Like any upstart channel, Cartoon Network has had its growing pains. In a scramble to gain cable household distribution, it had to be flexible, spontaneous and creative in all aspects of its business.
However, unlike other new upstart channels, Cartoon Network had some built-in advantages. It was backed by the Turner brand name. Turner’s purchase of the Hanna-Barbera library meant it owned a good deal of its programming. Perhaps most importantly, the programming and its recognizable stars were a natural draw for kids and adults alike.
Since its October 1992 debut, Cartoon Network has grown from a blip in the cable world clawing for channel space to an impressive 25 million cable homes. Surveys consistently rate the channel as having one of the most loyal audiences on cable. That loyalty has provided a strong vehicle for advertisers to tap into, according to Craig McAnsh, vice president of marketing for Cartoon Network.
If any network executive should understand how brand marketers are looking to add value to their advertising dollar, it’s McAnsh, who was senior manager of national marketing at McDonald’s Restaurants prior to joining Cartoon Network. McAnsh says that McDonald’s would always seek many different ways beyond normal advertising spending to stretch into people’s lives. Now on the network side, he has discovered the need for other companies that don’t have McDonald’s-like dollars to stretch their media value and come up with something that is bigger.
Although Cartoon Network prides itself on being outrageous and spontaneous, the marketing end of the operation needed to become less so. Since he took over a little over a year ago, departmental initiatives have become more long-range and more in sync with the broadcast selling year. This maturation is part of the natural growth cycle for a new network, McAnsh says. Since a new channel’s immediate need upon launch is distribution, the initial marketing push at Cartoon Network is toward cable operators. Once a certain threshold was reached, focus began to balance out between distribution marketing and advertiser and consumer marketing.
‘The more flexible you are when you are in the early stages, the better off you are,’ he says. ‘There’s an evolution that occurs. What happens is you forge relationships with the companies you want to be partners with long term. It lets them take a chance on you and to go to their clients and media planners and say, ‘We should do this, and here’s why.’ Then when they realize the strength of the network, even just as a general advertiser, it also positions them to say, ‘We’re going to ride Cartoon Network now for the next 10 years because they’re on a roll and we were with them from day one.’ ‘
McAnsh feels the key to making any promotion work is getting the marketing people at Cartoon Network to talk directly to the marketing people at the client, and lay out the idea so the client (or the promotional agency) buys into it. ‘From our perspective,’ says McAnsh, ‘it’s important to reach the client’s marketing and promotion people, but it’s also necessary to reach the media buying department so that the overall concept is understood at all levels.
‘Each department naturally has its own priorities. The media group is, for the most part, interested in the bottom line numbers ‘What type of exposure are we getting? How much are we getting for what we are spending?’ The marketing people are looking at it from the whole promotion ‘We’re getting this much media, and we’re actually fitting in with the right target [audience] and it’s going to be unbelievably successful.’ ‘
cAnsh hopes to build a minimum of four to five major promotions annually. One such example is ‘The Big Fridge.’ Cartoon Network partnered with Crayola to sponsor this drawing contest. Viewers sent in pictures of their favorite network characters and the winners were shown on air on the network’s Big Fridge. All contest promos featured ‘spokestoon’ Quick Draw McGraw, with Crayola markers in his holster. Winners received a Crayola Super Art Desk and big packs of Crayola markers.
‘It was a natural fit. We strive to reinforce the depth and breadth of our characters and we certainly did that. It reinforced that we are a very creative and spontaneous network. And Crayola met their objective of reaching an audience who uses their product. So it worked out well for everyone,’ he says.
Currently, Cartoon has partnered with Geffen Records and Tower Records for a 10-city ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’ planetarium tour that runs through mid-March. Each city will have a tie-in between an alternative music station and Tower stores, as well as ticket giveaways. Space Ghost characters Zorak and Moltar will make live appearances at Tower stores and at the shows. A winner from each market will win a trip to accompany Space Ghost and a Geffen Records band to the March 21 launch of the Space Shuttle. This is Cartoon’s first promotion geared to an older skewing (16 to 24 year old) audience.
McAnsh is also working towards integrating brand marketers into the Cartoon Network site on America OnLine. The site currently gets some 800,000 hits per month. While not wanting to put advertising directly on the site, McAnsh says Cartoon is developing ways to expose products in ways other than advertising, such as creating interactive games featuring brands, or devising downloadable screen savers.
As the network evolves, McAnsh says that his department will continue to create opportunities that meet the goals of brand marketers and agencies. ‘The good thing is that we know what keeps kids interested, excited, happy and interacting with our network,’ he says. ‘That’s what we do best. We also understand that the client and agency people know their product best. So, the big challenge is finding a way to work together so one and one equals three.’