McLaren has launched an animation company. Its first production is called “Tooned” and is a computer-generated image animated series that is designed to create greater engagement with McLaren fans and strengthen the team’s brand loyalty. The series features animated characters based on the two World Champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who did the voice-overs for their own characters, as well as the British actor and comedian Alexander Armstrong, who plays the role of Professor M, who builds the exotic machinery that the two drivers need to be successful in F1. The series debuted on Sky Sports F1 at the British Grand Prix.
McLaren Animation is a joint venture in partnership with the Oscar-winning visual effects and animation studio Framestore. McLaren gave Framestore a brief to create content based on Button and Hamilton. The only stipulations were that the end result must be amusing, must allow for space for additional branding for McLaren’s sponsor-partners, must be adaptable for worldwide territories and must have potential to run on a long-term basis. The scripts were written by Framestore’s own directors Chris Waitt and Henry Trotter, with input from Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley. Once the basic characters had been mapped out, dialogue was added with voice recording sessions, with the directors encouraging Armstrong and the drivers to improvise and spark off one another.
The initial 12 three-minute episodes of “Tooned” uses the camaraderie between Button and Hamilton to create a series of amusing adventures that test the patience of Professor M. It is, if you like, a modern version of the popular Wacky Races, made by Hanna-Barbera in the late 1960s. Amazingly this series consisted of only 17 20-minute programmes, but some of the characters remain enshrined in popular culture, notably Dick Dastardly and his dog Muttley, the Gruesome Twosome, Professor Pat Pending and, of course, Penelope Pitstop and Peter Perfect. Animation is a brilliant way in which to draw kids into motorsport and as the Formula One group is doing nothing to promote the sport, McLaren has taken the lead.
it is a very clever idea because not only does it appeal to a new audience, but it also adds value for McLaren’s sponsor-partners in an engaging way, particularly to the younger audiences, while at the same time getting across the message that McLaren is a high technology company.
The partnership is also considering additional ways of maximising the content’s reach and engagement through multiplatform executions such as racing games and apps. There is also potential for merchandising related to the series.
The remains enormous potential for the sport in the world of animation, as underlined by the success of Disney’s feature Cars, which NASCAR used to great effect. The Formula 1 demographic continues to be well-to-do, well-educated men with disposable income, but they are getting older all the time and, under private equity management the Formula One group has been focussed on generating as much money as possible, rather than investing in the sport. New generations are not flocking to F1. They have many more choices and the sport does nothing to attract youngsters. The perfect age to get kids interested in the sport is when they are pre-schoolers, aged between two to six. It is a time during which they soak up information and develop interests that will stay with them for life. It is the perfect age to deliver messages about road safety, the environment, team-building and the value of competition. The British animated series Roary the Racing does all of these things, but its owner Chapman Entertainment has failed to make the most of the idea and in August last year was put up for sale. There was no buyer, but in the end the company sold 27 percent of its shares to a private equity firm for just $1 million. Attempts to build up the brand since then have not really got off the ground because Target Entertainment, Chapman’s distribution partner, went into administration at the end of February. Chapman’s inventory includes 104 10-minute Roary shows.
Given the vast sums of money being taken out of Formula One by the current owners, buying the Roary franchise would cost next to nothing. It would open the way for new thinking in the business. F1 has the network to market Roary around the world. It could even encourage its broadcasters agree to include epsiodes as part of their TV package. It is a good way to educate new generations of F1 fans and at the same time, if managed well, could create substantial merchandising revenues that could add to the group’s bottom line. Franchises aimed at the pre-school age group that have been successful have have had impressive staying power. The Wizard of Oz, for example, dates back to 1900, Peter Pan and Peter Rabbit to 1902, Winnie the Pooh to 1926 and Mickey Mouse to 1928. Mary Poppins (1934), Thomas the Tank Engine (1946), Kermit the Frog (1955), Paddington Bear (1958) and Barney (1992) are all still popular with each new generation.
The Thomas franchise, which is now owned by Mattel, is reckoned to make around $150m a year in global sales and the company believes that it can grow much more.
To put everything into perspective, the Cars franchise, which began in 2006, has thus far consisted of two movies: Cars and Cars II. Thus far these have made $460 million and $560 million respectively at the box office, but it is worth noting that in that same period the merchandising related to the movies has grossed $2 billion EVERY year.
Formula 1 is thus in its infancy in understanding the power of animated media – and, as usual, McLaren is well ahead of the game.