Recently, I was sitting in my bedroom watching some television. It was a bit warm, summer has begun in full swing, the AC can only do so much. As I continue my experience, a craving sets in. I desire something and that something is ice cream. So for context to help clarify, the series I was watching was the donghua(chinese anime) Mo Dao Zu Shi. If you haven’t seen or heard of it, I would recommend it to most of the general audiences. It has stellar production values backed with superb music and tremendously satisfying fight sequences akin to old martial arts movies. It’s an epic fantasy tale about the past and present of a certain man and how his life intertwined with many others largely affects the world as a whole. I know I’m being vague on purpose, and that is fine, what I’m more interested in today is the ice cream!
There is this scene in two of the earlier episodes during the intermission where an earlier scene is almost re-shot, but with new dialogue and some new animation as well. Instead of the original conversation playing out, the new one is an advertisement for Cornetto Ice Cream. It’s a small, cheeky, and crave inducing 30 seconds. This is also not the only ad to be found within the 15 episodes of this anime. And it really started to get my brain rolling on some interesting topics that I wanted to share today with you folks. So, today I want to talk about advertisements in anime: everything from their implementation, to their value, to how much they made me crave more ice cream. I guess I might be stuck on the wrong point here.
Show me the money!
As this idea sprung into my head to discuss with everyone, there were two major points I wanted to bring up. I feel these are the largest indicators for the topic being so interesting as a whole. The first one being: why would an anime have or need advertisements anyway? That is a pretty fascinating question in its own right isn’t it? Well, I’m sure most people know any animated project is expensive. Everything, from the staff hiring to the animation itself sees money being spent to make the artistic product. In Japan, the money spent on a series can vary depending on how involved the project wants to be and how long they have to make it. This holds true with everything in a Chinese production as well. They have to make a certain amount of content in a finite amount of time. That means money has to be spent to hire the allotted people to make it, on the tools to help them make it, and so many other large and small expenditures. This is where that old and loved term, budget comes into play. Every company only has so much money to spend on a specific production. Normally, this goal is set from the beginning, more than likely, and they have a general idea how much everything will cost. But how do they fund it all to begin with?
Two quite commons ways to make sure the bank roll can take any hit you want to throw at it are past sales and investors. Most anime studios have prior funds acquired from the money grossed from their tv slots, and/or more importantly their physical merchandise sales such as dvd/blu-rays. If you wonder about newer companies, ones that don’t have those past sales, well most times they are past employees of other companies so they either get money invested in them by a parent company, do co-production to stave off costs, or had money saved up to begin with to start fresh. Many things can come into play on the money side, but these guys usually have pretty concrete plans before signing a deal with anyone. However, what I’m more interested in talking about are the investors today.
A common practice world wide are advertisements from investors. It could be the side banner on a website, or commercials on television. It is a very regular practice that helps keep the lights on. They are necessary to helping make the money to stave off costs. It’s the reason when you go on so many sites they ask you to turn off your ad-blocker. While this should be at your own discretion, if you do trust the website maybe keep it in mind in the future to help support their longevity. Otherwise, that’s when you see donations becoming the fail-safe at the end of the road. More importantly though, these deals that are our focus today, television series use very crucially. What you don’t see very often, is something splicing the advertisement into the actual series itself. Usually the place it is being hosted on will do that extra work to help pay for it being there, but what about if the anime used the ads to help itself?
Advertisements in Mo Dao Zu Shi
As I sit here eating copious amounts of ice cream, I’m brought back to a time where I saw pretty chinese anime boys doing the same. Mo Dao Zu Shi has several ads built into the series as a whole. There are a couple of ice cream ones, a consistent end card ad for the manhua app, and a few others sprinkled in as well. The series is well supplied with promotions for various things. At first, I was fairly shocked to see these implemented. It definitely is not the norm by any means. Yet, I never found myself put off, or feeling they were used egregiously. There is a notable factor with how Mo Dao Zu Shi splices in these ads that is well worth lauding the creative team for. They appear when the series won’t be harmed by it.
What I mean by this is pretty simple; Your average story holds light-hearted content, where the viewer is relaxed and nothing really is going to faze them too heavily. Then, you have your serious content where anything detracting from the emotion could be seen as a big red stamp of disapproval by the masses. Mo Dao Zu Shi uses the former of those two to cleverly and expertly weave its promotional content into the series. Only in episodes that aim to have a more slice of life feeling do these ads appear regularly. This brilliant choice really helps cement why I was so pleased with the ads being in the series. Not only were they used sparingly and uniquely, but they were placed into the most appropriate time spaces as well. This is all well and fine, but why on earth does this matter so much? Why am I defending the use of ads in my anime? Why is this ice cream so delicious!?
How I think Advertisements could benefit anime as a whole
If anyone has seen Mo Dao Zu Shi, I would assume they would unanimously agree the series is gorgeously animated. The digital backgrounds are some of the finest to ever come out of the medium. The CGI is woven in smartly to create more dynamic and robust scenes, whether it’s a zombie snapping up uncomfortably, or a combat sequence that is fluid and pulse pounding. This series is a sight to behold, and if you were to ask me how they achieved such top tier quality all around the board, I would tell you several things. Obviously, a super talented team is at the helm, and tons of effort and time went into making the project look so stunning. However, I do think something helped pay a large dividend in that result, the advertisements. I think the promotions linked to the series are at the heart of how they were able to fund it. Similar to how product placement and ads help other mediums like American movies, I think Mo Dao Zu Shi used brand deals to help allocate the money towards this dream project. I feel it allowed them to satisfy many partners, and it bolstered their wallet to find the most talented folk they possibly could. They made an exchange and it handsomely rewarded viewers of this series.
I am making a claim that could be completely off base, or seen as silly, but I want more ads in my anime. Especially if they are as creative and amusing as the ones in this series. I feel most anime look better than ever nowadays, but corners get cut often with all the background details. I want every aspect to blow me away, like anime is capable of doing. You watch a Makoto Shinkai film for the splendor he puts into his works. His digital work is as fine as it comes. He spends a lot of time and a lot of money to make it that way too. To give himself the resources he believes will make his dreams a reality. Money buys resources to create more impressive anime. Advertisements help pay for things with large investments. If series don’t want to put it in like this show did with fun redid scenes, fine, I can live with that. They could just toss it on before the opening sequence or after the ending. They should be given creative liberties to find whatever works best for them. I feel Mo Dao Zu Shi had this respect, and it made the series as a whole not only excel more from a production level, but it created something that made me want to talk about this topic.
Anime is in a boom. A very healthy one at that. I’m so pleased to see so many high level shows coming out all the time. Yet, I feel we can reach even further if we look for outlets to help expand to new horizons. A few ads could help fund to get resources to make a decent looking series look like the stand out of the season. Mo Dao Zu Shi stands out because of the quality of the animation is something abnormal for a television level production. I highly believe the promotions played a role in this outcome, and I welcome them with open arms. Bring on the ads, if it brings me better looking anime and more cravings for ice cream. Because in the end, who doesn’t want to be reminded how much they love ice cream by beautiful fictional men?
Well thank you folks so much for reading! I know this post was a little wordy and industry heavy with discussion, but it was something I found intriguing to bring to the discussion table. What are your thoughts on Mo Dao Zu Shi using ads the way it did? Did you like it, hate it, or forget they even existed?! Are you in favor of my idea for more advertisements in anime, or do you find that idea reprehensible? Tell me somewhere on the internet your thoughts on the topic if you want! I’d love to hear what you have to say. Otherwise, until next time my little wanderers!