Hallmark’s Furry Flash Friends

How Hoops & Yoyo evolved from e-card characters to a web sensation.

Meet the Laurel and Hardy of web 2.0: A joccular pink cat with a giant cranium and his bestest pal, a loveable green bunny with massive ears. Mix in a lot of caffeine, a sometimes irreverant sense of humor and the backing of the world’s most recognizable greeting card brand, and you have the web and merchandise super stars known as Hoops & Yoyo.

The sassy 2D duo was created in 2001 by artist and animator Bob Holt, with some very familiar inspiration: A tight deadline. Though he had created a cute, green bunny character, Holt decided to turn him into a pink cat for his e-card assignment. The cat attracted an explosive amount of traffic on the Hallmark site, so Holt kept at it, creating a few more modest toons. ‘The first couple just had music,’ the artist recalls, ‘and eventually I had Mike [Adair] do the voice, and I decided to bring in my green character to add the buddy element.’

Adair, a fellow Hallmark artist, came on board in 2004, and the guys soon discovered that their knack for banter brought the characters to life. ‘We basically wanted to please ourselves and crack ourselves up,’ he confesses, ‘At the time, it was just to get people to come to hallmark.com and it was all free, there weren’t a lot of rules. It started attracting an audience because it was just authentic, and you could sense that.’

Hoops and Yoyo are veritable furry pioneers of new media licensing, having launched a successful merchandise line which in turn has helped fuel their continued animated adventures. Holt explains that after a series of e-cards, Hallmark decided to offer a bouquet with a plush doll of his ‘pink kitty.’ ‘We built the whole site to support the bouquet!’ he explains with an ironic chuckle.

What started as a floral promotion has evolved into a web destination. In addition to e-cards for every occasion, the Hoops & Yoyo site boasts hilarious animations, downloads, behind-the-scenes blog and plenty of fan interaction’very important for two global celebrities! Writer Bev Carlson, who also voices a blue mouse named Piddles, keeps on top of the fan mail. The team has received gifts from all over the world’tea cakes from Russia, a full BBQ kit from Wisconsin’and are amazed at how important their characters have become to people. ‘[Hoops & Yoyo] have been in weddings and involved in proposals,’ Adair marvels, ‘Some guy was buried with our plushes!’

But the twosome says that the most fun they have is creating new adventures for their pink and green alter-egos. The process begins in the recording studio, where Holt and Adair kick off the ad-libbed dialogue with a rough idea’and often end up with something totally unrelated! Most of the animation is handled by Holt, but how does he come up with a look that ranges from real-life photo backgrounds (shot at Hallmark HQ!) to graphic Flash landscapes? Hold deadpans: ‘The look depends on how bored I am and how much time I have.’

Bob Holt & Mike Adair

‘It kind of suits the Internet,’ Adair adds, ‘You’re not tied down to anything and they kind of skip around [between worlds]. And so far we haven’t had any nerds call in to complain about it!’

Whatever their motive, it seems to be working. Hoops & Yoyo now have over 200 animations under their belt, and last year alone logged over 3 million site visits and delivered over 13 million e-cards ‘ adding to the over 50 million e-cards sent in the last five years! The character’s diverse appeal has been a key to their success, and it was nearly accidental.

‘Mike and I always knew that we had something, and it was just a matter of time before it became something bigger. That’s what kept us doing it,’ says Holt. ‘We knew people like it and that we had a core of really good fans ‘ from four- to five-year-olds to 60 year-old women!’

‘People always want to know the demographic, and you go, ‘Well, it’s kind of everybody,’ and they say, ‘No, really, what is it?” Adair quips.

The quick-witted duo keep plenty busy with their cuddly creations, whether trying to crack each other up in the recording booth, thinking up a monthly theme for the site or frolicking in life-sized Hoops and Yoyo costumes (seriously, check the blog). Is there anything left to accomplish? ‘I think if we can be a popsicle, that’s the dream,’ muses Adair, ‘Once we’re on a popsicle, we’ll quit.’

Visit Hoops & Yoyo online at www.hoopsandyoyo.com.