In the beginning, Nickelodeon really didn’t have much of a choice. It was trying to build a brand and prove itself a viable kids channel. As a new niche network with no ratings to support its marketing and ad sales team, it had to develop innovative promotions with brand marketers. So from the start, it had to be unique in its approach to promotions.
As Nickelodeon has grown from new kid on the block to the king of the hill in children’s programming, its promotional strategy do something kids will like and you will benefit from your association with it has made it a model of how to forge successful promotional partnerships between broadcasters and marketers.
‘I think the direction that the smart and more savvy people are going in is, rather than just providing advertisers or brand marketers with added value on networks, the networks, as well as the marketers, are combining together to develop programs that build both brands and bring mutual benefits to both groups,’ says Pamela van der Lee, vice president of ad sales and promotional marketing at Nickelodeon.
Van der Lee views each partnership as a ‘mini-marriage.’ When entering into a contract, account representatives assigned by region work with brand marketers to identify their goals and develop a plan to benefit both parties.
The network runs some 30 to 40 on-air, off-air and special events promotions a year that involve brand marketers such as Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Hardee’s, Toys ‘R’ Us, General Mills, Kellogg’s and McDonald’s Restaurants. While some advertisers are simply satisfied with on-air spots, van der Lee says that those who want to help establish or further a brand identity, or target a specific age group within the kids market, will come to Nick and ask the network to develop a working partnership.
‘In most cases,’ she says, ‘we’re serving as an unofficial sales promotion agency for a lot of our advertisers. They are really looking to us to come up with the ideas. Or, when we are approached with ideas, we’ll use that as a starting point to figure out what they are trying to accomplish and then work in a collaborative effort to develop a promotional program that works better for both of us.’
To foster this working partnership, van der Lee’s staff of about 20 features an interesting mix of individuals. Some have promotion and ad agency backgrounds, while others are former brand marketers. Also, recently created in her division is the position of vice president of consumer products and new business promotion, responsible for pulling together different departments under one promotional umbrella. This helps the network manage the brand from a promotional standpoint and ensure synergy across the group.
Although she can offer evidence proving that the promotional partnerships that work best are those that interest kids most, van der Lee still encounters resistance from brand marketers who are solely interested in pushing their product. ‘There are times when some of the brand marketers cannot see beyond their product and (they feel) that their product should contribute to the bigger idea. I wish that people would embrace risk a little more and embrace new ideas,’ she says.
What they fail to understand, she adds, is that something like giving away stuffed characters on air is not necessarily an innovative brand-building promotion. ‘What this is about is not just getting exposure for the character, but actually building a brand that creates or furthers an emotional connection with the viewer or consumer. That’s what we try to do every time we do a promotion.’
McDonald’s joined with Nickelodeon several years ago to produce several on-air promotions when the fast food giant came looking for an outlet to market to tweens, Nick’s core audience. Two of the most successful are ‘Nickelodeon Slime Time LIVE’ and the ‘Nick or Treat Sweepstakes.’
In the ‘Slime Time LIVE’ promotion, Nick teamed up with McDonald’s and Sega to give kids a chance to win a Nickelodeon party at McDonald’s and appear live on the network to play ‘Slime Time LIVE: U Match U Win’ via videophone. McDonald’s aired 15-second promotional spots and provided a second version of the sweepstakes in-store, offering additional chances to win the grand prize trip to Nickelodeon Studios in Florida, as well as Sega games.
By bringing in Sega, a hot property for kids six to 12, McDonald’s automatically benefitted. The contest now offered both a compelling prize and a higher skewing prize package for older kids.
‘Nick or Treat’ was an interactive Halloween sweepstakes in which kids entered by mail and at participating McDonald’s for a chance to be a finalist on ‘Nick or Treat’ live, during their SNICK programming block. McDonald’s supported the promotion in-store at its McWorld displays, with tagged spots on Nickelodeon. Smaller scale off-air opportunities, such as with Nickelodeon’s magazine, also exist.
One of the most recent success stories was the company’s partnership with Mott’s Apple Sauce. Specially marked packages of Mott’s Single-Serve Apple Sauce contained a mail-in offer for a Nickelodeon’s magazine kids calling card, good for 10 minutes of free calls. On average, Mott’s received requests for 6,000 cards per week during the August through October promotion, reaching a total of more than 75,000 responses.
With expansion into prime-time beginning in the fall and theatrical movies under the Nick banner hitting multiplexes this summer, promotional opportunities exist on all levels. Ultimately, success depends on whether the kids go for it. ‘If it’s a home run for a kid,’ says van der Lee, ‘then it will automatically be a home run for us and the brand marketer just because of the association. It’s automatically going to build the brand because if kids feel it’s a cool thing, they’re going to feel better about the people who helped bring it to them.’