Online Graphic Novel Creator Skips Ad Agencies

At first glance, “The Many Worlds of Jonas Moore” seems like a standard Internet media movie. Made for online distribution, it’s a mix of live action and animation and revolves around a self-aware British video game character fighting for his existence in the real world.

But what the creator of “Jonas Moore” hopes it will signal is the start of a new era of advertisers working directly with content creators to place their products in movies through sponsorships.

Howard Webster is the creator of “Jonas Moore” and the publisher of “Factory Magazine,” a U.K.-based entertainment publication. His creation, which he calls a “second-generation graphic novel,” stars Colin Salmon of James Bond and “Resident Evil” movies and is intended to be a mashup of computer-generated images, stock footage, and Salmon’s acting. Material from “The Many Worlds of Jonas Moore” is also being made available for fans to sample and use to create their own graphic novel stories and contemporary political narratives.

To finance “The Many Worlds of Jonas Moore,” Webster decided to eschew the traditional routes of approaching advertisers through media agencies. He instead wrote directly to the CEOs of companies he thought would fit in with his film.

“The way I cut deal is by going straight to global brand directors, and I never cut a deal with a media agency. They don’t understand the digital space at all,” Webster said. “My sense of the online community is that there is a real sense of antagonism to the big people, the massive advertising agencies, and media agencies that are just watching what’s happening online and copying it and taking it to their clients and branding it up and persuading them this is something they should be doing.”

Webster said he sent “hundreds and hundreds of letters” to brand executives about his project and eventually signed on Triumph Motorcycles as a sponsor. As part of the deal, Triumph is listed as the sponsor with placement of its logos. Salmon’s Jonas Moore character also rides a Triumph while wearing the company’s clothing.

“It’s not rocket science. If you’re doing something like ‘Jonas Moore,’ which is a digital James Bond type of film, then the brands are very clear if they fit in with that. McDonald’s isn’t going to fit in with it,” Webster said.

Webster’s approach has its skeptics. Seeking out advertisers based only on their level of compatibility with a creative work limits the available number of advertisers, says Shar VanBoskirk, senior analyst with Forrester Research.

“Generally, I agree that most large media agencies don’t understand the idiosyncrasies of emerging media,” said VanBoskirk. “And I would also agree that product or brand placement in a graphic novel should enhance the experience of the graphic novel, not distract from it.”

But she questions Webster’s direct approach to advertisers and trying to fit placements into the novel.

“Much better to find the companies or products that the consumer wants to see in the graphic novel,” said VanBoskirk. “This is less about getting cool CEOs to buy in or completing the experience Webster wants to create and much more about creating the experience consumers want to have.”

Transportation companies have been more willing to experiment with product placement in on- and offline comics and interactive movies. In addition to Triumph’s placement of its motorcycles within the Jonas Moore films, Jeep, Mazda, BMW, and Pontiac have all had their vehicles placed in comics.

To promote “Jonas Moore,” Webster made previews of the work available online and created several viral videos as potshots at media and ad agencies. The agencies aren’t a necessity in promoting online content, he says.

“What I’d love to see is a million people like me all over the world who have the technology at their disposal to do what we are doing,” Webster said. “Their ideas are going to be a million times better than some suit sitting in Madison Avenue.”

Previews of “The Many Worlds of Jonas Moore” are available now, but the complete work currently has no release date.

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