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Moneyversity uses animation to teach finances to Africa’s Millennials

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With the rise of digital marketing, social media and smartphones, animation is becoming a preferred promotional solution in the 21st Century. While the rules have changed, the game has not: brands need quality storytelling. Savvy studios are capitalizing on animation’s ability to make information accessible and entertaining, and few examples are more thorough than Sea Monster’s Moneyversity — a digital financial education platform it created with Toon Boom Harmony for investment and insurance group, Old Mutual.

Sea Monster Entertainment is a 2D animation, gaming, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) studio based in Cape Town, South Africa. It was founded by Glenn Gillis in 2011 and has a 25-strong team consisting mostly of animators, engineers and producers. Specializing in animation for strategic communications and marketing, with an eye on social good, it rises above the motion graphics milieu by crafting narratives that invest in character, performance and storytelling — to create behaviour changes, bottom-line results and hopefully, a better world.

 

“Stories are how people make sense of things. If you want to affect behavioural change at scale in a way that’s nuanced, measurable, and cuts across cultures and literacy levels, you have almost no choice other than to use some form of animation in that message,” says Gillis. “If you still think that adwords and shouting at people are what shifts behaviour, perhaps you’re not ready to have a conversation about how strategic visual communication can actually drive your business goals.”

With past clients including Woolworths, BBC, OpenBox and Takealot, Moneyversity is the project that perhaps best exemplifies Sea Monster’s raison d’être. The client, Old Mutual, was founded in Cape Town in 1845 and has grown into an international investment, savings, insurance and banking group that serves over 19 million customers and manages £394.9 billion in assets. Through Moneyversity, Sea Monster is helping South Africans learn financial literacy and connecting them to the brand, meeting a social and business goal, all while being entertaining. The platform is a synergy of animation and gamification, making it particularly appealing to a rising generation of mobile-savvy African Millennials.  

“Animation is great at telling new narratives, but games are an incredible way to drive engagement and agency. When you can combine those two, you really can do behaviour change and strategic communication,” Gillis explains.

Moneyversity_SeaMonster_ToonBoom2.pngSource: Sea Monster Animation.

Africa is the youngest continent on the planet, with the median age of its 1.2 billion residents around 19 years old. Traditionally, insurance and banking has been inaccessible to many in the region, particularly those without a formal education. Couple that with the notorious density of the industry’s messaging and the 2008 recession, and it had a problem: how was it going to recruit young people to pay so older members could collect?

Old Mutual was spending more money and reaching fewer people. It engaged Sea Monster’s strategic thinking, and the studio managed the process from end-to-end: interviewing people, deciding learning outcomes, business objectives and how to measure success.

While its strategy is exceptional, it is storytelling where Sea Monster truly shines. Using animation and Toon Boom Harmony, it illuminated the opacity of the insurance industry with lightbulb moments.

“We benchmarked Moneyversity against the very best in the world. A lot of it is around the ‘why’, rather than the ‘how’ or ‘what’, and animation is just perfect for that,” says Gillis. “I really get that “A-HA” moment where you realize it’s about present and future orientation — that you need to start thinking about tomorrow today, and you don’t need to scare people into doing that in the way people did.”

Moneyversity_ToonBoom_Harmony.pngSource: Sea Monster Animation.

Mining knowledge from TV production experience, Sea Monster found working with Harmony made creating Moneyversity more efficient and less expensive, scaling production by reducing, reusing and recycling material.

“When it comes to any project larger than five or 10 times two minutes, you can’t beat Toon Boom for efficiency,” says Gillis. “What is true in TV is true in strategic communications; last year, we did about 60 minutes of animation but never worked late or missed a deadline. We are big Toon Boom fans.”

Toon Boom has been supporting Africa's rapidly growing animation industry in other ways; it is a sponsor of Animate Africa, which will be hosting a webinar to connect the continent’s creators on November 4. Other international heavyweights like the Annecy International Animated Film Festival are also investing in African animation, with its pitching competition Animation du Monde focused on raising the profile of projects there.

Moneyversity_ToonBoom_SeaMonster3.pngSource: Sea Monster Animation.

Animation in Africa is experiencing a boom, fuelled not only by its youthful population and technology, but also by a drive for original, regional content from Subscription Video On-Demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Homegrown initiatives like the Discop TV Market and African Animation Network are are also furthering the industry there.

The future is looking bright, both for animation in Africa and Sea Monster. When asked what’s next, Gillis tells us, “We are well-positioned to solve problems like financial education, social inclusion and big business challenges. For example, leadership development and teaching empathy. These soft skills are not easily transferrable at scale.”

“We see a massive opportunity to get into soft skills business training that looks like a TV show with characters you can relate to — that’s what good writers and storytellers do. Now, how do we do that to create the next generation of customer service agents or business leaders? Those are the problems we are most interested in solving.”

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