The penguins are coming, the penguins are coming.
Hallmark Channel will run the U.S. television premiere of the acclaimed film “March of the Penguins” Nov. 25. In an effort to get viewers to watch the black-and-white birds trek across Antarctica, the network will launch a multimillion-dollar promotion ahead of its traditional campaign touting its holiday-themed original movies.
The premiere is sponsored by Orville Redenbacher popcorn and SC Johnson.
Acquiring “Penguins” as part of a package of popular movies from Warner Bros. was part of a strategy to try to broaden the audience appeal of Hallmark, which skews old with its family-friendly originals. The campaign was largely put together before the arrival of new CEO Henry Schleiff, who said he wants to appeal to baby boomers and may add some non-fiction programming to the mix. (More important to Mr. Schleiff than adding viewers is increasing the amount cable operators pay to carry the network.)
Hallmark considered combining the campaign for “Penguins” with its holiday campaign, but nixed the idea. “It’s double the opportunity,” said Laura Masse, senior VP, marketing Hallmark Channel. “We can’t do enough with these penguins.”
Hallmark usually gets a bump from its holiday promotions. Based on figures from Nielsen Media Research, the network figures 17.5 million people tuned in last year during December that didn’t watch in November. And some of the viewers stayed. In the first quarter of 2006, the network had an average daily viewership of 601,000, up 50,000 from the year before.
This year’s campaigns are expected to provide a bigger boost. “Everyone’s excited with the ratings-driving potential we have here,” Ms. Masse said.
For both efforts, Hallmark will run both a national campaign and local campaigns with cable operator affiliate tie-ins. They also tie in with the Hallmark Gold Crown stores, where Hallmark Channel program guides highlighting holiday programming include a discount offer for this year’s Christmastime special offer: a “Very Merry Trio” of plush penguins. The card company picked the penguin before the network acquired the movie, but the combination should still be effective.
The penguin campaign includes national cable, radio and print and begins Wednesday.
Cards that use lenticular printing technology to show penguins marching will be handed out at theaters showing this year’s penguin flick, the animated “Happy Feet.” The campaign also includes mall signage to take advantage of the movie airing the day after Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.
The local campaign features a sweepstakes offering winners in the top 25 markets a special up-close encounter at the new emperor penguin exhibit at Sea World in San Diego.
The campaign also urges viewers to check out Hallmark’s new micro-site dedicated to “Penguins,” including new behind-the-scenes video footage, recipes, family-activity tips and learning guides for teachers.
After the penguins waddle off, Hallmark will launch its fifth annual “Hollywood Holiday Sweepstakes,” which is sponsored for a fifth year by Nestle.
The sweepstakes is designed to build awareness for the network’s four original holiday movies, which run on Saturdays in December. This year’s new films are “The Christmas Card,” “What I Did for Love” and “Love’s Abiding Joy.” Hallmark Channel will also rerun “Meet the Santas,” the network’s highest-rated original movie ever.
Ms. Masse said that this year affiliates representing 61 million subscribers are participating in the sweepstakes promotion. Four grand prize winners will get a trip to Los Angeles and a walk-on role in an upcoming Hallmark Channel movie. Ten winners will receive $10,000 cash prizes.