Monday, January 31, 2011

Animated Reviews: Foolish Kingdom

As mentioned in my earlier post, I ordered a t-shirt from Jessica Borutski's Foolish Kingdom website and it arrived in the mail recently. The shirt showed up about a week-and-a-half from the day that I ordered it -- spectacular response time given that they had to print it (if there weren't any lying around in my size) and mail it from Canada. I have learned the hard way that, depending on customs, transit times can vary wildly when shipping between the US and Canada. Even though I live in Michigan, and Ottawa is about a ten-hour drive from my home, I honestly expected the shirt to arrive in three to four weeks.

Me and my bunny shirt.
The t-shirt material and stitching are both sturdy, yet comfortable. And the printing itself is slightly raised. It looks like a much higher quality printing process than the usual screenprinted shirt. Spreadshirt, the printing company that Jessica uses, even included a half-page of 'cleaning and wear' instructions to make my purchase last longer.

From a financial standpoint, given the quality of the manufacturing and the speed of the shipping, this was a good purchase -- and the fact that it has a cute, yet subtly obnoxious cartoon bunny on the front, well, that's icing on the cake for me.

From a marketing standpoint, I think that this shirt doesn't go as far as it could have for an advertising vehicle. Now, the following idea may have been Jessica's original plan and there could have been restrictions which prevented her from doing so with the final product. Or, she may have considered the idea and dismissed it for whatever reasons--financial, logistical, whatever, I'm not privy to her thoughts. So I'd rather discuss the advertising concept here than try to second-guess Jessica. This is just a 'how I would have done it' rather than a critique of what she produced, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

On the one hand, I love how she is offering her animation for free to anyone who wants to watch it and is using it as a marketing tool to drive merchandise and her own personal brand. But I think that she's missing out on an opportunity to use people as walking billboards to advertise her product. The only place where this shirt has printing on it is the front: the bunny with his speech balloon. However, unless you ask me what it means, you'd probably dismiss it as a bunny making a lewd remark (honestly, what do you think of when you see: "F*K" on a shirt). While I love the shirt, it doesn't drive customers to her website where they can get drawn in by her animations (no pun intended), download her free cut-out puppets (more on that later), and purchase her merchandise. I think that her t-shirts would work better as a marketing tool if she printed "" on the back of the shirt or across either the right or left sleeve. That way, people standing behind me could be pointed towards her website.

And I can't claim ownership of that idea either. I've seen website addresses printed on the backs of company t-shirts and embroidered on company oxford shirts for years. Additionally, since opening his own screenprinting business (MichiganShirtWorks), my younger brother Ted has been printing his own logo, website address, and sometimes even contact information on the shirts he designs--in addition to many that he custom prints for customers. As he services mostly Michigan State University clubs and Greek organizations, having his brand and contact information on the back (or sleeve) of shirts is a valuable advertising tool that has enabled him to take a chunk out of the lucrative college student market. Ted routinely gets e-mail and phone calls every month from students and random people who saw one of his shirts, visited his website, and want a quote for their softball team or student organization. So, in my mind at least, this is a proven concept.

We live in a day of smartphones, tablet PCs, and netbooks, where people surf the internet, answer e-mail, and read books while waiting in line at the post office or grocery store. It's easy to envision that someone would see the back of my shirt and load up Jessica's website just out of momentary curiosity. At that point, they get sucked in by the animations, have a good laugh, and decide that they too want to live in the Foolish Kingdom that exists in Jessica's imagination. Just on principle alone, to spread the word of her website, I'm debating the merits of stenciling her website name on the back of my shirt (after I've washed it a couple of times and seen how Spreadshirt's printing holds up to moderate use).

'I like pandas...'  'Me too!'
In addition to her selling merchandise on her website, Jessica is also offering free cut-out puppets that you can print on paper and assemble using nothing more than scissors and a little glue (I used 67-lb cardstock and scotch tape for durability and ease of assembly).

Babysitters and parents take note: even if you don't think that "I Like Pandas" and "The Good Little Bunny with the Big Bad Teeth" are age-appropriate for your kids, Jessica's designs are cute enough that you can print them out for your kids and have a little rainy-day fun with crafts. Add a small shoebox stage and voila! Non-electronic-based entertainment for kids. Gasp!!! Kids using their imagination during playtime...the horror of it all! *grin* Of course, if your kids 'are' old enough, her two films make for nice teaching tools: "don't run with things in your mouth" and "don't be superficial."

Oh, and yes, you 'can' glue the front and the back of the arms together. Since they're going to end up on my television, I'm still looking for the right color lollipops to put in their hands before finishing the models. At the time of this blog post, Jessica only has one of the two pandas, the good little bunny, and the mole on her website, but more are coming soon.

Using Jessica's merchandising model as a foundation, I would take it a step further by offering her two animations for sale at higher resolutions via Tunes or on DVD (hard copy? yes, yes, I know). Vimeo and YouTube may be great vehicles for sharing videos, but there's something about being able to play an animation when not hooked up to the internet that is still appealing. Personally, I love streaming NetFlix videos through my iPhone to the television in my studio, but hate having to swap out cables whenever I want to watch a movie in the living room. Add to that, no one likes to have to wait for a movie to cue up halfway during the film due to Net congestion--hence, DVD and iTunes copies.

Another thing I'd do, assuming she owns the rights to the music, is offer the soundtracks on iTunes, for mp3 download, or on CD. On more than one occasion, I've found myself playing her animation in a web browser, minimizing it to the toolbar, and listening to Lights' uplifting, happy tune, only to restart the animation six minutes later, minimize the browser, and continue working. Both David O'Reilly (Please Say Something) and Annable Graham (Grickle) are experimenting using this distribution model with their own animated properties and soundtracks.

All-in-all, I've mentioned in previous posts how Jessica Borutski is an animator to keep your eye on. But with her current work towards developing a personal brand, Jessica is proving her business savvy as well as her animation and design skills. One can only hope that she starts to generate enough revenue through her merchandise that will allow her the freedom to continue producing independent animations outside of the restrictions that an employer might place upon her imagination. And for the up-and-coming animation student, Jessica's "Foolish Kingdom" model is a great foundation for using your own animations to turn a profit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: After doing a little research, Vimeo appears to be working on extending their videos to mobile devices like my iPhone. However, this is a feature that is only available to Vimeo Plus users who pay a flat yearly fee for advanced services which includes this feature. Recently, Jessica appears to have updated her account as Vimeo is now playing her animation on iDevices. Article has been updated to correct this information. (2/1/11)