chapter  8
18 Pages

Peppa piggy in the middle of marketers and mashup makers: A netnography of absurd animation onYouTube CatherineWilkinson and Anthony Patterson

Cartoons for kids are confections of colour, candyfloss and talking animals (Well 2009; Shaw 2010). From sentimental classics like Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh, to contemporary characters like The Gruffalo and Shaun the Sheep, these anthropomorphic creations are designed, yes, to sell merchandise and partake in inevitable cross promotions with fast food companies, but also to educate, captivate and entertain young minds.They are carefully produced so that parents feel secure that their child is not being exposed to inappropriate prototypes of conduct (Dill 2009). And although children’s TV programmes often have an undercurrent of humorous violence – where characters run off cliffs and fail to realize that there is nothing under their feet but the long plunge to the ground beneath – they are, for the most part, saccharin and cute, comforting and familiar. The narrative thread tends to focus on simple life lessons that children can easily understand. Despite justified parental reservations that extensive television viewing is bad for children, lest it impinge on their social development and instil in them a ‘lifetime of constant, unthinking consumption’ (Giroux and Pollock 2011: 73), such cartoons are frequently regarded as: ‘wholesome vehicles of amusement, a highly regarded source of fun and joy for children’ (Giroux 2001: 83). Thus, for many years, character-centred cartoons managed to steer relatively

clear of controversy. Like puppets on a string, as the stop-motion type sometimes are, their madcap onscreen antics were easy to contain and control.After all, their animated behaviour existed only in the minds of the cartoonists who invented them. Unlike children’s TV presenters and entertainers who have human foibles, it was impossible for the Teletubbies, Barney and the like, to mar their impeccable images by indulging in unsavoury activities.They could always be relied upon not to utter expletives, take drugs or get arrested for indecent exposure. Behind the

scene frolics there were none. Each was an idealized paragon of computeranimated predictability, incapable of venturing outside the established parameters of their character’s permissible behaviour. This old business model would prevail for animation firms while their brand

mascots featured only in the broadcast mediums of film and TV (Callcott and Lee 1995). Of course, the rise of ‘communications anarchy’ unleashed by the Internet changed everything (Earl and Waddington 2012). In particular, Web 2.0 technologies, according to the rhetoric at least, render an ‘architecture of participation’ (O’Reilly 2007: 22) that has led to consumer empowerment on a level previously unimaginable (Constantinides 2008; Kucuk 2009).While we are not so sure that everyone fancies themselves as a hermaphrodite prosumer – one that consumes and produces – it does seem that they increasingly consider themselves to be brand co-owners, rather than passive recipients of company-created brand messages (Cova andWhite 2010).As foreseen by Boutié (1997), and reiterated by recent scholarship,Web 2.0 permits the unregulated representation of a brand by any consumer in whatever manner they see fit (Badot and Cova 2008; Campbell et al. 2011; Greenberg 2010).This is due partly, as Fisher and Smith (2011) note, to the widespread availability of artistic and editing tools that enable consumers to alter a brand image in any way they please. Playing with these tools and uploading the results, provides an opportunity for creators not only to manipulate the intended message, but also to potentially harm the reputation of that brand (Berthon et al. 2008). This new breed of consumers make mashups which, in essence, are

combinations of disparate bits of digital video, audio, text and graphics refashioned into something new (Sonvilla-Weiss 2010;Warren 2010). Booth and Matic (2011: 185) describe such people as storytellers who, regardless of their angle or agenda, become unofficial representatives of each brand with which they engage.Tellingly, Pace (2008) asserts thatYouTube is the destination of choice where such tales are increasingly told. In particular, he notes that the editing of popular television characters into innovative episodes is a mushrooming trend. These amateur productions present parodies, ranging from playful imitations through to clear intentions to criticize a brand (Willett 2008). So, in the context of this chapter, if your digital storytelling juices start to flow and you fancy making a video of Barbie in an uncompromising position with Ken, or even yourself, then go right ahead. If you would like, as amateur dabblers already have, to animate a scene where Marge Simpson gives fellatio to Peter Griffin, or where theWile E. Coyote finally catches and kills the Road Runner, then there is little to stop you (except perhaps an injunction from the copyright holder).YouTube awaits your contribution to the 100 hours of content it receives every minute of every day (Sonvilla-Weiss 2010). Such is the era in which we now live. Naturally, this situation is disquieting for animation firms whose brand mascots

have potentially become as erratic and volatile as their human counterparts.They have little desire to see their beloved creations mocked, vilified and dragged through the proverbial mud by consumer critics.At the same time, they are equally

fearful of YouTube tributes crafted by creators of ‘fan fiction’ whose intentions, although benign, are likely to be off message. For as Shalit (2000) points out, brand managers and presumably animation firms have guidelines that specify the personality traits a spokes-character must display, the hand gestures it should make, the clothing it must wear, and the activities it can undertake. Any alteration to these, they warn, can change perceptions of the brand mascot. Matters are not helped when headlines harp on about the dangers of losing control of one’s brand; and exasperate about the need for marketers to regain their brand management rights (e.g. Kumar et al. 2009;Rice 2010;Verhoef et al. 2013).And yet despite these dire warnings, two questions that have never been fully answered, empirically at least, are (1) how damaging to the original brand are the production of these often scandalous, salacious and frequently silly remakes, remixes and mashups? and (2) what is it that motivates consumers to tell these stories in the first place? Determining the latter is important in light of Berthon et al.’s (2008) point that to achieve greater sense of control online,marketers must first understand what drives people to produce online content. Additionally, this chapter seeks to make a meaningful contribution to the burgeoning consumer generated media (CGM) literature by providing evidence of the impact of controversialYouTube mashups, an extension of CGM which despite their popularity have, as yet, featured little in scholarly marketing research. In fact, this study is one of the first to investigate the impact of CGM on a celebrity brand mascot, also sometimes described in the literature as a spokes-character. To explore these issues we will consider one such popular children’s cartoon

character, Peppa Pig.While plainly fond of a bit of mud herself, she has been well and truly dragged through it by content-creating animators of absurdity on YouTube.They have made – and are still making – mucky mashups of her in all kinds of parodic scenarios. You can witness her dance Gangnam Style, do the Harlem Shake or try her hand as a nightclub disc jockey. More darkly, you can listen to explicit voiceovers of various episodes, observe her kill herself and others, and if you are into scatological humour, well there are Peppa Pig videos available for you too.The bizarre scenarios available to view are seemingly endless. By way of netnographic analysis we will spend some time with those who have dared to meddle with Peppa Pig’s squiggly tales. As well as teasing out the motives of mashup creators, we interview Peppa Pig licensing officials and conduct online video elicitation interviews with Peppa Pig consumers.We begin by presenting a brief history of Peppa Pig, and follow with a deeper elucidation of our methodological approach.