Hanna-Barbera Positioning Document

By Bill Burnett
(Hint: The answer lies somewhere in the question)


A quick refresher course.

Why position?

Positioning is essential to the success of any product. It is especially important when the “product” is entertainment. Properly done, it should serve as the yardstick against which we measure every decision.

Internally, positioning should guide us by helping us answer these questions:

What kind of company are we?
What do we do?
What do we say?
What do we look like?
What do we sound like?
Who is our audience?
What kind of product should we make?
What kind of product should we not make–even if it has value– because it’s simply “not us”?

Externally, positioning should help define us to the world.
What can the public expect from a Hanna-Barbera product?
Why should they even go to see it?
What unique quality do we offer that you can’t get anywhere else?

Why is this position harder than others?

At Hanna-Barbera we’re confronting unique problems, because our positioning must serve as a bridge between our past, our present, and our future. We already hold a place in the minds and hearts of the world. We must maintain what’s good about that current perception, and eliminate what’s bad. We also have to be able to live with what we decide today, and give ourselves room to evolve into the next century.

And whatever we decide on must have the ring of truth.

“Audiences respond when they hear the ring of truth.”
A positioning sage

Hanna-Barbera can’t be the Out-of-Left-Field Cartoon Studio–the Raw Magazine of animation–because our heritage won’t allow it.

We also can’t be the Middle-Of-The-Road Cartoon Studio–the Sears of animation–because we won’t allow it. We demand more. Ten years from now we want to look back on a body of work that cracks us up and knocks our own socks off. That’s why we came to work here.

So…we must position ourselves as something we actually are, and aspire to be something we actually can be.

Time for a look at history….

The history
of Hanna-Barbera
goes something
like this:

We’re Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.

We’re cartoonists.

We knocked around individually for a while. Then we teamed up at MGM and things started really happening for us.

We created Tom & Jerry, a cat and mouse team. They were adversaries, but they were undeniably a team.

We won seven Oscars with our cat and mouse team.

We became the heads of an animation unit at MGM.

We are the only significant directing team in the history of cartoons.

When theatrical cartoons were on death’s door:

We refused to go gently into th-th-th-that’s all folks.

We stuck together and came up with a way to make cartoons viable for TV.

We created a studio: Hanna-Barbera. There were two names on the door. It was a
team effort.

We created a whole string of tremendously successful cartoons. And, guess what? Most of them were teams: Ruff and Reddy; Yogi and Boo Boo; Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy; Fred and Wilma; Fred and Barney; Pebbles and Bamm Bamm …the list goes on and on.

We’re still here thirty years later. We don’t run the company anymore, but we still actively contribute to it, and our team spirit still guides it.

How is Hanna-Barbera’s history different from the other major animation studios?

The first-person plural can not be applied with any credibility to Disney or Warner Bros.
Those studios dealt in loners.

The Existential Loner…with helpers

Walt Disney may have shared the business side of things with his brother, but creatively and promotionally it was always a one man show. And his studio’s work reflects that. Mickey Mouse never had a relationship with Minnie that remotely resembled the heartfelt emotions Fred feels for Wilma and Barney. Donald and his nephews were basically just about shtick. Compare them to Yogi and Boo Boo. After decades of cartoons, none of the basic Disney stable of shorts players has any relationship you could really put your finger on.

And as for the Disney feature film characters…

• Snow White was the benevolent boss of the seven dwarfs–not their friend.
• Bambi was existentially alone in the forest.
• Pinnochio went alone into the world too. Jimminy Cricket was his conscience, not a full blown character.
• Dumbo–same thing: A freak with a minute conscience character telling him what to do.
• Cinderella: Alone with a cruel step-family and a menagerie of subservient helpers.

Only Lady and the Tramp, of all the Disney classics, approaches the we’re-in-this- together feeling that can be found in nearly every Hanna-Barbera cartoon. But even here, most of the film involves Lady confronting a hostile world alone…with helpers. She and the Tramp are opposites, drawn together by circumstance, who form a “happy”, if uneasy, alliance at the end.

Disney Studios has not strayed from this Existential-loner-with-helpers formula.

Something in that formula spoke to Walt Disney. It had the ring of truth. The audience heard the ring of truth and responded. They are still responding today. Disney’s latest films follow their tried and true formula slavishly, and their success speaks for itself.

“Audiences respond when they hear the ring of truth.”
That positioning sage again

The Looney Loner

Warner Bros. built their studio around the Looney Loner. Their characters tended to be unpredictable wackos, rebels and mavericks…like the people who created them.

• Bugs Bunny was Groucho–the third of the Marx Brothers who was always on his own. Fearless, utterly unpredictable, anchored to nothing.

• Daffy was the flip side of the same coin. The two-man shtick Bugs or Daffy got into with Elmer Fudd and their other antagonists went no deeper than the banter between Groucho and Margaret Dumont. It was hilarious, inspired, but not sincere.

• Sylvester and Tweety were not chums deep down, they way Tom & Jerry were.

