Dora the Explorer Finds Herself in High Demand

Marketers Rush to Celebrate Nickelodeon's Latina Cartoon Character's 10 Years in the Biz

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Dora the Explorer, Nickelodeon's cartoon preschool heroine, is turning 10 -- or should we say, diez? -- and has a host of marketing partners to help her celebrate.

Salma Hayek, the bilingual spokesperson for the National Parents and Teachers Association and the Children's Defense Fund upcoming 'Beyond the Backpack' initiative, gives Dora a high-five in celebration of the Nickelodeon heroine's tenth anniversary.
Salma Hayek, the bilingual spokesperson for the National Parents and Teachers Association and the Children's Defense Fund upcoming 'Beyond the Backpack' initiative, gives Dora a high-five in celebration of the Nickelodeon heroine's tenth anniversary.
In the coming months, Dora will appear in everything from public-service ads for the U.S. Census to a backpack program with Salma Hayek to a seatbelt-safety initiative with State Farm to Australian passports -- each serving a different multicultural marketing purpose, and all before her diamond anniversary this August. Hard to believe a character now seen in 151 countries and 30 different languages might have once been thought of as a marketing challenge just over a decade ago.

As Nickelodeon legend goes, the Viacom kids' network's head of animation, Brown Johnson, was attending a conference about Latinos' portrayal on TV -- or lack thereof, at the time -- when a light bulb went off in her head. Creators Chris Gifford and Valerie Walsh Valdes shifted the focus of their original series about a problem-solving "Blues Clues"-esque bunny rabbit to a 7-year-old Latina girl–explorer who could teach preschoolers how to speak Spanish. The show debuted in 2000 as the No. 1 most-watched show among preschoolers in all of TV, and has held that status for six of the last 10 years.

Now that Nickelodeon is sharing the Dora brand with a series of new partners, Pam Kaufman, the network's chief marketing officer, described the risks as a lot less challenging this time around.

"At the time, I think people were surprised to see this marketed like a general-market show that happened to have a Latina heroine," she said. "But we've done a lot of partnerships and so forth that show how Dora continues to resonate, educate and entertain millions of preschoolers around the world."

It's Dora's brand equity among those millions of preschoolers and their parents that the U.S. Census is banking on as unpaid, public-service part of its $340 million marketing campaign reminding Americans to complete their census forms.

Raul Cisneros, chief of the 2010 Census Publicity office, said more than 1 million children under the age of 10 and three quarters of a million children under the age of 5 were under-counted in the 2000 Census, according to a 2009 report with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than any other age group. So the Dora demo is very important to the bureau and its "Children Count Too" initiative this year.

"Dora the Explorer is a well-recognized character who's bilingual and certainly reaches the young viewers and will help us get the message to the parents and child-care providers of those younger viewers," Mr. Cisneros said.

The National Parents and Teachers Association and the Children's Defense Fund are also relying on Dora to help prepare the under-5 circuit for preschool with an upcoming "Beyond the Backpack" initiative that will feature Salma Hayek as its bilingual spokesperson.

National PTA president Charles J. Saylors told Ad Age, "The Dora brand is very recognizable to families and her positive experiences of being ready to learn at school is one that we encourage for all children. We also encourage all parents to be involved in their child's education experience because research continues to show that when parents are involved, students succeed."

Other upcoming promotions and partnerships include the aforementioned seatbeat-safety campaign with State Farm, a program with People en Español to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month during September and October, and a series of four upcoming prime-time specials, including a birthday adventure movie in August.

And although Dora's turning 10 in franchise years, don't expect a coming-of-age to her character anytime soon. A controversial mock-up of a potential "tween" Dora doll released last March caused an uproar among parents who feared Nickelodeon and retail partner Mattel were "sexing up" the famed preschool character too soon. Mattel and Nickelodeon responded by issuing a more toned-down doll and accompanying tween-targeted website, Dora Links, to assuage any parental fears at retail. On-air, meanwhile, Dora will remain the same 7-year-old role model for young kids with two NAACP Image Awards, a Peabody and a Latino Spirit Award to her credit.

"We know through our research that Dora speaks to teaching a second language, problem solving, interpersonal skills and familiarizing kids with computer technology," Nickelodeon's Ms. Kaufman said. "It has a profound impact on everything and shows up in our business and the consumer that comes to Nickelodeon."

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