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Commentary: (The lack of) Cartoon Promotion


Leonard Maltin, aware of my interest in old-time animation publicity materials, sent along this image (above) from Benjamin Hampton’s 1931 book A History of the Motion Picture.

This picture got me thinking about how, back then, each individual cartoon short was treated as special as a live action feature. Stills, publicity art, posters, sometimes lobby cards and newspaper ads were created for individual cartoon shorts. And all that old promotional material seems fun to me, like the image above.


We’ve come a long way since then.

Today, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel may mount an occasional bus poster or billboard for one of their new series (mainly in New York or L.A. to attract advertisers), but publicity for individual episodes is pretty rare. There are some exceptions to the rule: The Simpsons has always done it; Frederator creates original postcards for each of its shorts. But those are special cases. I guess my point is, promotion of animated TV series, not to mention individual episodes, is practically non existant these days.

It’s just one of the differences between the business then and the business now. And it’s one of the reasons why I prefer the business then.

  • Agreed, they were really writing history with some of those early shorts, each one was a small milestone. By extension they would even change the character at any stage in production. Anyone see Flip the frog? He morphed a little in every episode.

    All that is heresy now.

  • jerry i see your point, but cannot see any major studio promoting and hyping up each individual episode of even the most popular series. of course there are special occasions, and generally CN is good about advertising a new episode of a favorite series. additionally, the means of an audience actually watching the short was extremely limited. a short played at this particular theater, at these particular times, and in front of these particular feature length films. if you missed it or didnt know the short even existed, then you were screwed. today, there’s on-demand, a short or an episode will air multiple times a day on one of several 24-hour (mainly) animation channels, or you can download it off the internet. all of these means allows an audience to watch a short whenever and wherever they please. running a print campaign today for an individual episode would be silly and unnecessary especially considering that in a given year a studio will produce up to 26 22-minute episodes as opposed to a handful of what was yearly produced in the past.

  • Seems like nowadays they leave the promotion to the Merchandising Dept. After all, why bother with billboards that stay in one place when the faces of Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants and Shrek can be everywhere on backpacks, bicycle helmets, t-shirts and sneakers?

    “Follow the money,” indeed.

  • Just wanted to chime in and say that the show I work on, Nick Jr.’s “The Wonder Pets”, has been quite focused on making individual “special” episodes. In April, a special double episode titled “Save The Wonder Pets!” was promoted with four unique spots of original animation (baby animals describing how they would save The WP’s from inside a whale). It was a great series of spots animated by some of our best animators (Chris Conforti, Steve McGuinness and Mike Cocuzza).

  • I’d say that billboard sums up everything that’s bad about the Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network, you have indeed pooted.

  • Maybe the absence of individual episode promotion is an admission that there isn’t anything individual enough about the episodes to promote.

  • Tim, I remember seeing those promos and thinking they were a great thing. My kids quoted them for weeks afterwards, but more importantly, we made sure we watched the episode.

  • Thanks for the Team Frederator Shout-out Jerry!

  • Nic Kramer

    At Disney is doing a promotional poster for the new, upcoming Goofy cartoon (can’t wait).

  • victoria

    If that’s the kind thing you like move to Japan. Where you can bombarded by ads for the lastest manga, and anime.

    I however think the level of advertisment for some things is absurd. Drive down Sunset Blvd, and see wall after wall palstered with the exact same poster covering it entirely. Advertising has become its own form of pollution.

    Seeing a commerical, or maybe word of mouth is enough for me try a new cartoon.


    That CN billboard says it all with regards to the network… Need I say more?

  • Ben

    Everyone be sure to drink the Team Frederator Kool Aid.

  • Ahem. As dismal as SOME of the shows on CN are, I always enjoy Foster’s Home. To me, its the one show that truly understands how to get the most out of the flash animation medium and design of of the show practically bleeds charm. I’m not saying there’s room for improvement but its still a fantastic show. Spesh-ly any episodes with Cheese in them.

  • Its not they can do promotion of stand-alone episodes.

    Its that they cant.

    Im not defending the networks at all, but to place a billboard up for a certain amount of time for a 26 episode series which 13 have been written and several others are in the works as the Networks Agree with Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor, to promote one episode of the 26, in this day, finanacial suicide.

    However, there do need to be promotion of a arc of a season of work- say from september to jan and then another one from feb to may. Since you cant really do that in the Kid Vid/SatAM market today- why not use the net to its advanage? But they dont have the skills to do that and thats where I agree with you. If they promote each episode (like they (viz and the like) did with Inisushia/Naruto and the rest of the anime CN has at the end credits) we wouldnt have many of the promotional problems many of the cable networks has. Even many of 80’s series which you dislike promoted the next episode after the prior episode aired regardless, Japan in great effect does this for every anime aired…

    I call it intellectual lazyness.

  • From the appearances of the closed-eyed trombone player, the pianist’s face and fingers, the worn-out boards in the background and especially the flirty lion, I’d say the Van Beuren promo is a Jim Tyer piece!