Scott Nash’s first reaction when executives from ABC Television Network said they were looking for a Saturday morning identity package that would appeal to kids from two to 11 years old was ‘impossible.’
‘I said it’s impossible to find something that resonates with all those kids in those age groups,’ recalls the creative director and partner of Watertown, Massachusetts-based Big Blue Dot.
Nash and his associates at his kids-specialist broadcast and print design firm started throwing around ideas, trying to find a common denominator that would link pre-schoolers to tweens. At one point, they discussed a concept built around food.
Then, during a trip to a shopping mall, Nash walked into a pet store.
‘I said, ‘This is it.’ When you go into a pet store, you see all kinds of kids relating to pets, and each in their own way. You have pre-schoolers, who are open with their emotions, and you have teens who are working on their attitudes. They all react to pets. And they are drawn to all sorts of animals-kittens, frogs, birds-that are all over the store in different cages. That was the seed of the idea.’
Big Blue Dot came back to ABC with pencil drawings of a concept that incorporated live-action footage of animals-we see clusters of canaries, frogs, kittens, puppies, mice, ducks, piglets and monkeys-who appear in a room that has a TV set tuned in to ABC. The live action was intended partly to separate the station identification and promos from the cartoon programming that they are promoting, as well to give ABC a distinctive look.
‘ Also, it creates a second sense of reality between the viewer and the rest of the programming,’ describes Nash.
‘The key is in the identification [that kids will have] with the animals, the silliness of it,’ says Nash.
The somewhat choreographed motions of the animals create little subplots on the screen that young viewers can look for every time the scenes appear, says Nash, who credits commercial director Chuck Statler of Minneapolis-based Jigsaw Pictures with being able to bring the concept to life. Tom Pomposello, who worked with Nash on the big ‘doo-op’ music sound for Nickelodeon, handled the music production.
At some point during the arduous production schedule-Big Blue Dot completed the project in about six weeks, which is well below half the normal time for a job this size-someone said in a meeting, ‘We should call this the Animal Broadcasting Company.’
‘And everyone laughed,’ recalls Nash. ‘Then [ABC executive vice president of marketing] Alan Cohen said, ‘Let’s call it that.’ And it just got adopted.
‘When it’s kids, you can do that. Kids accept that kind of thing. They love the idea of changing a name.’
Barry Goodman, vice president executive producer for ABC, says the marketing brief given to Big Blue Dot was to take a day part and create a branded environment around it and make a distinctive statement to the target audience: kids.
‘The trick is that we have programming that appeals to kids two to 11 years old. We wanted a concept that would appeal to all those age groups-the Winnie The Pooh audience through to Bone Chillers and Gargoyles [viewers].’
Goodman says the message in the spots is that animals will be taking over the network for the morning.
‘That’s why it starts in a room and we see things like cat’s ears for windows. It makes the rooms seem like they are a kids’ place and the animals’ place as well. It gives the branding a sense of place for kids and a clearly identifiable environment for ABC. We wanted to stand out and do something different,’ says Goodman.
‘Now we have something we can work on. Once it’s established, we can build it. We can play with voice-overs eventually. We can develop the fun element. For instance, we could say things like, ‘A place that ‘quacks’ you up.’ ‘
The idea of creating an animal room is meant to convey to kids that the animals are watching along with them.
But, says Goodman, ‘we’re doing it with a wink, which is meant to suggest that the kids are in on the joke, along with us. It’s intended to make kids feel like they’re having fun-along with this-and that they’re going to want to come back.
‘All kids love animals and all kids have pets. That’s why we chose a mix of farm animals and household animals. We wanted to make sure that the animals are having fun and that they are animals that kids could identify with. And the environment is one that they feel comfortable in as well,’ says Goodman.
‘We kept away from animals, like tigers, that might seem frightening. We wanted to make sure that even the perspective and size of the animals was real and not threatening.’
Industry colleagues might have considered Nash daring to have even proposed the concept. ‘Everyone says never work with animals and kids because they’re both so unpredictable,’ says Nash.
‘I work on what I describe as informed intuition. It was a fluke that I ended up in a pet store. But you start with a thesis, a theory that suggests this [idea] might work. Then you test it and see if the theory is borne out.’