When promoting television programming to children, industry marketing executives often feel they need to attract young viewers by employing the attention-getting tactics of a circus ringmaster.
But for Pittard Sullivan, a Los Angeles-based design company, developing youth-targeted branding packages requires the delicate steps of a tightrope walker.
‘There’s a very fine line you have to walk between offering parents what they want their kids to see as opposed to what their kids really want to watch,’ says Ed Sullivan, president and co-founder of Pittard Sullivan. ‘Our success has come from respecting this line and creating concepts and designs that do both.’
Sullivan and his business partner Billy Pittard created the company in 1987. In 10 short years, Pittard Sullivan has grown into a multimillion-dollar operation, with a staff of 120 employees and additional offices in New York, Munich and Hong Kong. Its client list has included virtually every major motion-picture studio and television network around the globe.
The company recently used some fancy footwork when it developed an on-air graphic design identity package for the Discovery Kids Channel in Latin America. The network wanted to entertain its audience without appearing informative. But parents also had to be able to pick up on the channel’s educational value.
Pittard Sullivan incorporated both, using the Discovery Channel’s highly respected name and the catch phrase ‘explore and experience’ as part of the branding direction.
The network design features a group of culturally-diverse kids who live in a cartoon-like environment. The direction is playful and interactive and offers a subtle educational message that parents will approve of, says Sullivan.
While the company did not originally intend to focus on the children’s market, Sullivan says they have done some of their best work in that area.
‘We began in the industry by designing things for Fox, CBS and NBC,’ he says. ‘Then we did a lot of work for Disney.’
The Disney job included a redesign of the logo for The Magical World of Disney, and since then, Pittard Sullivan has taken its experience with the children’s market to an international level. In addition to work for the Latin American market, the company has developed concepts, designs and promotional packages for the Junior channel in Germany as well for TF1 in France.
When creating branding packages for youth markets in other cultures, the design firm finds itself treading even more carefully. Sullivan says emotionally, children are the same everywhere. They all want to be entertained and to feel they belong to something. Juggling the differing parental values is where the real skill lies, he says.
‘Shows like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Ren & Stimpy are off the charts in some markets,’ says Sullivan. ‘In Germany and France, however, there is a strong resistance to those types of programs because parents think they are too provocative and violent.’ The company overcomes this concern by choreographing the high energy of these shows with the parental values.
Pittard Sullivan’s thoughtful approach to on-screen design has not gone unrewarded. It has been honored with 600 industry awards, 30 Emmy nominations and four Emmys. The most recent accolade came for the 45-second intro for the television drama ER.
Sullivan likes to think they develop branding that is classic, but timely enough to make kids feel cool. From there, gaining a foothold in the market through promotional tie-ins, branded toys and apparel becomes even easier.
‘But at the same time, it also has to make the parents feel the same,’ he says. ‘Because adults want to feel cool too.’