As competition for the kids television audience intensifies, cable networks are expanding their brands to be everywhere kids 2-11 and older train their eyes. From the boxes of Frosted Flakes and McDonald's Happy Meals to CD-rom direct mail campaigns and real time Web pages, the major kids players-Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Fox Family Channel, Disney Channel and others-all have aggressive marketing plans for the new season.
Nickelodeon has long been the proponent of cross-media messaging. Commanding more than 50 percent of the kids 2-11 audience, the network is also the focus of a national magazine, a large online presence, and various licensing deals. Rugrats: The Movie is the most obvious example of Nick taking a successful property like Rugrats the show and turbo charging it.
Blues Clues, which is supported by a live show, continues to be the breakout preschool hit, and it would be difficult to find a home with a 2-year-old that doesn't have a stuffed Blue or any number of his videos.
The network has also developed innovative ways to sign on non-traditional kids advertisers such as Gateway. Just last week Nick signed the first-ever kids automotive deal with Ford, featuring Blue.
"We identify key franchises such as Rugrats and initiative such as Kids Choice Awards and key windows throughout year," says Pam Kaufman, senior vp, promotions marketing, Nickelodeon. She added that Nick is trying to build big relationships with a smaller number of companies.
For example, Nick, in partnership with Kraft, launched a promo campaign called Smell-O-Vision last August. Targeting the opening of the network's new fall season and the back-to-school season for Kraft, the promotion centered on the prime-time launch of Rocket Power. In an effort to bring kids closer to the programming, Nick placed smell cards and 3-D glasses in 100 million packages of Kraft and Blockbuster products and aggressively advertised the special premiere of a "Smell-O-Vision" block of programming.
"We always try to put our audience first and spend a lot of our time coming up with more cool stuff for kids," says Kaufman.
For its recent Snow Day theatrical release, Nick selected a school in Los Angeles and, with imported snow, created a snow day in the land of endless summer.
Rugrats in Paris, for which Nick has signed marketing partners including Burger King, Gateway, Kraft, Mattel, Foot Locker and Toys R Us, will be a critical event for the network, says Kaufman. The movie will introduce new characters that will be featured in a new series and licensing program.
"It's the launching pad for the next phase of Rugrats," says Kaufman.
Ad support for the movie will hit hard in October in advance of the movie's fall premiere.
The network will continue to interact with its audience online via voting and polling and experiment with real time animation, Kaufman said. Jimmy Neutron, Nick's 2001 holiday release, might launch on Internet before the network. The network's brand is also boosted by the monthly Nickelodeon and bi-monhtly Nick Jr. magazines, with a combined circulation of 1.4 million.
Kaufman says the recent push to further diversify the network's programming with more Hispanic focused shows such as Dora The Explorer, Taina and Brothers Garcia will become a marketing priority as well.
But Nick is not the only kid game in town. Cartoon Network, which is spending in the neighborhood of $50 million on just the early stages of revamping its Web site, also has big branding plans for its hottest original characters.
As the network's hottest properties, Power Puff Girls, Johnny Bravo and Toonami will be front-and-center for much of Cartoon's marketing through the spring and summer. Appealing to slightly older girls, Cartoon has created a Power Puff apparel line that has been supported by ads in fashion magazines, ads on MTV and by huge displays in retail outlets such as Target, K-Mart and Toys R Us, as well as boutique store and catalogs. Sales of Power Puff-related merchandise should surpass $100 million in 2000.
"When you have a hip cache' with an older audience, younger kids aspire to that," says Tim Hall, executive vp, the Cartoon Network.
Hand in hand with their fashion statement, the Puff trio has also lent its name to a breast cancer charity snowboarding event in Lake Tahoe and a CD from Rhino Records (Heroes and Villains), featuring a David Byrne and Devo, among others, to be released in July.
Cartoon also will continue to experiment with real-time video-to-Internet applications and online voting.
The network's Cartoon Cartoon Summer Tour, its version of Lallapalooza, will hit 14 cities and feature a giant inflated movie screen showing the network's latest animation. Kids can vote on site and online for their favorite new episodes and at the end of the summer Cartoon will pick a new series based on the ballots collected during the tour.
Both cartoon's Toonami series Intruder and Johnny Bravo will have the first real time television and Internet presences for kids starting this summer.
"As kids access the television they are also accessing the Internet and we're going to be there," says Hill, who was an executive at Hasbro before joining Cartoon.
As for marketing partners, Cartoon is just coming off a large push with Kraft, which supported Cartoon Campaign 2000. Viewers could support toons' presidential bids, with on-package advertising. The network is also working with 20th Century Fox Home Video and Lucas films on a Star Wars promotion on the Toonami block that will send a viewer to the set of the next installment. Cartoon also has big plans for a Scooby Doo event for Halloween and has signed on Mars, Burger King, Pepsi and Frito Lay as marketing partners.
Acknowledging the huge importance that video games have assumed in kids' lives, Hill says that Cartoon, with Bay Area Media, is in the process of developing a Power Puff Girls game for Nintendo's Game Boy and N64 for a fourth quarter release. Other games based on original shows could follow.
"The initial focus will be on the Power Puff Girls, because that's where the heat is," says Hill.
With the kids field as crowded as it is, Fox Family Channel to focus on a niche within the kids segment with music-based programming.
Skewing slightly older and hipper than Nickelodeon's audience, but without the edge of MTV, Fox Family hopes to hit a kids and tween audience with music-based shows such as S Club 7 and The Great Pretenders. "That's where we see ourselves fitting in," says Tom Lucas, senior vp of marketing for Fox Family Channel.
Fox Family recently partnered with Interscope records for a call-in giveaway promotion for S Club 7 single Bring it Back. The eight million callers shut down the toll-free line set up by MCI for the promotion. Lucas said the network has been contacted by other record labels interested in future partnerships.
Angela Anaconda will conduct an on-air sweepstakes, which will have the winner's likeness animated into an episode of the hit show.
Lucas said Fox Family will continue to use Fox's various Internet properties to support the kids brand. "In marketing to kids you have to reflect what they're doing. Kids and tweens' Internet usage is on the rise and we'll make use of that medium" says Lucas. Fox Family will continue to serve audience niches with Saturday programming skewing more female and Sunday shows targeting boys, Lucas said.
Despite being caught in a retransmission consent fracas with Time Warner that could bump the commercial free service in some markets, Disney Channel continues to promote its highly powerful brand. The network is in the middle of a 10-city mall tour with Playhouse Disney, the network's preschool/care givers block, which features a 15-minute live performance from some of its characters.
"It's great to have operators see the connection of 10,000 to 20,000 people and our programming. It's a very powerful message," says Eleo Hensleigh, executive vp. Marketing, Disney/ABC Cable Networks.
Jim Cooper, ADWEEK. April 24, 2000
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