In-depth: Brands embrace anime to court the GenZ

Globally, brands are leveraging anime themes, characters, and aesthetics to connect with Gen Z and millennial consumers who are passionate about this art form. Here’s a sneak peek into what’s happening in India

Archana Raj
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Delhi: Embracing the anime fandom in India, most recently, McDonald’s launched a limited-time Savory Chili Sauce, collectibles, manga-themed packaging, and even went on to create an anime-themed restaurant called ‘WcDonald’s’ along with four anime-based ad films. 

Last year, the language app Duolingo and the Netflix of anime, Crunchyroll, partnered to roll out language lessons with iconic phrases from fan-favourite anime shows such as "Naruto" and "Dragon Ball Z".

Companies like Bewakoof and others, including local shops, have started selling anime merchandise t-shirts, and they have achieved significant success.

Banking on insights into the growing popularity of anime in pop culture, globally, brands like Sailor Moon, Jimmy Choo, Pokémon, Converse, and even unexpected sectors such as tourism, education, government, and B2B have shown interest in anime.

The anime fanbase in India is swiftly expanding, drawing parallels to the Japanese concept of "Otaku,” which means individuals who are deeply immersed in anime culture. 

Discussing the growing popularity of anime in India, Tushar Handa, a Culture and Platform Strategist at Publicis Content, observed, "The rapid rise of anime in India can primarily be attributed to the younger generation's fascination with Asian pop culture and the arrival of dedicated content platforms."

The term "anime" originates from "animation" and represents a unique Japanese style of hand-drawn 2D animation. It emerged from Japanese comics, known as manga, and transitioned into film adaptations during the early 1900s.

Sharing the insight that led to the launch of WcDonald’s Siddhesh Khatavkar, Group Creative Director, DDB Mudra, the agency behind McDonald’s WcDonald’s work, said, “The majority of the anime fan base consists of young adults across the country. As McDonald’s, our major customers are college-going students and other young adults as well; hence, we felt it was only right to do something for the fandom.” 

India currently ranks 4th in the global viewership of anime, with a community of 30 million fans and counting. In the future, it is predicted that 60% of the of the global growth of anime will be driven by India.

Khatavkar further said, “Over the years, we noticed the use of knock-off McDonald’s in many popular anime shows. One recurring name we found out was WcDonald’s. With the extreme growth of the anime fan base in India, we decided to pay homage to the fans by cosplaying as WcDonald’s, a name all anime fans are familiar with.”

To tap into India's anime fandom, marketers must grasp the diverse preferences both within the country and the genre's community, adapting strategies accordingly. 

Handa said, "Aligning with anime not only boosts brand love and imagery among core enthusiasts who are often early adopters but also connects brands to influential voices in pop culture. This can amplify their reach and impact across wider circles."

While the opportunity for brands in the anime sector is still emerging, it shouldn't be underestimated. “Anime represents a significant opportunity for brands looking to forge deeper connections, particularly with younger demographics,” he explained. 

Handa added, “Whether it's a tech company or a creator-centric brand, leveraging something like what McDonald's has done with WcDonald’s can drive deep engagement and enhance a brand's image among Gen Z.”

The rise of anime content in India

Crunchyroll, the dedicated platform for anime content, has substantially grown its library in India. 

It connects anime and manga fans across 200+ countries and territories with the content and experiences they love. In addition to free ad-supported and membership premium content, Crunchyroll serves the anime community across events, theatricals, games, consumer products, collectibles, and manga.

Akshat Sahu, Director of Marketing for APAC, Crunchyroll, told BestMediaInfo that although their presence has been in India for several years, they’ve increased their focus on the Indian market recently. 

“In the last two years, we've concentrated on expanding our fan base within the market, and in just the last six months, we've observed a twofold increase in minutes per viewer and a 3.5-fold increase in total watch time,” he added.“

We are also expanding into theatres in India. We recently launched the Demon Slayer movie - Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba -To the Hashira Training- in collaboration with SPE India,” said Sahu.

Meanwhile, anime series found new audiences on streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video. Additionally, broadcasters are localizing anime content, collectively enhancing the anime viewing experience in the country.

Streaming giants like Netflix and Prime Video keep adding to their anime slates. International company KC Global Media Entertainment offers Animax’s content in India on Prime Video. In December 2023, Japan’s streaming service Anime Times also launched in India on Prime Video. Warner Bros. Discovery’s kids broadcast channel Cartoon Network started airing My Hero Academia and other shows and films from the Dragon Ball franchise in 2023. Another Indian kids broadcaster, Sony Yay!, started airing the highly popular anime series Naruto.

Throwing some more light on the growing popularity of anime content, Handa said that late millennials and Gen Z have had greater access to anime compared to previous generations, making it a key passion point among these younger demographics.

Major anime fanatics say that the intricate narratives and unique artistic style of anime are the reasons behind its garnered presence in India. It was noted that a staggering 83% of Indian viewers prefer anime over other forms of animated content.

Reflecting on generational differences in media access, Handa remarked, "While we grew up with cartoons, the newer generations have access to anime, particularly popular series like Dragon Ball and Naruto. These mainstream anime series have significantly influenced the current surge in this genre's popularity."

Noting the significant strides Crunchyroll has made in India, Sahu noted, "Crunchyroll's presence in India has profoundly impacted the local anime fanbase. With an expanding library and strategic initiatives like Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu dubs, we've witnessed an overwhelming response from Indian audiences."

Not limiting itself to just streaming, Crunchyroll Game Vault provides premium members with free access to anime-inspired games, enhancing their viewing experience. It recently launched the retro and Japanese-style role-playing game Bloodline: The Last Royal Vampire in India.

Anime's Influence on modern influencers

Anime resonates with a diverse group of young influencers, from Gen Z creators in the fashion and gaming communities to broader content circles, often making it a focal point of their passion. Handa observed that gamers frequently field questions about their favourite anime from fans, which indicates that the fan base is significantly growing. 

Moreover, numerous influencers are crafting content inspired by anime. One notable example is a young influencer known as Mermaid Scales, who specialises in cosplay, a form of expression deeply embedded within anime culture. 

Anime: not a fleeting fad

Discussing whether the anime trend is a fleeting fad or a lasting phenomenon, Handa stated, “I believe it's here to stay. It's not just a fad. While there may be highs and lows, the influx of more diverse and mainstream anime content suggests it will persist.”

“The excitement around it might seem like hype at times, but the underlying demand for anime will grow organically, and that demand is here to stay, and hence that user base is also here to stay,” he commented.