Marketers aim for parents via kid TV

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Pester power's picking up.

Traditional kid marketers, such as toy makers and snack conglomerates, are spending record amounts of money to reach young consumers. And auto marketers, retailers, hotel chains and tourism bureaus are leaping into the fray. Total spending on kid destinations such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Kids WB and Fox's weekly Fox Box program block will eclipse $1 billion for the first time ever, several executives predict. That figure is up about 15% over last year.

Advertisers such as the Build-A-Bear and JCPenney retail chains, hoteliers such as Holiday Inn and Embassy Suites and the Cayman Islands tourism board are spending on Nickelodeon for the first time. Five auto manufacturers run ads on the cable network.

"There's a whole slew of non-endemic advertisers in the kid marketplace now-the demand side of the equation is very strong," says Jim Perry, exec VP of Nickelodeon's ad-sales division. "New people have come in, and existing players have stepped up their spending. Some of these advertisers want to speak directly to kids, not to the gatekeepers."

Some of the ads are created specifically for the kid market, says Mr. Perry, but they often focus more on brand building and less on hard sell. These ads, he says, take into consideration the influence kids now have in even big-ticket family purchases.

"Kids have control of more of their own disposable income," Perry says, "but they also get brought into buying decisions as parents take them along on shopping trips."

This year's record-breaking kid haul comes as some marketers shift focus from TV to put ad dollars into other media and promotions in order to reach adults. But while Nielsen figures show the coveted 18-to-34-year-old consumers might be turning away from TV, kids and `tweens are still glued to the tube, ad sales executives said. Viewing levels have remained constant over the last several years in the 6-to-11 and 9-to-14 demographics.

That pool is proving irresistible to marketers. Leading the charge to spend more toward the kid demographics are Hollywood studios and their myriad promotional and licensing partners, who have stepped up their efforts around such all-family properties as "Shrek 2," "Shark Tale" and "Spider-Man 2." The fourth quarter promises to be robust, ad-sales executives say, because of a strong slate of feature films and the DVD releases of summer hits such as "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

"As Hollywood thrives, it's causing the kid marketplace to prosper," says Dan Barnathan, exec VP-sales at 4Kids Entertainment, a production company with a division that sells ad time for its Saturday-morning block on the Fox network, called Fox Box. "Kids are so critical to the media mix for any marketer, but especially entertainment."

hitting 90% of kids

At Nickelodeon, spending for movies and DVDs has risen 20% to 25% this year over last, estimates Jim Perry, senior VP of its ad-sales division. There's also been double-digit growth from video-game companies, midsize toy makers and food companies advertising their latest healthier-for-you offerings.

There are few other places for marketers to reach as many eyeballs as TV, Barnathan says. "Our research shows that if you bought every Web site out there for kids, you'd still only reach about one-third of the population," he said. "TV reaches 90%."

Advertisers moved early in this year's upfront, the annual ritual during which marketers commit money for the season, TV ad execs said. Even so, they kept some money in reserve for last-minute buys in the so-called scatter market, which ad execs say is also strong heading into fourth quarter.

Juliet Schor, a Boston College professor and author of "Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture," says marketing to kids is predictable, yet detrimental.

"As children's financial clout and spending power has increased, advertisers have followed them," Schor says. "It's having a profound impact on their well-being. There's mounting evidence that it's harming them." Networks say they are conscious of the obesity issue and talk to marketing partners about the message they're sending to kids.

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