The Turner Home Entertainment tie-in represents a new niche for the licensing and promotion industry, which had grown accustomed to drawing children with established staples. But now joining apparel, fast-food and action figure toys on the hot circuit are not only Nascar racing but personal computers, software and accessories.
The change comes as marketers realize there's more to licensing and promotions than a toy with a kids' meal.
For Turner, the Nascar connection was a good way to tap into the 6- to 11-year-old auto-racing fans, says Anne Adriance, senior VP-general manager of domestic licensing for Turner Home Entertainment.
Last November, Turner signed a deal with Diamond Ridge Motorsports allowing Cartoon Network to power its presence with character signage on the car and uniforms, at-track merchandise, venue-based kid themed attractions, costume character appearances, and eventually Nascar-related TV programming and productions.
Turner is also looking into licensing and promotional partners, though none have been signed yet, she says.
"Talk about a non-traditional way to get your product out there and to reach kids and families," says Ms. Adriance. "It's not just Fred [Flintstone] slapped on a car."
Turner isn't alone on the oval. Burger King Corp., recognized recently for its in-store promotional success with Walt Disney Co. tie-ins, will also race along the Nascar circuit as the company for its second year sponsors Joe Nemechek's No. 87 Burger King racer.
For BK, auto racing represents a way to "strengthen ties to all markets," especially the younger male set, says Kim Miller, manager-media and consumer relations.
"Gearing toward sports marketing draws that young male market," she says. "That's our consumer base. They're passionate, they're loyal, so it makes sense for us to become involved in car racing."
Computers are as hot as stock cars for kids' licensing this year. From "The Simpsons" screen-saver software to "Star Trek" mouse pads and "Bedrock" ergonomic keyboards designed for kids' smaller hands, marketers are looking for something to differentiate themselves from the competition, says Karen Raugust, executive editor of The Licensing Letter.
It's reasonable that computers would ride a swell of licensing popularity this year as the industry itself grows and finds a place in more homes, she says.
"It really didn't exist [as a licensing category] two or three years ago and now it's really a major category for every major licensor. It's only after the category is established that it pays to get a license to have a point of difference like that," says Ms. Raugust. "It also adds a little fun to the product."