Nickelodeon targets the stroller set

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Viacom's Nickelodeon, already entrenched with kids from preschool to middle school, is aiming even younger: infants.

Nick Jr. Baby, an umbrella brand for licensed entertainment, package goods and other products, gets under way this summer via a deal with Procter & Gamble Co. that will put Nick's characters on diapers for the first time. Blue, the puppy star of "Blue's Clues," will be on Luvs diapers, while Dora of "Dora the Explorer" will adorn a new Pampers line aimed at toddlers.

Both products will get mom-targeted advertising from P&G, which has an ongoing media-buying deal with Viacom. Included in the marketing mix: TV, direct mail, radio, in-store materials and consumer offers, all with Nick's characters ever present.

With Nick Jr. Baby, Nickelodeon is jumping into an entertainment area already crowded with the likes of Genius Products' Baby Genius and Walt Disney Co.'s Baby Einstein. Mattel's Fisher-Price launched a line of infant videos, and Bilingual Baby, from Small Fry Productions, is a solid seller.

Even so, Nickelodeon executives said they saw opportunity. "Our entertainment has an entry point for caregivers, and we think that's a new take and a good reason for being," said Leigh Anne Brodsky, Nick exec VP-consumer products.

The DVD series, live action with puppet characters called "Curious Buddies," are aimed at children 3 months to 24 months old. The first three, created by child-development experts and Emmy-winning veterans from the "Sesame Street" franchise, will launch in the fall. This will be Nick's first home-entertainment line not based on its TV shows; there's no TV programming planned for Nick Jr. Baby. P&G does not have product placement in the DVDs.

Expanding further

Nickelodeon execs will expand further into other infant merchandise through an existing deal with Munchkin Corp., for bottles and toys, and is considering music, books, room decor and other goods. A regular column of parenting tips will appear in Nick Jr. Family magazine, and there will be a dedicated Nick Jr. Baby Web page on the Nick Jr. site.

P&G's Pampers will use Dora as a way to launch Feel `N Learn Advanced Trainers (AA, May 17). Dora fits the brand as "an aspirational character" for girls, said Jose Rodriguez, brand manager of Pampers Diapers. (Spider-Man, a Marvel character, will appear on the boy version).

Pampers continues its deal with "Sesame Street" characters, but will be able to age-up to the older end of the market with the contemporary Nick characters, Mr. Rodriguez said.

Along with consumer offers that give away other "Dora" merchandise with multiple diaper purchases, Pampers will sponsor the "Dora" live tour later this year and through 2005. There's been an ongoing P&G relationship with the tour, but Pampers will significantly step up its involvement, Mr. Rodriguez said.

Luvs Diapers, which have had Hit Entertainment's "Barney" character on them since the late `90s, will switch to "Blue's Clues" this summer. The product will be distributed exclusively through Wal-Mart in June, expanding to other stores in July. "Blue's Clues" is part of the "freshened face of the brand," that includes new packaging and upgrades, said Samantha Avivi, Luvs' assistant brand manager.

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