“Mature” stuff isn’t built in to a fandom for talking animal art, but it sure makes everyone hot under the collar – whether they love it, or just giggle about how weird it is. Keep that in mind for the below topics: The Latest Hype – The Weird Factor – Why Marketers Care – “Furry Chic” – and Making Buzz With PR Control.
THE LATEST HYPE – AND FOUR REASONS WHY FURRIES CAN’T WAIT FOR ZOOTOPIA.
Hot discussion. Coinciding with release of the movie’s trailer #3, an article about Zootopia and furry porn got showered with comments at Cartoon Brew. (Reporting like that is why it’s one of the most read animation blogs). It asks:
“To what extent are Zootopia’s filmmakers aware that they are stoking an adult community of fans?… It would appear that they are intentionally attempting to attract an older crowd with mature and titillating content.”
Aggressive marketing is mentioned in this short article. (That goes both ways – watch for an upcoming article about highly anticipated Zootopia furmeets.)
Exceptional anthropomorphism. Storytelling appeal is what’s really making fans like me pant with anticipation. See Zootopia Guide: How Disney’s New Film Builds a Different Kind of World –
“We’ve really never seen animals in the modern world, where humans never existed.”
Provocative art. Reddit furries discuss eye popping animation in the trailers-
- “There’s no denying that they know who they’re marketing to.”
- “Big, beefy, sparkly tigers. They know what they’re doing with stuff like these, and nobody’s gonna tell me otherwise.”
- “And people still claim they’re not marketing to us. ha. ha. ha.”
Those are great reasons for why this movie is making everyone stand to attention. Does it add up to a capital-F “Furry” movie? (With all this hype, we don’t even know if it’s GOOD yet! The marketing is as interesting as the movie so far.)
Intentionally marketing with furries could be very strategic. It could be “winking” at us behind plausible deniability, making an asset and risk at the same time. That’s been a showbiz game forever, and cartoons have had mature jokes since bare ankles were naughty, but there’s something new here too. The 1940’s Golden Age of animation didn’t have a fandom like we do now.
It’s hard to tell how much anyone is really teasing us. Maybe people are just seeing what they want to see. But Disney directors have been fur con guests since the 1990’s, and marketers are well aware of what goes on. It sure would be interesting to get such attention. Let’s look at reasons why this may be happening.
THE WEIRD FACTOR – FURRIES TURN HEADS.
One day in San Francisco, I was taking a train in my fursuit as a fabulous sparkly Husky. I was on the way to my favorite thing – a furmeet at a street fair. There would be hours of high-paws and literal tail-shaking to the music.
“Look, a plushie!” shouted a girl waiting for the train with her friends. “We don’t judge you!” yelled one of the guys. They were all smiles to see me in full regalia. It was the opposite of blending in, and I flaunted it a little. It wasn’t a big deal if they got the meaning wrong.
In public, besides making a spectacle, there’s a certain outsized reputation that turns heads. People giggle and ask questions. If you’re not a member of this group, some things can be hard to get. That makes imaginations run wild. People fill in the blanks with rumors and sensational media influence.
But furmeets are just harmless socializing and creativity. Weird feelings from outsiders are defused by the friendly reality. It makes weirdness fun. It’s in headlines about cons: Furries are “Silicon Valley’s last, best hope at weird” and “modeling eccentricity for a staid tech culture.”
Cons are on a fertile border between Furry and Normal. Their grassroots spirit makes them naturally bloom with growth outside of commercialism. It makes bystanders turn their heads. But marketers might smell money.
Many people deny that companies care about this niche group, because it doesn’t make an audience of real size. My counterpoint is that subculture is tiny, but buzz is mighty. It’s not how many tickets you buy, it’s how many heads you turn.
If marketers want a little piece of that action, it could work like my experience at the train station. And it’s a good time to get on this hype train.
WHY MARKETERS CARE.
Marketers always want to know what’s going to be a trend, and how to get in at the roots. The potential attracts them like plants to the sun.
Reddit: “According to the google search trends, the term “furry” has never had so many searches before.”
