By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
Marketing to kids and tweens today means trying to hit a moving target, but it’s a target well worth shooting for, advertisers say.
Tastes change more rapidly than ever, especially among these young viewers. However, the changes in how they view television go beyond which shows they watch. Kids today think nothing of multitasking. They are increasingly adept media users who divide their time among television, the Internet, video games, mobile phones and instant messaging, all while doing their homework.
Media buyers and agency executives say that successful marketing to young viewers now calls for a multipronged strategy, much as it does for adults.
“Even a year ago we were saying don’t bother spending on mediums like the Net, but over the past 12 months we’ve done a complete 180,” said David Siegel, co-author of “The Great Tween Buying Machine” and president of WonderGroup, a Cincinnati-based youth marketing agency whose clients include Kellogg’s, Hasbro and General Mills. “TV is still the medium that reaches the most tweens at the most times, but if you’re only doing TV you’re missing out.”
Many advertisers are already trying nontraditional approaches to reach kids. Last October Dentyne gum, a division of Cadbury Adams, partnered with i-Frontier, an advertising unit of digital marketer aQuantive, to help brand its on-screen instant messaging pop-up boxes. Dentyne offers three downloadable IM formats or “skins” on Yahoo Messenger for three moods or personality types. Flirty, daring and playful each correspond to a Dentyne flavor: Fire, Ice and Tango, respectively.
Such fresh approaches help reach kids, many of whom pride themselves on being cutting-edge and resent when they feel their intelligence is being insulted by more obvious attempts, said Ola Mobolade, a former media buyer who is now a specialist in kids and tweens for the Greenfield Marketing Group, a division of MillwardBrown.
“One of the tricks is not appearing that you’re trying to appeal to their youth,” Ms. Mobolade said. “Kids will tell you they can picture the over-the-hill marketing executive that has come up with this idea in his boardroom, which is scary when you think of the dollars spent on these campaigns.”
One reason the kids market remains important is that with more of their own money to spend, kids’ purchasing power is up, Mr. Siegel said. More important is the fact that kids now profoundly influence some of their parents’ large purchase decisions.
Car makers, household appliance manufactures and even homebuilders are trying to win over kids, many of whose parents actively seek their approval when making major purchases, marketers said. DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge, for instance, is one of the chief sponsors of Nickelodeon’s interactive La Casa de Dora 10-city mall installation that kicked off Feb. 19 to promote the network’s preschool show, “Dora the Explorer.”
“Parent-child relationships are changing,” Mr. Siegel said. “Gen X’er moms are very different from boomer moms; they partner more with their kids. Kids literally write the shopping list, and moms genuinely ask their kids what they want and where they want it from. It’s this ‘active ask’ that makes kids much more powerful.”
Despite all the options available for advertisers, television is still where most dollars are spent to target kids and tweens. After stagnating in 2000 and 2001, upfront and scatter spending grew to more than $1 billion for kids 2 to 11 in 2004, with strong support coming from the usual categories of toys, games, cereals and snack foods and an increasing influx from movie studios and related entertainment properties such as DVDs.
What has changed is which networks get the proceeds. With the broadcast networks farming out their Saturday morning blocks and the Kids’ WB daily strips down to less than 2 percent audience share of kids, the segment is now dominated by cable programmers Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. The two combined for more than 60 percent of the available ratings for total kids 2 to 11 in 2004, according to a new report by Magna Global USA analyst Lisa Quan. Disney Channel, which placed third among networks for that demographic, does not run ads.
Nickelodeon has succeeded by appealing to both boys and girls, Ms. Quan said, whereas Cartoon Network’s animated fare skews more heavily toward boys. The Nick brand, which has expanded to include additional networks Nick Toons and Noggin/The N, has become a powerhouse that advertisers and merchandisers clamor to associate with.
“We believe the Nick brand has a lot of equity with the audience because they know what to expect with us,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Television. “We’re respectful, honest, and we tell stories that we believe are relevant to their lives.”
Cartoon Network, which made its upfront pitch to advertisers last month, hopes to gain on its rival with more than 400 new half-hours of programming in 2005. New initiatives include preschool block “Tickle U,” airing 9-11 a.m. weekdays starting in August, and “Get Animated,” a national kids health campaign featuring the network’s on-air characters.
The latter is part of an industrywide effort from programmers and advertisers to take a proactive stance on the much-publicized problem of obesity in children. Kraft sent shivers of fear through ad-supported kids media outlets in January when it announced it would shift ad buys away from core brands such as Kool-Aid, Oreo and Lunchables for kids 6 to 11 as a response to the problem of childhood obesity
Programmers that rely on kids advertising are hoping spots for healthier foods such as Kraft’s “sensible solution” foods or General Mills’ line of whole-grain cereals will make up the difference.
“In food, everyone is concerned about nutritional issues,” said Kim McQuilken, executive VP of sales and marketing for Cartoon Network. “But everyone sees it as a welcome challenge.”