The children’s home video marketplace in recent years has grown to mass-market proportions, in part due to classic packaged-goods brand marketing techniques.
In the kidvid genre, brand recognition is a major influence, whether the brand is defined as the producing entity, a franchise character or a toy line. Brand strength in the marketplace comes from predictability. Strong brand recognition results in repeat purchases and loyalty across generations.
With packaged goods, brand loyalty grows from a consumer’s expectation of finding the exact same product in every box, year after year. Granted, our films are in a box, but the difference is that loyalty to a brand is based upon the expectation that it will consistently deliver unique and diverse programming of consistent quality that parents can trust and kids will enjoy. We’re not selling soap. We are selling fun, entertainment, dreams, adventure and education in our boxes. Brand marketing techniques help move product, but giving the consumer new experiences within the brand’s parameters is what will ultimately bring them back for more. We strive not to create another indistinguishable children’s product in an already crowded marketplace, but to create a Crayola experience that delivers quality and fun and can be trusted every time. And there is a particular responsibility that comes with marketing films to kids.
The challenge is to balance the use of brand marketing techniques against the unique characteristics of entertainment product. In creating brand equity, marketers function as architects developing a strong foundation and sound structural elements on which to build awareness and loyalty. Defining the core value of the brand, the functional and emotional benefits and its positioning in the marketplace is essential.
Getting the tapes into retail is only half the challenge. The more difficult task is to create consumer awareness and demand. Kids are a difficult demo to reach. Videocassette prices have dropped to a point where they are perceived as high value for relatively low cost. Lower profit margins mean less available dollars for the most effective (and expensive) form of advertising: television. Product promotions on 50 million consumer products or on 40 million free-standing inserts (FSIs) in partnership with a consumer-goods company are a very potent tool. They work. But protecting brand integrity while being creative is our greatest challenge. Promotional partners need to be carefully considered. Also, our promotional partners should receive real value from association with our brand and our films.
While we create awareness through national promotions, local promotions drive consumers into their neighborhood video store. Account-specific promotions are extremely effective marketing tools. Retailers know and understand the tastes and purchasing habits of their customer base. They know what has worked in their stores and what hasn’t. Merchandising and compelling promotions motivate purchases.
Promotional opportunities are based on quality programming, and programming is a reflection of demand. As working parents depend more on video as a babysitter, they will depend more and more on brands that they trust to entertain and teach. Stories and concepts that have been important to them and their personal development have a natural attraction. That is why great classics get produced time and time again. The messages are universal and evergreen. New stories that deal in a contemporary manner with the values of sharing, acceptance, self-esteem and learning about new things and people are a popular way to supplement what parents perceive as a deficiency in our educational system. We need to create a forum for dinner table conversation and family interaction.
Kids also influence our programming and marketing decisions. Children today are exposed to more input and noise than at any other time in history. They are more sophisticated. They navigate the media and the Internet, the way I navigated my neighborhood monkey bars. They demand a more integrated approach to entertainment, one that offers more depth, demands more skills and has more tangible rewards.
I see a trend toward products that will extend the experience beyond videotape. We need to provide a service that no other medium can deliver. One such niche is a repeatable experience integrated with other products that enhance and extend the value of the film, right there in the home. Not T-shirts and cookie jars, but books, activity kits, music, learning tools and games that are integrated with the story. Overmerchandising is creating a backlash among parents who feel pushed into buying useless and expensive ancillary products.
Consumer backlash to badly produced, overlicensed films with no redeeming value will naturally narrow the market down to familiar products and brands. In the end, kids will tell us what they want. Understanding and awareness of the dynamics of cultural change and how that influences viewing habits is mandatory. Anticipating trends and, in fact, influencing their development maintains our position on the cutting edge of demand.
We also need to establish brand names on an international level, finding ways to break through cultural barriers, so that entertainment becomes a universal communications tool. The challenge is to ensure that our image is homogenous so we can compete without losing sight of our image and our mission. We need to remain curious and creative and be open to trying new things.
Glenn Ross is senior vice president of Hallmark Home Entertainment, which has recently partnered with Binney & Smith, makers of Crayola products, to develop a line of children’s home videos.