Raising awareness without raising the budget

The next batch of kidvids primed to hit shelves across the U.S. brings home the...
April 1, 2000

The next batch of kidvids primed to hit shelves across the U.S. brings home the

magnitude of the shift towards cross promotions. It’s hardly a new way to sell titles, but a saturated market and thinner profit margins have prompted a wave of more

sophisticated partnerships designed to get maximum return on limited marketing

budgets. These days, everyone’s in the tie-in game and the stakes are rising…

Everywhere you look, children’s marketing is getting more sophisticated, and videos are no exception. With the marketplace crowded to saturation, videos have to battle harder for attention, but that same cutthroat competition means that raising the ad spend (and cutting into an already precarious bottom line) isn’t an option. The answer? Partnerships and promotions. Gift-with-purchase initiatives, on-pack premiums, QSR deals, sweepstakes and sundry other add-ons mark the way of the future. And if it’s done right, the studios can trade on a property’s equity to get the partners to cover most of the cost.

‘Promotions are the point of entry to the children’s video market,’ says Sue Bristol-Beddingfield, VP of marketing at Lyrick Studios. ‘If you look at the big players, they all have a sticker on their box saying `hey, here’s added value.’ Consumers have come to expect it, and if you’re not doing the same, your titles become conspicuous by its absence.’

Artisan Family Home Entertainment president Glen Ross says promotional partnerships are crucial because they also help spread awareness beyond traditional outlets. Picking promotional partners that can give a distributor maximum access to destinations where families congregate is the key, he says. ‘The kids market is a hard market to break because you’re not only trying to reach kids, you’re also trying to reach moms and dads.’

It’s a strategy Artisan has put into action for The Crocodile Hunter, the company’s major kidvid release for the first half of this year. In late March, Artisan released three Croc Hunter videos (US$14.98 each), including Steve’s Most Dangerous Adventures, Steve’s Story and Greatest Crocodile Captures. All of the titles are best-of compilations taken from episodes of The Crocodile Hunter TV show about the wild safaris of gonzo Aussie naturalist Steve Irwin. The series currently airs in the U.S. on Discovery Networks cable channel Animal Planet.

To support the Croc Hunter videos, Artisan assembled an ‘Everglades Excursion’ sweepstakes, which runs until September 21 and will award one winner and three friends a five-day, all-expenses-paid trip to the Marco Island Marriot Resort and Golf Club in the Florida Everglades. Winners will be entitled to free tours of the Everglades National Park, alligator exhibits and other wildlife phenomenon found in the region. Consumers can enter through Artisan’s Croc Hunter Web site or by mailing in video inserts.

While the location ties in rather well thematically with the Croc Hunter show, Ross says Artisan partnered with that particular hotel primarily because it promotes itself as family vacation spot. ‘We know they’re getting a high percentage of families with young kids, so those are the people you want to expose Croc Hunter to,’ says Ross.

For other distributors trying to get a leg up in the kidvid business, cross-promotions targeting one family member in particular make the most sense.

‘Moms. All moms,’ says Dan Capone, VP of marketing and development for Warner Home Video’s Family Entertainment division. ‘We can reach kids through the advertising, the packaging and the fun characters, but we need those outside partners to really let moms know these videos are out there. Once they know these videos are available, they’re an easy buy.’

Invariably, the companies that distributors find most desirable are the ones that manufacture products found in the grocery aisle.

Three of the five promotions Columbia TriStar Home Video has lined up for its video release of Stuart Little (VHS SRP US$24.96, DVD SRP US$27.98, streeting April 18) are with packaged goods producers. Banquet Frozen Pot Pies will tout Stuart from the freezer section with on-pack ads promoting the video and a mail-in offer for a free mouse pad. Break Cake snack cakes will run on-pack offers for free Stuart collector cards and a sweepstakes, as well as promoting the video via signage wherever its products are distributed. Sorrento rounds out the grocery tie-ins by bundling Stuart collector cards with its String Cheese products and offering a US$5 mail-in rebate to consumers who present proof of purchase for two packs of cheese and the Stuart video.

Sony has also inked deals with tie-in newcomer and Radio Shack, which also tied in for the Stuart feature. Smileworks, a California-based that allows consumers to search for local dentists on the Web, will tag the Stuart home video release in TV commercials featuring a movie clip of the talking mouse brushing his teeth. Radio Shack, which recently renewed its license to produce Stuart Little RC cars, will run ads promoting both the toy and video via TV, print and direct mail starting this month. Suzanne Bouchard, executive director of marketing at Columbia TriStar Home Video, says together, the two deals will provide Sony with US$7 million worth of additional media exposure.