Here’s where this leads. Mainstream advertising: “More and more, Furries are being hinted at in marketing media!” Some of it is even Furry-led. Cons in Pittsburgh, PA and San Jose, CA are getting city support to spread attention:
I'm at the airport and I see this. Wtf are you ppl!? pic.twitter.com/IapcZMDdiO
— Arokh74 (@Arokh74)December 23, 2015
Attention comes in different forms. I’d say that Buzz naturally spreads from person to person. Marketing is the effort to intentionally cultivate it, and it brings a reinforcing effect of Hype (or backlash). I think cultivation crosses a line, and I suspect that’s happening here. (Call it a gut feeling from running the most active Furry News blog… and I have, er, a few connections.) Recognition will have lag time, but speculation is high now.
“FURRY CHIC” IN 2016.
We might be in a special era. Call it the Fursplosion of 2016, or the Year of Furry. It was a minor blog topic last year: “Marvel Looking To Capture The Furry Market?“ and now it’s bigger – Disney Prepares to Cash In on the Furry Demographic with “Zootopia”.
On the day of writing this article (1/23/16), a furry-made documentary (‘Fursonas’) got unprecedented recognition. It screened at the Slamdance film festival (“one of the most significant Film festivals in the world”) and instantly sold to a distributor. Here’s their press release. Look for it on Netflix.
— Slamdance (@Slamdance)January 23, 2016
Film critics love eras in movies that say something about society. “Furry Chic” is my way of harkening back (tastefully or not) to 1970’s “Porno Chic”. Those movies had unprecedented mainstream success, coinciding with social revolution and gutsy exploitation for topics that Hollywood wouldn’t touch. That era even made Furry roots with the first X-rated animated movie, Fritz The Cat. It makes it funny when John Lasseter says Zootopia has “Disney’s first ‘nude scene.’”
Furry is already it’s own thing. This is about mainstream notice that could bring more stuff we like.
Stigma can be risky for marketers. See: “How Esurance Lost Its Mascot to the Internet” and Kellogg’s deals with sexy tweeting at Tony the Tiger. Hints and winks help them to stay coy. But after that comes bold recognition. See CollegeHumor making raunchy in your face “fursploitation” parodies – and Casper Mattress making a gentle mention without explaining. It tells me that people in high places now know that they don’t have to define us to get recognition.
That’s not even a hidden wink. See what I mean about their approach?
MAKING BUZZ WITH P.R. CONTROL.
Zootopia might arguably be the most “furry” thing a movie studio has made in decades. You might even suspect they’re not shy with flirting at the mature side (“what do you call a three humped camel? Pregnant.”)
Of course kid’s animated movies have been full of winks for a long time. It’s smart to keep parents entertained with jokes that go over kid’s heads. They’re experts at that.
I got quoted in the news: “patch_ofurr writes ‘don’t ever think a giant corporation doesn’t know EXACTLY what they’re doing…'”
I believe there are clues about them coyly tailoring social outreach for “no direct Furry engagement” while enjoying fan attention. It’s probably in their rulebook. You can get the feeling from what they don’t and WON’T say.
— ✎ S e i R r u f (@SeiRruf)November 10, 2015
Reddit comments (two from others, and two from me:)
The “Community engagement representative” probably told him to pull it because it could be misleading. It doesn’t have to be for negative reasons, their PR department may simply not want the message to be “we made this for the furries!”. Employee interaction with the community tends to be pretty heavily regulated when it comes to media.
This. PR control for big projects like this is MASSIVE. There’s a reason most companies have a Community Manager to act as their pointman. It’s very easy for an employee to unknowingly say something they weren’t supposed to, or imply something that isn’t true. One needs only look at extremely public companies like Riot Games to see where an employee post can be blown out of proportion rather quickly.
If they’re pulling messages at furries, that says something about awareness as much as if they were reaching out to them. See here.
No other movie has needed to explain what “anthropomorphic” means. Putting the word in the trailer is like putting “furry” on a giant neon sign… They probably had a board meeting just about using that word. You might call it a subcultural signifier, like shared slang words, because it has special power even though it’s a dictionary word. Furries love being recognized by each other. Notice from Disney might make them feel extra special. If they’re winking, it’s working.
Whatever this all means, it’s shaping up to make great movie fun with big budget gloss, everything fans love, and likely spawning a new generation of furries. At the same time, I believe that companies will always keep some distance and avoid stuff like sponsoring cons. That could let fandom keep freedom that’s beyond safe and corporate, and let everyone treat mature stuff as no big deal – after all, we’re not hurting anyone. That would be the best of both worlds. Even if it makes disapproval here and there, those who enjoy it will end up with big silly grins all over their faces.