The University of Turin, one of Italy's largest and oldest universities, has proactively offered and promoted communication enhancing services for years now, and especially multimedia-related services. Project Unitoons consists of a series of cartoon spots that promote the University online services and provide useful information for the entire academic community.
Unitoons is produced by staff members of the University Integrated Web Services Department, which manages the University's portal (www.unito.it) and the services connected to it. Over the course of projects foreseeing the direct involvement of users (usability study, website redesign, web surveys) the Web Services Dept. was capable of analysing the needs and expectations of the target audience, and especially those of current and future students from Italy and abroad.
These opportunities for analysis and comparison revealed:
- the need to raise awareness of the online services made available by the University and the opportunities these offer in terms of simplifying access to administrative information and procedures;
- the need to strengthen the feeling of common identity across a University community of im-posing size and regional presence (70,000 registered students, 4,000 plus employees, more than 6,000 research assistants, graduate, postgraduate, scholarship students, and over 120 branches in Piedmont alone);
- Social networking data, and particularly the success enjoyed by the University of Turin Facebook page – which ranks higher than any other University in Italy with over 20,000 fans – also highlighted the efficacy and need to contact students in a manner that is infor-mal, direct, and most of all akin to the language students use every day.
Based on the needs described above, the Web Services Department decided to implement in 2012 a promotional campaign that targets the following areas:
- Service visibility: introduce the University's online services in an informal, playful manner that provides all the necessary information on the institution and its services through a cre-ative, non-conventional formula that matches the linguistic style of its target audience (the students).
- Sustainability: design a communication project that is highly sustainable and reusable over time.
- Identity: facilitate mutual recognition and sense of belonging within the academic com-munity by creating iconic characters/mascots capable of reaching as many users as pos-sible.
- Participation: involve University of Turin students in multimedia content production activities.
- Combine tradition with innovation: integrate the University information system with a campaign capable of exploiting informal communication as an institutional news channel.
The concept behind the characters originates from the idea of bringing to life the two animals on the historic seal of the University of Turin, symbols of the Athenaeum ever since 1615. The spots feature Alma the eagle and Tauro the bull as endearing guides for the world of online student services.
The formula is based on advertainment techniques and therefore uses narrative schemes typical of fiction. Each episode in the series finds students Alma and Tauro facing a new adventure that showcases a different service in each time. Like a typical sitcom, the spots feature the same endearing characters juggling a variety of situations in a set environment to keep the audience coming back for more, while using plain, easy to understand and slightly ironic language to introduce the wide variety of online services offered by the University. Digitally animated characters perfectly fulfil the need to connect with students in the informal manner they prefer, using language they can relate to.
The project Unitoons hence manages to address the topics tied to technology and innovation while keeping tradition alive through the University's historical seal. All episodes use the University of Turin campus environment as their physical setting, and highlight its ties with the territory and the city itself.
The project Unitoons foresees publishing eight episodes at regular intervals during 2012. The three episodes released so far allowed us to start measuring the progress made towards the achievement of the goals referenced in the "Objectives" paragraph above.
The use of a cross-media and social oriented communication formula al-lows multimedia product to be distributed through all of the University's currently available channels (web tv, web radio, social network, You Tube, digital signage, newsletter) and be used as part of live events. Each episode is subject to the activation of a communication plan that defines and coordinates its phases of publication on different channels, to op-timize the use of the available communication tools and reach as many users as possible.
The project's sustainability is ensured by multiple factors:
- Free access: publication on the web and use of multimedia tools ensures all users can readily access the contents. The message conveyed by the spots, which were designed to also take into account the needs of deaf and foreign students, does not rely on spoken dialogue and therefore can be clearly understood without any audio (although English subtitles have been foreseen);
- Production costs: the investment required in terms of hardware and software acquisition are negligible, and the overall production costs are highly sustainable as they basically derive from the human resources involved in the project. An efficient production process and the creation of a library that allows individual drawings or entire animation sequences to be reused, minimise production times and allow a small team to easily manage the entire series;
- Reproducibility: The cartoon series formula allows the project to be replicated over time and be readily adapted for other communication campaigns (orientation, matriculation, etc.)
Over the course of a Web Services Department presentation, representatives and students from each faculty and department of the University were shown one of the series episodes and asked to fill out a survey (UNITOONS_survey.xls) to express their opinion in this regard.
Answers gathered in response to the question “The University of Turin designed a series of cartoon spots to promote the online services of www.unito.it. What do you think of this project?" yielded satisfactory results in terms of communication efficacy as well as congruency of the chosen metaphor.
In March 2012, the statistical analysis of the University's web tv access data revealed that over 4,300 users (since 21/12/2011) viewed the pilot episode (Tanti auguri e tanti servizi) and over 3,700 (since 25/1/2012) returned to see the first episode of the series Un evento da non perdere. The third episode was published on 7/3/2012 Un brutto raffreddore.
The episodes production actively involved several University of Turin schol-arship winners. The 2012 production plan foresees the implementation of a digital animation education project by which students shall gradually be introduced into the production activities for the second series of Unitoons.
Combining tradition with innovation
By taking a universally recognizable symbol of the University (its seal) and bringing it to life within a contemporary context such as the world wide web.