Brands employing cartoon characters to enliven products and forge a lifelong consumer relationship is a tried and tested marketing strategy. The character woos the consumer, who associates positive feelings with the product. Think of McDonald’s deploying a range of colourful characters to embed the happy golden arches in impressionable young minds, the ubiquitous cereal boxes cartoon largely responsible for transforming otherwise dry flakes into a much-loved family staple, or Disney’s Mickey Mouse, whose image has given appeal to countless lifeless merchandise.
将卡通形象融入到品牌中，不仅可以让产品更加生动鲜活，同时还能建立长久的客户关系 – 这已是久经验证的营销战略。卡通形象吸引着消费者，让人对产品产生积极感受。就比如说，麦当劳采用了一系列彩色的形象嵌入在黄色的M字母上，给年轻人留下了深刻印象，原本平淡无奇的麦片装在卡通盒子里面之后，反而成了家家户户喜爱的主食；还有迪士尼的米老鼠形象，让数不清的原本毫无生气的产品变得魅力十足。
As brands seek to establish themselves in the immature China marketplace, there are increasing opportunities for characters, and those that create them. UP Studios is one such company capitalizing on the demand. Last month, IHG Intercontinental Hotel Group announced a deal which will see UP Studios’ character BOOMi applied to a family holiday package to appear at all 75 of their Holiday Inn hotels and resorts, in 20 provinces across China. The bear’s image will adorn a welcome pack with children’s storybook and multiple other room features including pillows, slippers and bath curtains, while huge fiberglass statues will be installed across the chain’s locations.
UP Studios’ character BOOMi is to appear at all 75 of their Holiday Inn hotels and resorts. The bear’s image will adorn multiple other room features including duvets, slippers and bath curtains.｜上游动漫的小熊布迷形象将会出现在75家假日酒店与度假村房间的被子，拖鞋与浴帘上。
What’s more, Tencent has signed on as a partner to promote the campaign. In conjunction, the gaming and social network behemoth last month launched an online-to-offline product on their QQ Kids web and mobile platforms, allowing parents to customize a BOOMi storybook with photos of their child, which is then printed and delivered. In striking the deal, UP Studios became the first company to be invited to bring a branded property onto Tencent Kids’ DIY digital platform and marks the largest ever deal of its kind for an independent creative studio.
Trevor Lai & UP Studios | 赖嘉晟&上游动漫
UP Studios is a frontrunner among the scores of companies in China trying to develop, or buy, intellectual property (IP) to supply the demand amongst brands, theme parks, animated feature films, children’s books and games. The creator of BOOMi and an ever-growing world of characters, is company founder, CEO and creative director, Trevor Lai.
Trevor Lai, Founder, CEO & Creative Director, UP Studios｜上游动漫创始人，CEO兼创意总监，赖嘉晟
Engaging and charismatic, Lai is a storyteller, both in his work, and the polished manner in which he presents himself when we meet for lunch in Shanghai. Born to parents with roots in Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Taiwan, and growing up in Vancouver, his passion for storytelling saw him publish his first illustrated book at 17. During university, he worked with British Columbia libraries on a year-long campaign to encourage Chinese kids in Canada to read in English, a project publicly endorsed by one of his heroes, bestselling children’s writer Robert Munsch. After graduation, he joined Identica Branding & Design to learn the marketing business, quickly rising up the ranks and relocating to Shanghai as the Vice President of the company’s Asia headquarters, all the while forging relationships with influential industry figures. That experience led to him becoming original host of ‘Thoughtful China’, a talk show about creative, media and business in China.
我们在上海与赖嘉晟共进午餐聊天，他是一个很会讲故事的人，很吸引人又很有魅力，彬彬有礼。赖嘉晟父母来自杭州和台湾，后移居香港。赖嘉晟在加拿大温哥华市长大。他对讲故事充满热情，17岁时就出版了自己的第一本漫画书。大学期间，他和英属哥伦比亚图书馆合作，鼓励在加拿大的中国儿童读英文书籍，这个项目长达一年，也得到了他的英雄 – 畅销儿童书籍作家Robert Munsch的公开支持。大学毕业后，他加入了迪卡品牌策划咨询公司，并且很快晋升高管。在北任命为公司亚洲总部的副总经理后，赖嘉晟在上海定居下来，并学习市场营销，同时也借此和业界富有影响力的人物打通了人脉。
In 2012, having studied the growth of companies like Disney, Lai founded UP Studios to create original IP for everything from brands, children’s books, animated series and feature films. He explains the straightforward logic behind the decision, “The opportunity here is huge because, compared to the US where you have five or six major studios making IP that has global appeal, in China, no one has emerged as a leader yet.”
