixel still images and 1080p video to a microSD card, and using the Polaroid print app and Wi-Fi connectivity, print images saved on their smartphone.

Collage of allnew products Polaroid offers including the 3d Pen, Snap Camera, Camera Drone, Smartwatch and Pop Instant Camera

How do you market to people who mostly have never had a genuine Polaroid film experience?

Even if people haven’t had a first-hand experience with instant film photography, with Polaroid being so globally recognized, we’re finding that many consumers are still familiar with brand and what we represent. Instant photography is seeing a resurgence today, and iconic elements like the Polaroid Classic Border Logo allow young consumers who did not grow up with analog film photography to make that connection with the brand, even with our new instant digital products that feature Zink zero ink printing technology, instead of film.

What is the brand looking to accomplish by diving into the drone camera space, as well as 4K TVs with built-in Google Chromecast?

In recent years as we’ve changed our business model from a vertical manufacturing company to a licensing model, we’ve expanded from just a photography brand to a much more diversified consumer electronics brand. As a recognized and trusted global brand, we’ve been able to grow into other consumer product categories, not only thinking about different ways people can capture content, but also new ways people can consume their content. For example, smartphones have become the primary camera for most consumers. We’ve embraced this trend, which has lead us to expand into new categories such as smartphones and mobile photography apps. Most recently, we’ve expanded into emerging technologies that help people capture their world in new ways—like drones—or provide a new way to enjoy content—like TVs with Chromecast built in. It’s our plan to continue to expand our product offering to include the latest technologies that stay true to our brand DNA.

What is the best mix of marketing messaging for incorporating Polaroid “nostalgia” and your intent on being “innovative” and “forward-thinking?”

Throughout our 80-year history, the Polaroid brand has always been about innovation and forward thinking. Bringing innovative and accessible products to market was one of the goals of Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, and this is still an element that is engrained in our brand DNA today. Today we see ourselves as curators of innovation. We are currently working with best-in-class partners to bring products to market. There are other characteristics of the core brand DNA that have been part of the Polaroid legacy for 80 years that we ensure are represent in all our current products. They include sharing, easy-to-use, instant and fun. Additionally, with Polaroid being one of the world’s most recognized brands, iconic Polaroid design elements—such as the Polaroid Pixel, Polaroid Color Spectrum and the Polaroid Classic Border Logo that I mentioned before—help create nostalgic connections with consumers, and are incorporated into many of our current products.

Polaroid has shared the sentiment that influencer marketing has worked wonders for the brand profile. What insights can you share about the impact that collaborating with creators has had on brand equity?

Polaroid has always been synonymous with creative expression. Throughout the brand’s history, we have provided people, from high-profile artists to everyday consumers, with innovative tools that enable creative expression. That tradition is alive and well today, as people from all walks of life are using our products to create, share and express themselves across a broad spectrum of channels and platforms. It’s always exciting to put our products in the hands of creative individuals and see what develops. Doing so with influencers has resulted in some really amazing content, and helped to elevate the profile of the brand and our products.

Which social channels are you most interested in engaging with your audience? Are you looking to test any new emerging platforms?

We have a very active fan base on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook allows us to interact with our fans through promotions, sweepstakes and general community engagement. The photography focus of Instagram makes it a natural fit for Polaroid, and for our fans. There’s a strong Polaroid and instant photography community on the platform. We’ve been able to connect with this community through specific campaigns focused on gathering and sharing user-generated content and engaging with brand evangelists.

How is pairing branded content with social creators helping Polaroid drive sales? How do you further plan on adding and building on top of your influencer marketing strategy this year?

I don’t know that we can necessarily quantify the impact that social creators have had on sales, specifically. I know that putting our products in the hands of creative individuals and letting them show other people what’s possible is inspirational and, ultimately, highly beneficial to the brand overall.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan