Building critical mass through alliances that link studios, broadcasters, marketers, retailers and other promotional partners has become a fact of life in the children’s television industry. Every fall, new promotional campaigns saturate the marketplace, from fast-food restaurants to shopping malls, the Internet and the television itself. It is, as one leading studio promotions executive put it, like a carnival midway, with every campaign inviting children to sample new and returning shows in the fall TV lineup. The following report takes a look at the kinds of fall TV promotions that are launching this year.
Increasing levels of competition, media integration and multipartner promotional alliances are no longer talked about in the children TV business as burning issues. They have become accepted as a fact of life, according to some of the people behind this fall’s TV promotions for children’s television properties.
‘We’re not the only ones out there, so we have to combine all the power and all the efforts of everyone to get a louder shout,’ says George Leon, vice president of promotions at Saban Entertainment, the company behind what many would agree is one of the most elaborate multipartner promotional efforts for a returning kids television show.
Backed by the support of such powerhouse marketing organizations as McDonald’s Restaurants, Campbell Soup Company, Bandai and Toys `R’ Us, Saban’s promotions for BeetleBorgs Metallix, the revamped version of the live-action Fox Kids Network program, are likely to have already made an impression on millions of American children.
Another promotion linked to a returning show at Fox Kids Network is for Life With Louie, which has the Hardee’s and Jack in the Box restaurant chains working together on a joint national kids meal promotion for the first time.
The promotion features take-out bags that promote safe biking and contain a toy premium from the animated series. A sweepstakes overlay sponsored by Huffy Bikes continues the bike safety theme of the promotion, which is being driven by on-air advertising.
Multi-tiered promotions are increasingly becoming the norm for marketers trying to reach out to kids. A fragmented and cluttered media marketplace is making it increasingly difficult to get kids attention without a standout marketing promotion that offers the youngsters much more than the simple promise of 30 minutes of entertainment.
The effect is greater pressure on show producers, distributors and promotional partners to collaborate on creating complete entertainment packages that will hold kids’ interests as they effortlessly glide from one medium to another.
‘It’s kind of like a carnival midway,’ says Leon, ‘where everybody’s yelling and promoting, but we’re trying to give these properties the power of as many partners as possible to make us stand out.’
‘It’s not just television,’ observes Ellen Levy-Sarnoff, UPN Kids vice president of children’s programming. ‘We’re dealing with PlayStations and Nintendo this and Nintendo that, CDs and the Internet. It’s more than just other cartoons and the cable universe. There are just so many ways kids can entertain themselves today.
‘All the incentives that we can possibly bring to the table to get kids to sample the product and return for additional sampling are very necessary right now,’ she says.
While it doesn’t include multiple partners, the 3-D ‘Nogglevision’ promotion from Nickelodeon and Kraft Foods offers one of the best examples of multimedia integration within a promotional strategy for a block of kids programming. The block in question includes Nickelodeon’s prime-time kids shows The Secret World of Alex Mack, KABLAM!, Hey Arnold!, Rugrats and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo.
From September 22 to 28, all the prime-time shows aired on the cable network will feature 3-D scenes that can be seen by viewers wearing a pair of Noggle Goggles, 30 million of which are being distributed by Kraft Foods, Nickelodeon’s strategic partner for the past two years. The 3-D promotion marks the television event premiere of ChromaDepth, touted as the only technology capable of creating 3-D images in all visual media, including television, print and on-line.
As part of its continuing effort to reach the lucrative children’s market, Kraft announced this summer that more than 100 million packages, distributed under its recently created Kraft Kids Brand umbrella, would showcase Nickelodeon and its prime-time shows, as well as featuring on-pack 3-D effects. Among the brands included in the promotion are Post Kids Cereals, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Oscar Mayer Lunchables.
Terry Holmstrom, director of promotions marketing with Nickelodeon, says the promotion is one of the network’s major priorities for the year.
‘A lot of what we do is about connecting to kids wherever they are,’ she says. ‘These promotions really allow us to do that. I think it’s going to cause a school yard fever. It’s one of those things where there’s going to be a lot of excitement out there. It adds another layer of interactivity for kids. It’s another way for them to watch Nickelodeon shows. It’ll just be a lot of fun.’
Noting that the earlier promotions conducted under the Nickelodeon/Kraft strategic alliance were extremely well received by consumers, Kraft’s vice president of advertising, Dick Helstein, says the retail trade has bought into the new strategy.
‘They’ve seen the impact that this strategy has had,’ says Helstein. ‘Not only do they have a combination of our number one brands together on display, but they also have the impact of a number one TV network working along with the promotion.’
While generous promotional giveaways and contests offering unique prizes are generally considered necessary to make a kids TV property stand out from the competition, not to be overlooked as a valuable marketing tool is the quality of the entertainment product itself and the way it is accepted by kids and their parents. In fact, because they offer continuity, longevity and stability, returning shows often enjoy a distinct advantage in attracting major promotional dollars over new shows or other entertainment properties.
One such property is The Mask, which returns for its third season on the CBS Saturday morning lineup and in syndication Monday to Friday. Nearing completion of a summer-long kids meal promotion with Taco Bell that helped bolster a new action-figure toy line launched in March, The Mask’s distributor, New Line Cinema, is getting set to unveil a new two-tiered national promotion with the Discovery Zone this month.
Intended to complement toy merchandising efforts for The Mask, a new cross-promotion will be in effect this month and next between Discovery Zone and Toy Island, the master licensee for The Mask products. Although details of the promotion were not available at press time, Discovery Zone is expected to use The Mask thematically throughout all its retail operations for Halloween. A significant investment in TV advertising will bolster the promotion.
‘Promotionally, The Mask character has achieved star status,’ says David Imhoff, senior vice president, worldwide licensing at New Line Cinema. ‘Big consumer product organizations, big retail organizations, packaged-goods organizations now look at The Mask as a stable character that is going to be around for a long time.’
Eager to emphasize the ‘family-friendly’ nature of The Mask, Imhoff says many marketing promotions fail because the shows themselves don’t appeal to the sensibilities of parents.
One kids TV property that has certainly appealed to both children and their parents is Scholastic Productions’ The Magic School Bus, which returns for its fourth year on air at PBS. The show apparently appeals to marketers as well, as four new promotional partners have signed on for the current season.
Hardee’s and Long John Silver’s will feature Magic School Bus premiums with their back-to-school kids meal promotions; Colgate-Palmolive will offer consumers the opportunity to exchange proofs of purchase for free Magic School Bus books and videos; and Howard Johnson’s International will distribute premium-filled FunPacks as part of its ‘Kids Go HoJo’ promotion, which began in April and runs until the end of the year.
‘We have come to recognize that the children’s television universe has become so inundated with product for the kids to sample from that value added is a much more important part of marketing children’s programming to children,’ says Mary Sadeghy, executive director of marketing at Scholastic Productions in New York.
That recognition, as described by UPN Kids senior vice president of marketing John Passarella, is what led the network to introduce its first value-added promotional program this fall. Tied to the new season of the Jumanji and The Incredible Hulk animated series, the watch-and-win promotion, co-sponsored by Radio AHS, features a contest that will be advertised on a variety of children’s media in 20 U.S. markets.
Passarella describes the promotion as very simple in nature, compared to what is being rolled out in other areas of the kids TV market, and says he would eventually like UPN Kids to develop promotional partnerships that extend value-added programs to sponsors on a fully national basis.
‘With so much to choose from,’ he says, ‘just getting children to sample your product requires more than the standard basis of advertising and promotion.’
Certainly, one of the most elaborate promotional efforts for a single
returning kids show this fall is the one launched last month by Saban Entertainment for BeetleBorgs Metallix.
‘I guarantee that there is no other product out there that is going to launch like BeetleBorgs Metallix,’ states Saban Entertainment’s Leon.
‘There isn’t a kid out there who isn’t going to know what BeetleBorgs Metallix is. This is just the beginning of the BeetleBorgs Metallix frenzy for us,’ he says, adding that by the first quarter of 1998, a new round of promotions, featuring additional partners, will start up for the property. Subsequent promotional efforts in 1998 will focus on Life With Louie, Space Goofs and Power Rangers in Space.
McDonald’s has assumed the biggest portion of the current BeetleBorgs Metallix promotion by promising to distribute 50 million toy premiums for the show through a back-to-school Happy Meal program, which started in August and is scheduled to run to the end of September.
The promotion, which is being supported with a multimillion-dollar media campaign and major in-store collateral, marks the fourth time the fast-food giant has teamed up with Saban.
Also last month, the first of more than 20 million cans of Campbell’s SpaghettiO pasta began appearing on store shelves with BeetleBorgs Metallix collectible stickers included on the underside of the product label. National television support for the promotion began August 18, while a free-standing insert with a circulation of 45 million was scheduled to drop shortly afterward.
Although it is the first promotional effort linking SpaghettiO with Saban and Fox Kids Network, it is not the initial foray into the world of licensed promotions for the brand, according to Amy Tarring, Campbell’s associate marketing manager on kid’s pasta.
‘We’re always looking for the latest kids properties,’ says Tarring, pointing out that the Camden, New Jersey-based food manufacturer typically runs two or three SpaghettiO promotions each year. Previous promotions have tied into the Batman & Robin animated TV series, Jonny Quest, The Lion King and Toy Story.
Offering that such promotions usually lead to increases of 10 percent and up in base sales volume, Tarring says the outlook for the BeetleBorgs Metallix promotion is especially promising considering the fact that it was one of the top-rated kids shows on television last year.
‘TV gives us a great way to get to our specific users,’ she says, adding that it helps that 74 percent of SpaghettiO consumers report watching TV on Saturday mornings.
Gene Morra, vice president of marketing for Cypress, California-based Bandai, the master licensee supplying the toys for the McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion, says it is more important than ever for children’s entertainment promotions to bring together several partners in order to deliver greater value to the consumer.
Bandai is also working with Toys `R’ Us to develop BeetleBorgs Metallix in-store boutiques in time for Halloween. Says Morra: ‘If you can draw a clearer line for the consumer, with excitement and real benefits, they’re more likely to participate.
‘Kids aren’t stupid,’ he says. ‘All the marketing and all the hype in the world is baloney if the promotion doesn’t make one kid say to another kid, `Hey, this is cool!”