Danone turns to branded content in China

Dr. Arty Farty program boosts image of Prince cookies

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SHANGHAI--France's Groupe Danone has spiced up the personality of the royal character fronting its Prince cookies range by partnering with a Shanghai children's show, Dr. Arty Farty.

The European food company hopes making the Prince character--representing a brand with longstanding heritage for Danone but limited appeal among Chinese kids until now--more entertaining and popular will raise retail sales, by inspiring kids to ask doting parents for Prince products by name.

Danone wants to make Prince as well known in China as other branded personalities such as Qoo, a cartoon character created by Coca-Cola in Japan for a juice drink sold under the same name. Qoo has become an enormous success across Asia over the past decade.

“While traditional print and television channels remain critical to building awareness, leading brands are increasingly shifting their budgets to activities that engage consumers in a more interactive manner via experiences that deepen the content behind their broadcast messages,” said Seth Grossman, Carat's communication planning director, China in Shanghai.

Danone is sponsoring 13 episodes of Dr. Arty Farty, a weekly educational program that teaches kids how to draw. The series is produced by a joint venture between Viacom's Nickelodeon and Shanghai Media Group and airs in Shanghai on Friday in early evening and is rebroadcast on Saturday afternoon on HaHa Nick branded programming blocks on SMG's children's channel. It can be seen across eastern China, including major markets like Hangzhou and Nanjing, through syndication.

The show's latest series, launched Oct. 5, was created in partnership with Danone. Lessons about drawing, shading and sketching by Dr. Arty Farty, a Chinese teacher, are interspersed with chapters of an animated film starring the Prince character. The film was created by Danone's media agency in China, Aegis-owned Carat in Shanghai.

“We created the first half of the film, which highlights how the Prince is challenged and has to defeat an enemy,” said Carat's Mr. Grossman. After that, kids can submit ideas “about how they want the story to end, testing their art skills as well as their storytelling ability.”

Viewers can vote on submissions that demonstrate how the prince defeats his enemy using wisdom, courage and help from his friends. Voting will start around week three of the series in late October, and votes can be submitted online at www.hahank.com and by SMS, telephone and mail. Between Nov. 7 and the airing of episode seven on Nov. 16, 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 created TV spots linked to the programming. Haha Nick produced all materials related to the programming in conjunction with Danone and Carat.

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 film contest is the third collaboration between Danone and HaHa Nick. Last fall, Danone sponsored another series of Dr. Arty Farty episodes, in which kids were invited to submit their own illustrations of the Prince. Carat then employed professional artists to develop storylines around their submissions. That series included 11 episodes that aired between August 5-October 20, 2006, followed by related events and traditional media ads during November and December.

“There was an incredible response and sales followed,” said Mr. Grossman. In some stores, sales double and even tripled while the program was on-air. Over 8,500 kids visited the site daily while the series was on-air “and monthly sales grew 98%-167% during the promotional period.”

“We were also surprised at how good the drawings were,” he added. Besides showing the top sketches on-air, Danone published a glossy book with the best submissions. Over 100,000 copies, featuring only images of the Prince character, were sold in eastern China.

Following that success, Danone created an American Idol-type program for kids to promote its Super and Star milk cookie brands. Over 1,000 children, aged four to 12, turned up for the first open-call.

Over 16 weeks last spring, the group was narrowed down by a group of celebrity judges to a gala with 10 finalists competing for the top prize-an invitation to join a prestigious performing arts program in Shanghai called Little Star Arts Troupe. The program has two components, an after-school and weekend program, and a highly selective and nationally famous troupe that regularly performs in China and internationally. The top three winners from the program entered the performing arts troupe. The other finalists were offered admission to the after-school and weekend program.

Footage from the contest with Super and Star branding aired on HaHa Nick throughout the contest period from February to July. The show aired on Sundays from 5:30-6pm and was rebroadcast the following Saturday afternoon in 15 episodes that aired on the HaHa Nick Dream Factory program, a regular kids' talent program.

Like the Prince promotion, the Super Star reality show had a family-friendly theme--kids should be nice to their mother because she is nice to them, specifically by feeding them healthy snacks. Milk-based Super and Star products contain more nutrition than the average cookie.

“Branded content gives consumers an opportunity to engage and interact with brands, products, and services in sensory ways that go well beyond simply providing information,” said Mr. Grossman.

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,” he said. "No doubt, we will continue to evaluate and refine our 2008 efforts based on the results of our 2007 campaigns."

Last July, Kraft Foods made a binding offer to acquire the global biscuit business of Danone including its Prince brand for $7.2 billion in cash. The acquisition is still pending approval but it likely to be approved later this year.
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