Creating radio advertising that appeals to kids means keeping a close eye on the competition-and that doesn’t mean other radio stations, says Robin Jones, operations director at Radio Disney. Jones oversees all programming production at Radio Disney, including in-house spot creation. ‘With children, we’re competing with TV and video games,’ she says, adding that creating a ‘theater of the mind’ to mirror the effect of visual media is the key to Radio Disney’s overall success. Developing multilayered spot productions that combine music, effects and kid voices-’kids hear kids,’ Jones maintains-is a technique that must be balanced with keeping the message simple enough for kids to understand.
According to the other major contender in the category, Fox Kids Countdown, a two-hour syndicated radio show that airs on weekends in selected markets, kids radio spots are designed to strengthen the radio network’s brand, as well as the advertiser’s. Robin Lia, the executive producer at Fox Kids Countdown who puts in-house ads together, notes, ‘we [generate] creative that has an adventurous, athletic, high-energy, wacky flavor to it.’ For example, Jones’s recent campaign for a Quaker Instant Oatmeal product with ‘dinosaur eggs’ inside packages featured dinosaur trivia questions posed by a kid. The child’s voice, surrounded by dinosaur sounds, provided the answer at the end of the spot.
Hip-hop music is another creative hook that Jones has used in campaigns such as a recently produced campaign for Crazy Dips lollipops. According to Jones, a hip-hop jingle sung by kids helped the spot zero in on the youth audience. While urban pop that has 125 beats per minute is always effective for kids spots, focus groups have shown that kids also respond to novelty oldies such as James Brown’s ‘I Feel Good,’ notes Jones.
Focus group research at Radio Disney has also found that silly humor, including toned-down bathroom jokes, appeals to Radio Disney’s audience of kids ages two to 12. ‘Our research has shown that kids today respond to the same stuff as when we were kids,’ says Jones. She also points out that humor primarily targets the six- to 11-year-old set, honing in on an eight-and-a-half-year-old sensibility, which appeals to kids across Radio Disney’s entire target audience.
According to Ron Garner, eastern sales director at ABC Radio Networks, a big challenge for Radio Disney is ‘trying to get agencies to see that this is a real medium for kids.’ He attributes agency reluctance to the fact that so few outlets for kids radio exist. ‘We’re the only company that has staked out this terrain in a major way-the only ones on the air 24 hours a day.’ Another reason why kids radio is still coming into its own is the fact that its effectiveness has yet to be measured, says Jim Pastor, director of network sales at Radio Disney. This year, a handful of ad agencies will complete a study specific to Radio Disney to gauge how much the ads boost brand awareness and product sales.
One aspect of the medium that has been charted is the fact that 48% of Radio Disney listening takes place in the car-an important consideration for creatives formulating ads. ‘This means [that] messages must speak not only to kids, but [to] moms,’ notes Pastor. In making children’s spots acceptable to parents, broadcast standards for radio are very specific about what can be said and done, he says. ‘We have to differentiate very clearly when it’s program time and when it’s commercial time,’ says Pastor, pointing out that the same is true for kids advertisers on kids TV blocks.