Early this year, Bubba the cat, the mascot for Cadbury India Ltd’s bubblegum brand Bubbaloo made its comic strip debut—in 13 languages.
Bubba’s adventure appeared in Chandamama, a magazine for the young, and in languages such as Marathi, Tamil, Oriya, Sanskrit and Santhali, which is common in the tribal belts of West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Bubba’s comic strip debut marks a new trend among advertisers—the use of comic books as a medium to target children.
In the absence of other ways to reach out to the young, branded comic book content presents advertisers an attractive option.
Despite the fairly low circulation and readership of comic books in India, more advertisers are hopping on to the bandwagon. Much like other branded content, comic books offer advertisers a chance to become part of a child’s world and, unlike a television programme, this is done unintrusively.
“The intensity of engagement is very high as they (comic books) are an important part of childhood, learning and imagination,” says Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO of Future Brands.
The global market for comics is valued at around $330 million (Rs1,300 crore). Figures for India are not available, but are said to be minuscule compared with other developed markets. However, experts say the potential for growth is significant. They also say that in the absence of other ways to reach out to the young, comic books present advertisers an attractive option.
“In the children’s category, there aren’t very many vehicles for brands to ride on. So, if they (firms) find a medium…they are more than willing to spend (on it),” says L. Subramanyan, CEO of Chandamama India Ltd. The 60-year-old magazine printed by the company sells 375,000 comic books in 13 languages and has branded content relationships with brands such as Cadbury India’s Bubbaloo gum, Parle Products Pvt. Ltd’s Poppins sweets and Parle-G biscuits.
Brands in categories such as stationery, confectionery and biscuits generally choose comic books as a so-called backup medium. “It is an extremely cost-effective medium,” says Pravin Kulkarnii, head-marketing at Parle Products, which sets aside 10% of its print budget for comic books. According to industry estimates, a branded comic strip could cost between Rs1 lakh and Rs1.5 lakh per issue.
Parle Products has tied up with Chandamama to promote the adventures of two friends, Ram and Shyam, who save the day with a little help from their multicoloured confectionery, Poppins. The idea isn’t new; Ram, Shyam and Poppins appeared as comic strip ads on the back page of comics such as Indrajal Comics and Amar Chitra Katha in the 1970s and 1980s.
Advertisers also want to use comics to market brands to adults, either by establishing a presence in comic books that have sprung up in the sliver-thin market for comic books aimed at grown-ups or by enhancing pester power—the ability of children to influence the products bought by their parents.
ACK Media, which owns comic book brands such as Tinkle comics, Amar Chitra Katha and Double Digest, is keen to tie up with brands in categories such as auto and consumer durables. “Children exercise great influence over their parent’s purchase decisions,” says ACK Media CEO Samir Patil.
In the past, ACK Media has produced special limited-edition comic books featuring companies such as Life Insurance Corp. of India, Kirloskar Brothers Ltd and even the National Stock Exchange (NSE). The edition on NSE was commissioned by a stock broker for his clients in the early 1980s.
Virgin Comics Llc., which sells comic books inspired by Indian mythology within and outside the country, is also currently reviewing two offers—from a lifestyle brand and a consumer products company—according to Suresh Seetharaman, president, Virgin Comics.
The trend of brands piggybacking on comic book characters is an established one in developed markets. Brands such as General Motors Corp., Honda Motor Co. and AT&T Inc. have been known to use comic books to promote themselves. And to communicate other messages.
In 2002, Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd, was made the hero of a Japanese manga (comics) that was eagerly read by Japanese salarymen looking for managerial tips (although Nissan itself didn’t commission the book).
In 2007, Marvel Entertainment Inc. produced Hard Choices , a comic book featuring Spider Man and the Fantastic Four saving young people from the consequences of alcohol abuse.