In the marketing world, anime is following in the footsteps of gaming

In 2024, marketers need to be paying attention to anime.

For decades, Japanese animation was viewed as a niche interest, the exclusive territory of nerds and basement-dwellers. But over the past few years, anime has hit the mainstream in a big way — and in 2024, brands such as McDonald’s are starting to pay attention.

In the past, anime-based marketing efforts have largely been a focus of brands endemic to the gaming community, which has a strong natural connection to the anime audience. As more non-endemic brands look to take advantage of anime’s entry into the zeitgeist, they might be wise to observe the parallels between the evolution of anime as a marketing channel and the ways brands have learned to better leverage gaming in recent years.

To explore the reasons behind the explosion of anime in 2024, Digiday hosted a Twitter Space featuring leading journalists, marketers and creators in the anime marketing space on April 30. Here are some of the key takeaways.

Click here to listen to a recording of the full Twitter Space discussion. This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Brands are on the cusp of diving further into anime

Kerry Waananen, a veteran esports journalist and marketer, has traced the rise of anime in marketing for years. He joined the Twitter Space discussion to point out the many similarities between brands’ approach to anime in 2024 and their approaches to gaming and esports in the past.

Per Waananen, McDonald’s successful entry into the anime space could encourage more marketers to dive into the medium in the near future. Anime is still considered an experimental area for many brands — more of an innovation spend than fodder for a full budget in its own right — but this is likely to change as more brands get involved. 

“I feel that brands are treating it as they were treating gaming maybe 10 years ago, where they’re dipping their toe in, seeing some success, then coming back to the fat cats upstairs and trying to figure out what their next move is,” Waananen said. “And I think we are sort of waiting for the next shoe to fall. It’s only going to get bigger, and I think that people are going to continue to invest in it.”

Like sports games, sports anime is the first floor for advertisers

One striking similarity between marketers’ use of anime and gaming is that for both, sports content is a relatively easy entry point for advertisers looking to integrate themselves directly into the content itself. 

Sports games are a logical place for brands to advertise to players because they simulate sports arenas in which users are already accustomed to seeing advertisements from major brands. Sports anime shows such as the volleyball-themed “Haikyuu!!” and rugby-based “All Out!!” include similar opportunities for brands to get involved, per discussion participant Harry Field, a video producer and award-nominated anime cosplayer.

“Brands are plastered all over ‘All Out!!;’ Rugby balls are used with specific branding, banners — they had a collaboration,” Field said. “Another one is ‘Yuri on Ice’ — they attached so many different ice skating brands to it. I think we’ve seen it on a few little ones, but we’ve never seen it on the grand scale of things like ‘Naruto,’ ‘One Piece’ or ‘Dragonball Z.’”

Anime benefited from COVID-19 lockdown

Another parallel between anime and gaming is that both forms of entertainment received a significant boost during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Forced to stay inside, some consumers flocked to gaming, while others flocked to anime streaming services such as Crunchyroll, which has grown from 5 million subscribers in 2021 to over 13 million in 2024. 

The rise of nerd culture during the pandemic was not limited to the North American market. It was a worldwide phenomenon, as recounted by Tatiana Tacca, the founder of the anime and gaming brand consultancy Oni Vision, during the Twitter Space.

“A lot of people love to talk about the growth of anime in the west in the last four years, and that is 100 percent spot on. But no one ever talks about the growth of anime in the last four years in Japan,” Tacca said. “I’ve been to Japan so many times, and in my last trip in particular, anime was so prevalent and in your face compared to my first trip there in 2017.”

Andhiya Aditya, a podcaster and photographer who lives in Japan, chimed into the discussion to verify Tacca’s observation. 

“It’s accepted in a normal daily life situation, while previously you actually didn’t talk anime in your daily life, with your coworkers or something like that,” he said. “And that’s really changed.”

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