• Neither were the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. This was just the ultimate chase and gadget gag repeated brilliantly ad infinitum.

The Looney Loner formula had the ring of truth for Leon Schlesinger’s cartoon unit.

The audience heard the ring of truth and responded. And they continue to respond. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies continue to be great crowd pleasers wherever they go.

“Audiences respond when they hear the ring of truth.”
Same sage, one page later

(But it’s interesting to note, if only for the sake of discussion, that, unlike Disney, Warner Bros. has not remained true to its formula. Recently reopened under the wing of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Productions, they’ve dropped the formula of proud, dangerous Looney Loners who might explode at any moment. The neo-Warner characters seen on Animaniacs and Tiny Toons come in groups. They have next-to-no individual identity. And they’re very surface. They declare themselves to be zany from the get-go, and constantly make self-referential comments. The classic Warner stars simply were zany and only occasionally broke the fourth wall. What will be the fate of the neo-Warners cartoons? Time will tell.)

But enough of this pontificating. What can we learn from all this?


We are a team. That’s what separates Hanna-Barbera from the rest of the animation pack. The essential ingredient is the word “we”. The question isn’t “What is Hanna-Barbera?” The question is “Who are we?” Let’s explore this idea further…

We are the descendants of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.

They were a team. We are a team.

They were the rescuers of cartoons. We have set out to be the rescuers of cartoons.

Therefore, here’s what we can legitimately claim…

We are First in TV Cartoons. (And all the other firsts we can think of.)

We are Cartoon Heroes, figuratively and actually.

We are Funny Cartoons.

We are Adventure Cartoons.

We are Classic Cartoons.

We are New Cartoons.

We are Serious About Cartoons.

We are Cartoons

Hanna-Barbera: We Are Cartoons

This is a concept so simple that, at first, it seems stupid. That’s often a good sign.

Hanna-Barbera is cartoons doesn’t mean the same thing.

The Cartoon Company doesn’t mean the same thing.

We Are Cartoons says that there is a “We”–starting with Bill and Joe and evolving into us, today, tomorrow, as far as the eye can see. It says that We Are something definite, and that the something definite is Cartoons. We may do other things–books, movies, dolls, clothes, etc. But our ancillary products always stem from cartoons or take us back to cartoons because we are cartoons.

It bridges our past, present and future.
It provides a guide for how we should see ourselves and what we should do.
It defines our audience to us–kids
It defines us to our audience

And it has the ring of truth.

“Audiences respond when they hear the ring of truth.”
The sage strikes again

Not totally convinced?

Let’s take a look at how the current Hanna-Barbera is taking shape…
What have we done for us lately?

The primary new productions that have emerged recently, or are about to emerge, from Hanna-Barbera

2 Stupid Dogs & Swat Kats–Comedy and adventure cartoon teams

What A Cartoon shorts–48 New productions in the classic funny cartoon mold, many of which feature teams (George & Junior, Powerpuff Girls, Cow & Chicken, etc.)

Jonny Quest–a team that carries on the tradition the adventure cartoon form we invented in the ’60s.

The Jetsons–One of the classic funny cartoon teams.

We are remaining true to our heritage. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera made funny and exciting cartoons featuring teams. We’re making funny and exciting cartoons featuring teams. We should continue to do so.

And what about our parent in Atlanta?

What about our larger corporate profile?

We are a wholly owned subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting.

Which is owned by Ted Turner.

Ted Turner is a team kind of guy. Not that he doesn’t make many autocratic decisions–he does. But look what those decisions have created–a team of networks that, together, form one of the most powerful forces in cable TV.

He purchases properties, not to pillage and lay waste, but to increase the strength of his team.

Ted Turner perceives Hanna-Barbera as a valuable part of his team. That’s one of our major strengths. By being part of the TBS team, we can form alliances, like the one we have formed with the Cartoon Network for “What-A-Cartoon”.

Again, this may seem stupefyingly simple. But compare our situation to, say, David Letterman a year ago. He wasn’t part of the NBC team. GE doesn’t have Ted Turner’s team spirit. And now they don’t have David Letterman. Real team spirit is a rarity.

By the way, Ted Turner also saw fit to buy the Atlanta Braves–a team if ever there was one. And he goes to the games.

How about our audience?

Kids are our audience. Always have been, always will be.
We aim to become kids experts, and provide a world of Hanna-Barbera products for kids.

All of our contact with kids will stem from cartoons.

Kids love cartoons. Kids love teams.


For reasons that remain mysterious, cartoons land squarely on kid psyche. Many adults like cartoons, but virtually all kids eat ’em up.

Teams represent comraderie, family, community.
Teams are warm and cold, in and out, exclusive and inclusive at the same time.
A team is something you can belong to.

You can love Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you can’t belong to him or with him. Same with Pee We Herman, Robocop, Batman–even Bugs Bunny.

But you can belong with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,
You can belong with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the Three Musketeers–or The Flintstones.

Hanna-Barbera: our very name is a team.

