Danone is sponsoring 13 episodes of "Dr. Arty Farty," a weekly educational program that teaches children how to draw. The show's latest series went on air this month and was created in partnership with Danone. Lessons about drawing, shading and sketching by Dr. Arty Farty, a Chinese teacher with a strange name, are interspersed with episodes of an animated film starring the Prince character. The film was created by Danone's media agency in China, Aegis-owned Carat in Shanghai.
Art and storytelling skills
"We created the first half of the film, which highlights how the Prince is challenged and has to defeat an enemy," said Seth Grossman, Carat's Shanghai-based communication-planning director, China. After that, kids can submit ideas "about how they want the story to end, testing their art skills as well as their storytelling ability."
Danone hopes that making the Prince character -- representing a brand with long-standing heritage for Danone but limited appeal among Chinese kids until now -- more entertaining and popular will raise retail sales, by inspiring children to ask doting parents for Prince products by name. The series is produced by a joint venture between Viacom's Nickelodeon and Shanghai Media Group and airs in Shanghai and on HaHa Nick-branded programming blocks on SMG's children's channel.
Viewers can vote on drawing submissions that demonstrate how Prince defeats his enemy by using wisdom, courage and help from his friends. Voting starts later this month, by e-mail, SMS, telephone and mail. Next month the show's producers will start incorporating the winning ideas in the second half of the storyline.
Danone has developed point-of-sales materials promoting the contest and TV spots linked to the programming. Haha Nick produced all materials related to the programming in conjunction with Danone and Carat.
Connecting with children
Danone "wants to be more connected with kids and make its Prince brand more popular," said Mr. Grossman, "so we decided to create free programming kids are interested in, but without a hard sell." The more ambitious film contest grew out of a Danone sponsorship of the same show last year that included asking kids to submit their own illustrations of the Prince. Carat then employed professional artists to develop storylines around their submissions.
"There was an incredible response and sales followed," said Mr. Grossman. In some stores, sales doubled and even tripled while the program was on the air. More than 8,500 kids visited the site daily and monthly sales of Prince cookies grew between 98% and 167% during the promotional period, he said.
"We were also surprised at how good the drawings were," he added. That led Danone to publish a glossy book with pictures of the Prince character. It sold more than 100,000 copies in eastern China.
'American Idol'-type contest
Encouraged by Prince's success, Danone created an "American Idol"-type talent contest and TV show for children aged 4 to 12 to promote two other cookie brands, Super and Star. After the 16-week televised contest, the best performers joined an elite performing arts program in Shanghai.
With children, the challenge "is to understand the changing ways they think, interact and behave with media, each other and with brands and to connect these with ideas and solutions that encourage engagement beyond mere ad exposure," Mr. Grossman said.
Kraft Foods announced an agreement with Danone Groupe in July 2007 to acquire the French company's cookie business -- including Prince, Lu, Tuc and other brands -- for $7.2 billion. The deal, expected to close by the end of this year, would double the size of Kraft's business in China, the company.