The spy story line has unusual origins: The idea came from video-game maker THQ. Executives there wrote the script for a new Jimmy Neutron video game and Nickelodeon liked it enough to base the show on it.
On Oct. 13, Jimmy Neutron fans can tune in to watch the boy genius be recruited by a spy agency to go on a secret mission, where he will meet Bond-goofing characters such as Beautiful Gorgeous (voiced by Wendie Malick), Jet Fusion (Christian Slater) and Professor Calamitous (Tim Curry).
The Viacom-owned network, following the playbook it wrote years ago with franchise animated series "Rugrats," aims to whip up the kind of excitement more often seen around Hollywood's adult-targeted fare.
"It's like our version of a movie premiere," said Karen Driscoll, VP-brand marketing. "It's one of our tent poles."
Wendy's International, Johnson & Johnson, Campbell Soup Co. and movie studio MGM, all longtime advertisers on the top-rated kids' network, are on-air sponsors of the special, pitching in extra media buys and online support, all of which will add up to some $20 million in media spending when combined with Nickelodeon's push.
Burger chain Wendy's will paste Jimmy Neutron on 12 million kid's meal bags and offer four different toy giveaways. The meal bags have some Bond-esque code numbers on them, directing kids to the Nick Web site and an ongoing game that can be played only with those access codes. The network will dole out more numbers during the show.
MGM will use the sponsorship to drive kids and their parents to its coming family movie, "Good Boy," with Molly Shannon and Liam Aiken.
THQ, which plans to release the video game the same day the prime-time special airs, will run its own game-centric advertising and tune-in messages for "Operation: Rescue Jet Fusion."
For additional exposure, Nick has plastered Jimmy Neutron on the cover and throughout its monthly magazine, which goes to 6.6 million kids, and has dedicated heavy on-air time to trailers and promos. Affiliates will kick in on-air spots.
Executives at THQ, which has a creative deal with Nick, said it's the first time they have had an idea go from software to TV script. "You usually have to follow the lead of your licensor and develop product around that," said Peter Dille, senior VP-worldwide marketing. "But they were very open to creating an on-air presence around a game idea."
THQ is linking with a longtime Nickelodeon marketing partner Kraft to promote the video game. On-pack bursts on 600,000 packages of Kraft snacks Fun Fruits will let kids and gatekeepers know about hints and tips to playing the video game contained inside the box. Kraft also will have a heavy media presence in the special.
"The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius" took an unconventional route to its regular series slot on Nickelodeon, first being introduced as a big-screen movie. Nick usually percolates a property on-air, gathering ratings steam and demand for merchandise, before hitting the big screen. Jimmy Neutron's film debut in 2001 pulled in $80 million and an Oscar nomination. The show, which launched the following year, consistently has been among the top ratings draws for kids ages 2 through 11 across broadcast and cable networks. It will expand to five nights a week next fall.
"We're trying to reach kids through all our available media," said Laura Nowatka, VP-promotions marketing, "and surround them with the experience."