Our body of work is full of pairs, groups, teams. If we can plant the idea in the public’s mind that we are the place where their kids find fun and friendship and dependable entertainment, they’ll love us…even when we screw up. Because we’ll be their team.

Ask any Chicago Cubs fan.

But does “We Are Cartoons” do all that?

Is We Are Cartoons a strong enough phrase on its own to put across our team message?

Well, let’s take a look at some alternatives:

The Cartoons People

The Cartoon Team

We Are Your Cartoon Team

Teaming up to make Cartoons

The Team That’s Teeming With Cartoons

Hmmm…Nothing really inspiring.

Let’s take a look at We Are Cartoons in action and see how it fairs…

[Here we displayed a page of different Hanna Barbera Logos with different groupings of characters, all above the slogan We Are Cartoons. BB]

On the preceding page, an interesting interplay takes place.

At the top we see Top Cat alone, above the slogan We Are Cartoons! It feels pretty good. Not pompous or over promising. Fun.

The next level shows Fred and Huck in rectangles flanking an oval of T-Bone. There is an energy here. The two classic characters seem to be looking at the newcomer affectionately. Their approval softens T-Bone, and T-Bone’s attitude heightens the hip-quotient for Fred and Huck.

On the third level, two ovals of Jonny Quest and T-Bone flank two rectangles of Yogi and Top Cat. Here we get a real group energy, and a quick glimpse of the range of our company. Jonny Q’s pose seems to point us left to right. There is a sense of history. The full scope of our company is suddenly being defined.

This mixing and matching of logo shapes, styles characters and eras can go on indefinitely.

WE are cartoons!
we ARE cartoons!
we are CARTOONS!

This statement swings no matter where you put the em-PHA-sis…

WE are cartoons!
We’re that studio in Hollywood.
We are the team who invented the television cartoon and won the hearts of kids around the world.
We are the ones who gave birth to The Flintstones and a host of other timeless characters. We are the raw young talents working on making new cartoons to delight a whole new generation of cartoon lovers.

We ARE cartoons!
Disney is theme parks in California and Florida, and live-action feature films, and a cable channel, and animated features.
Warner Bros. is a wonderful old library and a bunch of “Toons” by Seven Spielberg.
Only one word springs to mind when you think of Hanna-Barbera: cartoons. Cartoons are our very being. We couldn’t give them up if we tried.

When you say it that way you just have to define the word.
Here’s what “cartoons” means to us:

Cartoons are popular

Most of the films that appear in animation festivals are not cartoons, because they
don’t have mainstream appeal. We only want to make cartoons that will appeal to a large audience, made up mostly of kids.

Cartoons are either Funny or Exciting.

Yogi Bear is funny.
Jonny Quest is exciting.
They are both cartoons.

Funny Cartoons are usually short.

Cartoons began as a short artform.Seven minutes is still the cartoon’s optimum length. Many half-hour funny cartoon shows are made up of short segments.

Cartoons depict a world all their own.

Cartoons aren’t exaggerated satires of the real world. They are an unreal world, filled with events that couldn’t possibly happen in reality.
The Flintstones is a half-hour cartoon.
The Simpsons is not a cartoon, it’s an animated sitcom.
What’s the difference?
If Homer Simpson tried to power his car with his feet, he wouldn’t be able to.
Space Ghost is a cartoon because it’s exciting, short, and unrealistic.
Jonny Quest almost isn’t a cartoon, because of its Indiana Jones-like reality. The new Jonny Quest series makes the cartoon cut thanks to the addition of the virtual reality segments, along with the fact that no ordinary boy could ever have the type of adventures that Jonny has.

So, at Hanna-Barbera, a cartoon is a short, unrealistic piece of animation that is funny or exciting and popular.

Anything that does not meet that criteria is not a cartoon.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

Does this mean we can’t do anything except “Cartoons”?

Yes, it does, to this extent: We must not do anything that doesn’t stem from cartoons.

If we publish books they must be based on cartoons, or be about cartoons, or be able to become a cartoon.

The same goes for clothes, games, software, food, theme parks, hotel chains–anything we might someday produce or be involved with. If it doesn’t have cartoons at its root, or ultimately take us back to cartoons, we don’t do it.

Example: If we had been involved with making the live action movie Dumb and Dumber, we could have justified that decision by reasoning that it would be a cartoon-y movie that could eventually become a real cartoon, and that the cartoon might well have a longer life and generate more revenues than the feature. That same reasoning could not be used to justify making, say, “Fried Green Tomatoes”.

So, the conclusion?


It expresses our unique position in the field of animation.

It serves as a guide for what we should do in all areas of our company.

It serves as a bridge between our past, present, and future.

It defines our target audience–kids

It doesn’t limit us.

It will help us fulfill our business objectives: Attract Talent to create Hits to make Money.

It has the ring of truth.

And to quote that positioning sage…

“Audiences respond when they hear the ring of truth.”

Published on May 2, 2007 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://billburnett.wordpress.com/hanna-barbera-positioning-document/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: