Elmer Fudd for president? Kraft and Cartoon experiment with democracy

If Fred Flintstone were running for political office, what would his platform be? That's the kind of question in-house creative staff at Cartoon Network had to face when planning this year's big spring promotion 'Cartoon Campaign 2000.'...
January 1, 2000

If Fred Flintstone were running for political office, what would his platform be? That’s the kind of question in-house creative staff at Cartoon Network had to face when planning this year’s big spring promotion ‘Cartoon Campaign 2000.’

‘Modern Stone-Age Family Values’ is what they came up with, according to Tom Hunt, Atlanta-based director of promotions for the network at the time the promo was developed. (Hunt is now director of promotions for the Turner-owned WCW franchise.)

Fred and 49 other cartoon characters-both classic and modern-will face off this coming March in a promotion with Kraft that took about a year to develop. The idea, during a real-world election year no less, is to style the characters as if they were actually campaigning for votes, says Hunt.

‘Cartoon Campaign 2000′ is yet another chance for Cartoon to demonstrate its tried-and-true strategy of building loyalty by taking on a partner with cross-country reach to expand its cartoon sensibility beyond the screen. All of the strategic hallmarks are there: Yet again Cartoon will bring its characters to life by taking them outside the shows where they normally live and immersing them in comical ‘real-life’ situations, and yet again Cartoon will empower kids as active participants (through voting for characters), rather than regarding them as mere ‘targets’ for a message. Of course, this isn’t a one-sided endeavor by any means. As with the ‘Scope it Out’ and ‘Smell-O-Vision’ promos with Nickelodeon, Kraft is showing its strategic prowess by building on the fun image of its kid brands with a partner that offers the right playful and irreverent message to the right demo.

The promotion runs like this: In mid-February, over 60 million packages of various Kraft brands targeting kids will be promoting ‘Cartoon Countdown 2000.’ Each brand will spotlight different cartoon characters and all will feature a call-to-action for kids to place their votes on an all-time favorite. Meanwhile, the network will be airing teasers for the on-air promotion, which runs from March 5 to March 9. During that week, the network will air the top 50 cartoons and encourage kids to call in and vote for their favorite characters. Then, on Saturday, March 18, the network will devote almost the entire day to a countdown bonanza, followed by a special two-hour prime-time Sunday show that will recap the top ten and focus on cartoons featuring the winner.

What’s fun about designing this sort of campaign, according to Hunt, is that the creative staff has a lot of freedom in terms of where they can go with it. Think Elmer Fudd pitching himself as ‘a man with a plan’ or Aquaman taking a stand on school vouchers and you’ve got the right idea, he says. ‘It’s going to be very, very, very funny.’

Phyllis Ehrlich, VP of promotions, agrees that the net’s creative team was enthusiastic about the campaign, creating 20 spots, each tagged by a rotating roster of Kraft brands.

And that’s nothing compared to how the network expects its target demo of kids ages six to 12 to react. ‘I think kids naturally love the idea of characters being pitted against one another,’ she says. ‘I think that creates a lot of excitement.’

This is where the promo gets even more interesting. Kraft, not known for tiptoeing into any promotion targeting kids, has gone into this one with sails blazing. Besides the TV tags, the campaign will be promoted on-package, in-store (danglers and displays) and in various kid-friendly publications, according to Louise Labrie, manager of Kraft’s Kids Task Force, an umbrella group responsible for coordinating kid brand marketing efforts.

Nine brands in five categories-Kraft Singles, Jell-O Yogurt, Post cereal, Lunchables and Kraft Mac & Cheese-are covered in ‘Cartoon Campaign 2000,’ says Labrie.

The Task Force has participated in two other promotions with Cartoon Network, including last year’s successful ‘Get Tooned’ promotion, in which the winner had the opportunity to star in an animated short. According to Labrie, the company has a lot of success with multibrand promotions because, by their very nature, they’re hard to ignore. ‘You’re heightening the awareness and you’re creating mass,’ she says.

That’s not to say there aren’t real challenges with multibrand promotions. For a promotion to work with a number of brands, it has to be broad enough to encompass the essence of Kraft while also offering individual brand opportunities, says Labrie. ‘Cartoon Campaign 2000′ seemed a perfect fit, she says. ‘This promo ties all the brands together but [they] are also able to put their own spin on it,’ she says.

What this meant for the net was a whole pile of one-on-one meetings with brand and promotional teams, seeking script approval and working out the nitty-gritty of each brand’s role in the promo. ‘It’s like working with five different clients,’ says Hunt. Each brand has its own particular agenda and they all want their ideas front and center, he adds.

The upshot of these meetings is that each brand will adopt several cartoon characters of its own (for which kids can vote through an on-package 1-800 number), while also featuring a customized offer. Jell-O Yogurt, for example, which is promoting a mix of original Cartoon properties and Loony Tunes characters, will feature in-pack stickers that have been designed to look like campaign buttons.

The goal for both the network and Kraft are obvious-to drive consumption and cement loyalty. ‘Our motivation behind this promotion, like all promotions, is to sell product,’ says Labrie. ‘Cartoon Network has some of the hottest kids properties among our audience and they have a very high profile.’ If all goes as planned, linking Kraft brands to these popular properties translates into some very serious cravings for Kraft products on the part of the viewer.

The net is also running a contest, not tied to Kraft, in which both telephone and on-line voters are en-tered to win a US$20,000 home entertainment system, including some episodes of the top cartoons on DVD. Cartoon Network’s Ehrlich says that these ‘fantasy’ prizes have been highly successful at driving participation in the past, and the net expects to generate the same excitement this time around. If you want to know what moves the needle for kids, think unusual and, most importantly, think of something that no other kid has, says Ehrlich. For example, the network just ran a Halloween promotion in which the prize was a life-size Scooby-Doo made entirely of Lego. Unlike adults, for the most part kids could care less what something is worth-they want something fantastic.

In fact, the pressure to come up with creative prizes is one of the biggest challenges youth marketers face today, according to Ehrlich. ‘You have to keep raising the bar because kids are so entertainment-savvy,’ she says. ‘You have to keep delivering.’

The net is making every effort to ensure that the promo is not a one-off-and that Kraft will be tied to a similar promotion in two years’ time. On-air, Cartoon will feature the winning ‘spokestoon’ throughout the next two years as it sees fit, perhaps in a farcical state of the network address and to comment on any interesting presidential gaffes. In two years, the net hopes to return to the polls with yet another campaign.

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