How the Beano’s digital transformation is helping the brand reach a new audience

The British children’s comic publisher has undergone a major digital transformation, as it looks to appeal to “underserved” seven to 11 year olds.

The Beano

Many people will fondly remember the Beano growing up, with the tales of Dennis the Menace, Gnasher and Minnie the Minx brought to life in its print magazine every week.

And the magazine has been hugely successful. First published in 1938, its fan club reached 1.25 million members at its peak, and in 2015 it became the world’s longest running weekly comic.

In recent years, however, the brand realised it needed to change to stay competitive, and has been in the throes of a major digital overhaul ever since.

Its publisher DC Thomson decided to launch Beano Studios in 2016 to drive the brand forward, placing Emma Scott at the helm. When Scott took the reins at Beano Studios in 2016, brand awareness stood at 50%. This has since increased to 65%. It also won the digital transformation award at the Masters of Marketing Awards last month.

The brand’s aim is clear; it wants to become a global kids’ entertainment business, based on the “spirit and rebellion” of the Beano. Instead of solely producing a weekly magazine, it is taking a broader view on how it can expand the world of the Beano and work with advertisers.

Kids are massive consumers of media but are predominantly finding media aimed at adults. They are at that golden age when they’re still pretty innocent. Yet their media doesn’t meet their needs.

Emma Scott, Beano Studios

The company started by building the Beano.com website, which has original comedic video content at its heart. The website – or “digital network” as Scott describes it – has making people laugh at its core, unlike the print product which focuses on the individual characters.

“We developed a brand hierarchy, where we looked into what we stand for. This is how we came to our internal strapline that ‘everyone should think more kid’. If everyone did that, the world would be a better place. But we wanted to do everything through a digital lens,” Scott tells Marketing Week.

Targeting ‘under-served’ audiences

The company’s target audience is children aged between seven and 11. Scott believes that despite this group being “massive” consumers of media, they tend to be trapped between platforms such as YouTube and children’s TV.

“I do believe they are under-served. They are massive consumers of media but are predominantly finding media aimed at adults. With YouTube, a lot of the content will be fine but also a lot won’t. They are at that golden age when they’re still pretty innocent. Yet their media doesn’t meet their needs,” she says.

The Beano mainly looks to entertain these young audiences by examining their “stresses and strains”. Donald Trump, for example, features heavily in its videos.

“We are not overtly criticising what he’s doing politically, but we’re making a joke of some of his character traits. The fact he says some preposterous things, children do pick up on that,” she explains.

Changing its approach to marketing

Broadening beyond the magazine also means the Beano has had to change the way it works with advertisers. And having a strong IP network has become central to its plans.

Comic sales, subscriptions and merchandise sold online and offline remain important, but there is a growing focus on getting broadcast commissions and brand sponsorships. It will also be taking its brand out into theatres and public spaces such as libraries as part of an experiential push next year.

“We are really excited about introducing more of our characters through TV commissions. This gives us another springboard to interact with parents and their kids. We have got to develop more IPs, get them on screen and creatively push ourselves further and further. But we also have to focus on digital to grow,” she says.

When asked if there has been any pushback from nostalgic readers, Scott claims the main criticism has come from “middle aged men” who don’t like the new direction the brand is taking. But she insists they are simply not the brand’s primary focus.

“We are here to reimagine the brand for kids now and spark an interest among their parents. But the fact our comedy content also resonates with older audiences bodes well for being able to appeal to both adult and child demographics,” she concludes.

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