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Kids Upfront Gets Healthy

As fast-food and cereal/snack marketers reevaluate how to advertise their products in response to intensifying scrutiny by the government regarding children’s health and diet, sales executives for Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and ABC Family/Disney do not believe kids-targeted ad spending will drop off in the upfront this year.

In fact, Jim Perry, Nickelodeon’s senior vp of ad sales, believes the current health-conscious environment will actually cause food marketers to boost spending for healthy food options. “In 2005, I predict the food category will be up,” Perry explained. “Without question, every one of these advertisers is trying to figure out how to do business in this climate.”

Perry pointed out that advertisers like Kraft, which announced last month it would stop promoting certain sugar-rich foods, including Oreos and Kool-Aid, to kids under 11, are coming up with ways to market their other foods to children. Kraft said it would begin advertising healthier foods, including Post Shredded Wheat cereal, Minute Rice brown rice and Triscuit crackers, under the label “Sensible Solutions.”

Kim McQuilken, executive vp of ad sales at Cartoon Network, said that while “it is fair to say that there are more uncertain dynamics at work in this year’s kids market than I’ve seen in the last six or seven years, our clients are working more closely with us than ever to find solutions.”

McQuilken said rather than cut back on their advertising, fast-food companies plan to shift emphasis a little more toward educating customers about eating healthier in addition to selling their healthier products.

“It isn’t that Kraft is pulling out of kids,” said Tricia Wilber, senior vp of ad sales and promotion for ABC Cable Networks Group. “It is what they will be advertising that will be different. From our perspective, we are still trying to figure out what dollars are working, but we feel it will be pretty healthy.”

In the toy category, McQuilken said manufacturers are recognizing that kids’ play patterns are changing. He sees that as an opportunity for his network to work with the manufacturers earlier in the creative process to integrate Cartoon Net shows and characters into the development of new toy lines. Those toys can then be marketed in various ways, including on-air, he added.

Another factor expected to help Cartoon Network in the upfront is its new kids 2-5 block, called Tickle U, which will premiere in August. It will give the network an entry point for advertisers trying to reach parents of kids in that demo for the first time.

Regardless of all the potentially negative market forces, kids upfront spending is expected to equal or slightly increase over last year’s $850 million. “I don’t see it up 10 percent, but I don’t see it down either,” McQuilken said.

Movie studios are expected to drive the market with mass promotions for upcoming theatricals and the ever-growing category of kid-targeted DVD releases, including The Incredibles and SpongeBob The Movie.

As for the health of the toy companies, Mattel is expected to have a healthy advertising budget thanks to a recently announced 33 percent rise in fourth-quarter profits. The sales spike is attributed to Barbie’s recent makeover and the popularity of its American Girl products. MGA Entertainment’s Bratz dolls and Playmates are also in good shape. Hasbro, however, reported softer fourth-quarter earnings.

“Everyone says the toy business is in the you-now-what, but we aren’t seeing it,” Perry said. “It’s not gangbusters, but [scatter] sales are positive.”

The kids nets also plan to go well beyond the traditional electronic and print models of delivering advertisers’ messages to kids and their families this year with new marketing via cell phones and the Internet.

“We want to harness all of our touch points for advertisers,” Perry said. “Whether kids are at home, in school or in the car, our goal is to create a platform that enables our advertisers to be there too.”

 

John Consoli and Megan Larson, Mediaweek. February 21, 2005

Copyright © 2005 VNU eMedia Inc.. All rights reserved.

 

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