Other promo activity for the video includes an on-line sweepstakes at and Web-based streaming video outtakes from the movie that won’t be included on the Stuart DVD or VHS.

It’s no coincidence that the higher added-value tie-ins for Stuart are the ones hitting grocery stores. ‘On average, moms are in grocery stores twice a week,’ says Bouchard. ‘With that kind of foot traffic, grocery is a natural for a big kids video release.’

The value of pitching in grocery stores is an element behind Warner Home Video’s decision to release new DTV titles in the fall for Tweety, Scooby-Doo and Batman Beyond. ‘We’ve chosen three projects based on well-known franchises, so we can use the supermarket because moms know these characters,’ says Capone. ‘If mom sees Tweety on a cereal package in the supermarket, there’s no question about who that character is.’

Capone says Warner has organized big-budget comprehensive promotional programs for Tweety’s High-Flying Adventure (streets September 12), Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders (streets October 3) and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (streets October 31). The scope of the three campaigns will rival the estimated US$65-million program Warner put together for the 1999 DTV release Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, according to Capone. Promotions for that title included tie-ins with Lego, General Mills, Bama Jams, Swanson’s and Sun-Maid Raisins and featured stunt programming on Cartoon Network, two sweeps and national TV, FSI and in-store initiatives.

Warner has already begun mobilizing its various divisions to help push the fall titles. On-line promos featuring sizzle spots for each video hit the Web in February, and promotional hangtags will begin appearing on related licensed merch in July. Each tag will offer consumers a US$5 mail-in rebate with the purchase of one of the titles and an item of related character merch. ‘We’re treating these videos like theatrical titles,’ says Capone, ‘they have that kind of support behind them.’

Deciding how big the promotional program should be for a new title is another consideration distributors must make, although it’s a decision the marketplace often resolves for them. When distributors put out the call to promotional partners-usually a year or two before the video release-titles that have already established a high awareness among consumers naturally tend to garner more interest from potential partners. Because of that market reality, Capone says Warner will focus on proven franchises.

But for players lacking a stable of time-tested or theatrical properties, this approach isn’t really an option. For Artisan, every release means a battle for exposure. ‘Within the family genre, you’re fighting films that have a US$100-million box-office awareness,’ says Ross. ‘When you have a title that is family-oriented and that hasn’t been out in the theaters, you have to do everything you can to let fans of the show or the property know it’s out there.’

Compared to feature-based video releases, TV-based videos generally attract a modest level of promotional support. Warner’s program for the May 30 release of two videos featuring episodes culled from Cartoon Network original The Powerpuff Girls-Bubblevicious and Monkey See, Doggie Do-is a case in point. Support for the videos includes a sweepstakes running on Cartoon in mid May, mini Powerpuff Girls magazine inserts and a national US$3 mail-in rebate offer. Capone says that for a TV series compilation, Warner is investing a lot in promoting the Powerpuff videos, but the US$6 million behind the Powerpuff promo is blown out of the water by the US$50 million to US$70 million Warner invested in the home video release of Pokémon: The First Movie in March.

For smaller kidvid distributors with less experience in coordinating promotions with outside partners, building in-house initiatives can still help to increase awareness with consumers. For example, Texas-based Lyrick Studios organized an ‘Educate and Graduate Sweepstakes’ to push its March 21 release of Barney’s Rhyme Time Rhythm. The promo offers a grand prize college tuition valued at US$40,000, as well as three computers, 50 savings bonds valued at US$50 each and 100 free Barney DVDs.

As with all of its promotions, Lyrick’s Beddingfield says the company tried to match the components of the sweepstakes with the theme of the video, in this case an educational title in which his Purpleness teaches kids nursery rhymes.

Lyrick is also using the greater storage capacity of the DVD format as another way to bring added value to consumers. The DVD version of Rhyme Time (SRP US$24.99) features computer games, an electronic book, Web links to a site featuring additional Barney products and a 30-minute preview including clips from Lyrick’s third Wiggles release, Wake Up Jeff! (SRP US$12.99, streets April 4).

In stores, Beddingfield says Lyrick will work with retailers to develop customized promotions for Rhyme Time. ‘We might do a contest for a three-foot Barney plush for one store if they’ll take in more units, and do something completely different for another retailer,’ she says. ‘We’re very scrappy about doing promotions for specific accounts.’

While Lyrick hasn’t hooked up with many outside promotional partners in the past, it’s an area Beddingfield says the company will be pursuing more aggressively in the near future. ‘Companies are looking for other ways to reach consumers, and we can provide early access into those households where there’s a two- or three-year-old child,’ she says. ‘We can get the coupon book or whatever the promotional item happens to be into the hands of the moms.’

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