Harnessing the power of choice

Marketer: Blockbuster-Scott Parks, VP of advertising and marketing...
May 1, 1999

Marketer: Blockbuster-Scott Parks, VP of advertising and marketing

Agency: J. Walter Thompson, Chicago

No Choice: Dennis Ryan, exec creative director; Jeff York, group creative director; Dave O’Donnell, senior producer; Dennis Yeider, senior art director; Greg Oreskovich, senior copywriter

Are You Game Enough?: Dennis Ryan, exec creative director; Jeff York, group creative

director; Steve Citrin, producer; Wil Wilcox, director of broadcast productions; Mark Westman, art director; Miguel Barron, copywriter

Markets: U.S. national

Are You Game Enough?

Spot shop: Partners Film Company, Toronto-Geoff Ayres, director

Post: The Looking Glass, Chicago-Greg Snyder, editor

Music: I Dig Music, Chicago-Ron Steele

The idea: To show kids and teens that Blockbuster understands the world of the hard-core gamer.

The campaign: War Wounds (30 seconds) and Marathon (30 seconds) began airing in February, and Who’s the Fairest? (30 seconds) and Baby Brother (30 seconds) began airing in March. All spots are airing on broadcast, cable (MTV, Nickelodeon), Channel One and in Blockbuster stores. In-store displays and direct mail began in February. More spots will follow later in the year.

No Choice

Spot shops: Avion Films, Toronto-Mark Story, director; Crossroads Films, Los Angeles

Post: Avenue Edit, Chicago-Matt Konicek, editor

Color: Optimus, Chicago

Music: Spank, Chicago-Matthew Morse

The idea: To show kids ages six to 12 that Blockbuster offers them a lot of choice in a world where they usually don’t get to have their say.

The campaign: Lunch/Scooper (30 seconds), Gym/Barber (30 seconds), Gym (15 seconds) and Barber (15 seconds) all began airing on Nickelodeon April 5. More spots will follow later in the year.

The strategy:

Three girls shiver at the top of towering climbing ropes in gym class, while a drill-sergeant teacher barks commands from below. A boy shrinks into a red vinyl chair as a half-blind barber with the shakes butchers his hair with dilapidated clippers. These are just some of the situations kids have to put up with-from putrid cafeteria lunches to unfair chores, they’re constantly suffering the consequences of decisions made by their elders. Thank God, then, for Blockbuster, an oasis where kids are free to roam the aisles of the kids video section and make their own choices with impunity.

This is the gist of No Choice, a new campaign created for Blockbuster to brand the video rental chain for the younger set. Scott Parks, VP of advertising for the chain, says he decided to devote a campaign to kids because research showed that families with kids rent more videos than families without. ‘There’s all sorts of research and data

out there about the spending power of kids,’ says Parks, ‘and going to the video store is one of the favorite retail activities for kids under 12.’

Jeff York, senior partner and group creative director at J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, says the spots were developed from research sessions designed to find out what kids like about Blockbuster and to glean some insight into the general dynamics of their lives. He found that kids enjoy choosing their own videos, and the empowerment gained through that contrasts with the relative lack of power they have over other aspects of their lives. Some kids said they especially hate bullying school teachers and household chores, and thus the No Choice idea was born.

No Choice follows closely on the heels of Are You Game Enough?, the first campaign designed to position Blockbuster’s game rental section for kids and teens. The energy level is turned up a notch in the Game pool, and so is the grossosity factor. Two of the four 30-second spots are aimed squarely at male teens, the primary gaming demo, but the third gives a nod to the female teen gamer and the fourth, entitled Little Brother, widens the net by targeting kids ages six to 12.

In this campaign, we find a throbbing, pus-filled thumb exploding over a cheerleader, a zombie-like teen playing until he collapses in his cereal, two gloating prom queens put in their place by a Goth gamer girl, and a beleaguered little brother finally beating his intolerable older sibling at his favorite game.

Although the ads mention Blockbuster’s five-evening rental periods, York says he tried to stay away from feature-driven spots pushing selection or particular titles. Instead, he concentrated on showing hard-core gamers that Blockbuster has a hard-core side too. ‘What we came up with was that things which could be perceived as negative, such as lack of sleep, pale skin and blisters, could actually turn into badges of honor for gamers,’ says York. Thus, the teen who develops the most deformed thumbs through excessive game-playing gets the cheerleader, and the Goth girl with the deathly pale skin-a result of staying inside all week playing games-gets the cute guy.

Little Brother departs from the ‘badge of honor’ format to capture its audience with the tried-and-true duo of humor and empowerment. Like the No Choice spots, this ad is narrated by a kid and takes a kid’s point of view.

While Parks won’t reveal any figures, he says he has received ‘great feedback’ on the Are You Game Enough? campaign, and will continue to air rotating spots in both campaigns until at least the end of the year. New variations on the established themes for each campaign will be added as the old spots wear out.

To submit a campaign for this feature, please contact Duncan Hood at 416-408-2300 or

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