UP Studios became the first animation studio to tour Apple’s flagships stores in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, showcasing their BOOMi Camera app that inserts animation of BOOMi and other characters into videos｜上游动漫成为首个在北京，上海与香港的苹果旗舰店中展示他们的布迷动漫相机app的动漫工作室。该app能够将布迷熊的形象置入照片与视频中。
His aims for the company are grand, but simple, “We want to become a leader in creating original IP and entertainment in China, for the world. We want to create characters and stories that inspire multiple generations of families in China and around the world.”
Indeed Lai applies an international approach, both in the content he creates and his management principles. He refers to his 26-person team in Suzhou as a meritocracy in which staff members are encouraged to contribute to creative decision-making and to empower themselves by showing initiative and proactively improving their skills. It’s a culture that sets his company apart from others in China that remain hamstrung by a rigidly vertical structure.
Whereas other studios usually mix original content development with production work for clients, he explains, “We have always been focused on 100% original IP. We don’t do production work for other animation studios, although we are exploring co-development with some interested partners. In most cases, we develop the IP from scratch through to production and marketing, which means we have intimate end-to-end knowledge of the creative and business spectrum.”
Kerry Kangaroo was commissioned by Kerry Properties. The promotion also saw Lai design the world’s first ‘colouring cars’ for Mercedes-Benz SMART｜嘉里袋鼠是专门为嘉里城设计的动画形象。这次宣传中有赖嘉晟为奔驰SMART设计的世界首款‘彩色汽车’。
Lai’s acumen in monetizing content is backed up by an artistic integrity. He believes passion for your creations is the only way to ensure audiences will feel the same way. For him, storytelling and character development must come first. Whilst his company has thrived on the basis of striking commercial deals, he recalls turning down numerous content creation requests and promotion offers from big brands, simply because they weren’t the right fit for his characters. He explains, “One of the keys to success is learning to say “no” to projects that don’t fit your company values or quality benchmark.”
When asked about the challenges he faces, both on a day-to-day basis, and in realising his longer-term goals, he cites a common issue across the creative industries in China, “The most important challenge that any studio faces is finding great talent. We want to keep up the momentum by having more talented artists, writers, animators and programmers in our team.” Finally, he adds that, “as we scale to bigger projects and feature films, finding the right partners who have complementary strengths will be critical.”
Lai signs autographs following his BOOMi short film presentation at the Shanghai Film Museum | 在布迷熊短片的展示后，赖嘉晟在上海电影博物馆为小粉丝签名
Lai gives the keynote presentation at the Tencent Conference｜赖嘉晟在腾讯大会上作主题发言
Trevor’s Tencent Animation Conference Keynote Speech About IP ｜上游CEO赖嘉晟谈儿童市场知识产权
The Characters | 人物角色
Lai’s cast of characters has enjoyed a successful three years since the company’s inception. Here we run down some of the highlights:
UP Studios’ flagship character and star of the recent Holiday Inn and Tencent deals got his first break in 2013, when UP Studios became the first animation studio to tour Apple’s flagships stores in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, showcasing their innovative BOOMi Camera app that inserts animation of BOOMi and other characters into videos. The following year, Link City commissioned 800kg statues of BOOMi and his puppy Bibop to place outside their malls in Suzhou through to 2015. Lai recently presented a BOOMi animated short film at the Shanghai Film Museum, and has announced the character will soon appear in his own animated series.
Commissioned by Kerry Properties, the promotion also saw Lai design the world’s first ‘colouring cars’ for Mercedes-Benz SMART.
UP Studios worked with Hong Kong’s Yew Chung International Schools to create this curious panda Yao Yao, who is featured in books and welcome packs for all new students across the country.
Trevor created Peter Bear for the Peninsula Hotel Group, which opened its flagship Shanghai hotel in 2010, but has been operating hotels in Beverly Hills, New York, and around the world for over 60 years. In addition to writing and illustrating a children’s book and hosting multiple family events each year, Trevor also designed the Peter Bear toy, which has become one of the best-selling gifts at the hotel.
“Love is a universal topic, and I wanted a character that could represent that in an endearing and timeless way”, explains Lai of Piggy, who appeared alongside BOOMi in the Apple store roadshow, and has since become the subject of a major six-figure book deal – the biggest ever US debut deal for a children’s book author in China – with leading US publisher Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Inventor and explorer Tomo is the subject of another multi-book deal, with worldwide publishing rights acquired by a new branch of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, one of the world’s top five kids publishers. The first book in the series, Tomo Explores the World, will launch in October this year. Both Piggy and Tomo properties will be adapted into animated series once production and broadcast partners are established.
Lai recently signed with Gotham Group – the Hollywood agency that represents creators on several of Disney’s kids shows – for all film and television deals outside China, meaning we may soon also see his stories on the big screen.
- Weibo: @TrevorLai赖嘉晟
- Facebook and Instagram: @upstudiosworld