Branded blocks, cable channels, syndicated networks, digital and satellite channels-there’s a bewildering array of kids programming services out there. And while the introduction of new services gives kids more choice, it can also create confusion. More than ever, kids are relying on brand names that they recognize when they go hunting for shows.
Of course, on-air branding is particularly important when you’re just starting out in a marketplace that’s already crowded. Thus, three new entries struggling to make a name for themselves, Hallmark Entertainment and The Jim Henson Company’s Kermit Channel, BKN’s new network and Disney’s Whomptastic, make for particularly instructive case studies. Each has its own unique challenges, but the final objective for each is the same. As Buena Vista Television’s VP of marketing, Sal Fardo, says, ‘the ultimate goal, of course, is ratings success.’
Executives from all three services agree that branding is second only to programming in ensuring this success, and that the primary focus of any package of interstitials, promos, bumpers and menus is to create an environment that stands for something in the minds of consumers. While interstitials and promos can keep kids from changing the channel in the middle of a block, for all three services, that was a benefit secondary to the main branding goal. ‘If the spots are successful, [these two goals] work hand in hand,’ says Stephanie Graziano, BKN’s president of network development, programming and production. ‘You want to keep the kids between the shows, certainly, by making the material entertaining. But, at the same time, you want to get them to remember who you are-you have to go into it with both those goals.’
Exactly how this is accomplished varies widely depending on what type of service is being offered and when and where it will air.
Hallmark and Henson, for instance, need to appeal to a diverse audience spread across several cultures in India and East Asia, and carve out a niche as an educational channel focused on quality programming. BKN has to brand each of its two services for different targets, Bulldog TV for boys and Buzz for girls, and then position them as sub-brands of the BKN network. Disney’s Whomptastic has to leverage its Disney connection to pull kids in to a branded block airing at different times on different channels across the U.S.
The stakes are high, both in terms of campaign cost and how much relies on the campaign’s effectiveness. ‘Frankly, despite the fact that it’s a very crowded marketplace,’ says Fardo, ‘if you are able to build a successful kids franchise, the rewards are still very, very great-and that’s the reason that people are still jumping into this game.’
Disney looks within to brand Whomptastic
When Disney announced in mid-April that it was creating 750 interstitials for the launch of its Disney’s Whomptastic syndicated programming block this fall, it was clear that it was taking the on-air branding very seriously. And, in fact, the plans to create a total of over three hours of interstitial spots and air 10 of the 15-second ‘character sketches’ during each of the six two-hour blocks airing weekly have a very ambitious goal. Even though when a kid tunes in she could be simultaneously watching UPN, channel 3 and Whomptastic, each with its own brand, the idea is that what sticks in her mind is that she’s watching Disney.
‘The important branding issue for this launch is getting that Disney element out there first and foremost, and then the Whomptastic sub-brand will build over time as kids come to understand what it stands for,’ says Buena Vista Television’s VP of marketing, Sal Fardo. ‘The Disney brand is established, so our immediate goal is to make kids out there aware that this Disney animated programming is now available seven days a week.’ To accomplish this goal, Disney employed Peter Hastings, who designed the original Disney Afternoon syndicated programming block 10 years ago (the 3 to 5 p.m. block went off the air in August `97), to design a look and feel similar to the one he achieved with Disney’s One Saturday Morning on ABC. Although Whomptastic will have its own name and opener, the target will be the same as Disney’s One Saturday Morning, mainly girls ages nine to 11 and some boys ages six to nine, and the lineup will be similar, but not identical.
Rather than coming up with a new overreaching theme to tack onto the block, Hastings decided to brand the block from within by producing sketches based on the four shows that make up the block: Sabrina the Animated Series, Disney’s Recess, Disney’s Doug and Disney’s Hercules. Fardo describes the sketches as similar to the gags on Rocky and Bullwinkle-gags that will feature such running jokes as Daredevil Gus from Recess attempting various stunts and unlikely dating tips provided by Al and Moo Sleech from Doug. The sketches, along with a planned pool of branded promos and bumpers, will knit the block into a seamless whole, but do so without introducing any new elements. Even the title of the block, which is based on the imaginary word ‘whomps’ from Recess, comes from within the programming.
Walt Disney Television Animation executive VP Barry Blumberg describes the desired effect as ‘fun and enjoyment, the feeling that you have from 3 o’clock when school’s out to 5 o’clock when your parents come home.’ He notes that the 3 to 5 p.m. time slot Monday to Friday is exactly when the block is going to air in most markets, adding that the remainder of the U.S. will get the service from 7 to 9 a.m. during the week, and the whole country shares a 7 to 9 a.m. Sunday time slot. The inconsistency in air times is the unavoidable result of airing the block on a variety of channels (UPN is providing a 71% U.S. national clearance and various other stations are providing 22%), and that in itself has created a big marketing problem.
‘Think about that in terms of us taking out a national ad,’ says Fardo. ‘How do you tell kids where to go? It’s like UPN or some other TV station, in the morning or the afternoon, on Monday through Friday and Sunday. That’s a pretty confusing message.’ The solution, he says, is a network of local campaigns enabling Disney to provide local times and stations in local markets. Fardo says he will accomplish this by using the full ‘Disney marketing machine,’ including Disney’s magazines, radio stations, existing TV programming and theme parks. He adds that as a locally based campaign, there will be more focus on special events and promotions and less on large-scale advertising. DH
Blasts for boys and gossip for girls at BKN
‘This is the Bulldog!’ growls a beefy animated dog in army getup. ‘Your orders are as follows: stay tuned for the action-packed Roswell Conspiracies.’ A quick clip of spaceships taking potshots at each other follows, and a rivet-studded, plate-metal BKN logo pops up and blows to bits.
This is a promo spot for Bulldog TV, one of two new programming blocks from BKN, launching on stations across the U.S. with an estimated 92% clearance rate on August 29. Bulldog is aimed squarely at boys ages six to 11, and BKN’s second block, Buzz, aims for girls in the same age range and hopes to pick up some younger boys too. With six minutes of show and network promotion per two-hour block and a pool of interstitials in production, BKN wants to create two new destinations for kids during its 7 to 9 a.m., Sunday to Friday strip. And it had better make an impact quickly, because thanks to Fox’s new Boyz and Girlz digital/satellite channels, set to launch later this year, BKN won’t have the only spots on the dial defined by the gender of their targets.
Featuring Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths & Legends, Starship Troopers: Bug Wars, Mummies Alive! and Extreme Ghostbusters, Bulldog TV is all action-adventure, so BKN chairman and CEO Rick Ungar decided to brand the block with a ‘comedic-military feel.’ The original idea was to appeal to a male sense of camaraderie, and during development, the branding progressed from a clubhouse theme, to a fortress idea and finally to the military. BKN’s president of network development, programming and production, Stephanie Graziano, is aware that when it comes to kids and the military, they have to watch their step, but says she’s aiming more for Hogan’s Heroes than Rambo. ‘I didn’t want to get into the gun direction,’ she says. ‘Keeping those spots fun and high energy without condoning any kind of violent thing was important to us.’
BKN’s second block was tentatively called Buzz at press time, but the name could change for legal reasons. Graziano has a couple of similar names in reserve though, so the look and feel of the branding will still go ahead as planned. With a lineup including Sonic Underground, Jumanji, Pocket Dragons and Beakman’s World, the programming at Buzz isn’t as unified as that on Bulldog TV, so Graziano looked outside the shows to choose communication as the branding theme. ‘It’s all about getting the buzz and finding out what’s hot and passing it around with e-mails, pagers, passing notes, gossip circles, whatever,’ she says. ‘It’s cool to communicate, and kids are really into messages and participating.’ Here, we find flashing neon pastels, funky `70s imagery and girls jumping around to music and passing around the dialogue balloon logo.
As with Bulldog TV, the branding mostly consists of promos for the programming, but the branding theme isn’t as tightly linked to the shows. This might be a good thing, because the shows will probably change. ‘On the Buzz side, we’re tying to create something for the future,’ says Graziano. ‘Right now, I’m programming out of the library, so I’m a little limited. Hopefully, next year, we’ll have a couple of new programs in that lineup as well, and they will be a little more targeted towards the audience we’re looking for.’ DH