The Beano is the longest running weekly children’s comic in the UK, having published issues for the past 81 years, almost to the day. But bringing a kids print comic into the digital age is hardly a straightforward task, which is why publisher DC Thomson has had an increased focus over the past few years on the Beano Studios, and as part of that, the Beano Digital Network.
The Beano Digital Network brings together everything the brand does online for kids, centred around the beano.com website. It encompasses everything from videos to quizzes and games, as well as the interactive comic.
This week, the Media Voices Podcast sat down with the network’s Head of Editorial Lydia Mossahebi to learn more about how they keep the brand fresh for today’s kids online.
Here, we pick out three key strategies that have worked for the Beano’s digital team.
1: REALLY get to know your audience
One of the ongoing challenges of creating content for children, whether that be magazines, videos or books, is getting a sense of what they’re really interested in, as opposed to what their parents or other adults think they’re interested in.
To keep the Beano team up to speed, the publisher relies on a group of trend spotters; a panel of kids that they speak to on a weekly basis over a long period of time.
“We really build relationships with those kids,” Mossahebi explained. “They tell us what they’re watching on YouTube, what’s happening in the playground, what they’re hearing, and what they think about the news as well.”
It was this trend spotting panel that helped the brand get ahead of the Fortnite curve long before other publishers.
“We got the first mention from our trend spotter kids. One of the mentioned they were playing it, and the following week, one of the other kids said, ‘Oh, everyone’s talking about this game’. And we started to get these trickles of mentions.
“So we started looking into it ourselves…and we looked to really understand what it would be that kids would tap into about the game, and why it was blossoming in the way it was.”
Mossahebi says that it was the openness, accessibility and cooperation within Fortnite that seemed to really appeal to the kids, as well as the ability to play with each other. But it was the dances that the gaming experts in the team picked up on as a way to start creating content for kids around the game.
“The dances are really cool because they all reference stuff within pop culture and nostalgia,” Mossahebi said, highlighting that a lot of the kids would be too young to understand where many of these references came from. “So we did an article which was Fortnite dances in real life, explaining where the dances came from and the references.”
“So it’s stuff like Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Scrubs, all these things…and that piece of content is still performing really well for us.”
It was months later that many of the YouTube influencers started picking up on Fortnite, helping catapult it to the height of popularity in early 2018, at which point the beano.com already had a solid stable of content ready and waiting.
This panel of trend spotters are a key part of the Beano Brain – the collective name for all the insight and data pieces the team do to help drive the editorial direction. Data from the quizzes, polls and other behavioural trends on beano.com provide vital insight, as laws limit what browsing data can be collected from under 13’s.
2: Get content in the format they want (yes, that means video!)
Comics have always been popular with pre-teen kids as the balance of pictures and words means that they can see what’s going on without having to read too much. But online, their behaviour is very different, and this is something the online team had to work through when they first started out.
“In the initial stages…we were more focused on writing article content, listicles, heavy in gifs, that kind of thing,” Mossahebi explained. “But we realised that kids in this environment aren’t willing to read that much.”
“They read books all the time and they read for pleasure, but when they’re accessing a digital device, they’re not that interested in it, they haven’t got that attention span.”
Instead, it’s video content that really resonates with their target audience of 6-12 year olds. The Beano Digital Network has a multi-skilled team who produce a great deal of the video content in-house, including presenters, writers and animators.
When it comes to video content, Mossahebi says that they’re currently focusing on movies, gaming, and animals. “We’ve done a lot of comedy sketches, and also we’ve done a lot going out and meeting animals, and interviewing them with a fake news reporter, which has been really fun.”
“We did some videos with stock footage of animals where they animate over it, and they tell jokes. We also do some challenges that are more like the stuff you see on YouTube, as well as video quizzes.”
3: Take a kid-first approach to everything
For a team of adults, watching and creating videos that children will find funny is a challenge few in the industry will have to contend with. Mossahebi’s team have to immerse themselves in the way children think through the Beano Brain insights, and the time they spend with the trend spotting kids, in order to tread the right line with this humour.
“One of our key mottos is that we are always kid-first,” Mossahebi emphasises. “So when we’re looking at content and reviewing the ideas, and I’m reviewing videos, I’m thinking, actually, what would a kid think of this?”
“It takes a while to build up that understanding and knowledge.”
Mossahebi also says that there are some quite surprising lines that are drawn when it comes to things that kids find funny. “We’re known for being a very cheeky brand. But there is a certain level that kids won’t tolerate, but [adults] would probably do so more.”
“So where you can push the boundaries a bit more with certain grown-up brands, we have to be a bit more cautious because kids…are very sensitive to bullying, they don’t like their idols to have the mickey taken out of them too much.
“It’s about making them feel comfortable as well, that the joke’s not on them…it’s those kids of sensitivities that when you start working with kids content and kids comedy, really start to come out, but they take a while to pick up.”
One key factor for the team when it comes to creating content for kids is that they also have to find it funny themselves. “Everything we produce, we love ourselves and find funny ourselves,” emphasised Mossahebi, when asked about her favourite piece of work at the Beano Studios.
“We never want to be patronising kids, or talking down to them, or dumbing down our humour. It’s just that we make it more relatable for them, but we are still rolling around laughing in the office when we make something good.”
But if we’re being honest, watching animals fart is funny regardless of how old you are…
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