Mixed media for kids

As parents of young girls know only too well, it’s hard to escape the popular TV character Hannah Montana — or the show’s star, Miley Cyrus — as she appears across multiple channels, including a soundtrack, a video game and live shows.

A growing number of marketers of children’s entertainment are focusing on a similar strategy of developing an intellectual property for their audience and blowing it out across as many media as possible. Increasingly, a robust online marketing program is part of that multichannel picture.

“The medium has become less important than the intellectual property,” says Wynne Tyree, president and co-founder of youth research and strategy firm Smarty Pants. “If a kid is really into Hannah Montana, she is going to want more of it and she doesn’t care where it comes from. A child doesn’t understand the difference between clicking on TiVo or going online and watching something, which is why entertainment property owners are pushing these properties across categories and platforms as much as they can.”

For Cookie Jar Entertainment, which produces children’s TV shows such as The Doodlebops and holds the licensing rights to Strawberry Shortcake and other properties, it’s all about finding ways to communicate more directly with children and their parents while building a lasting relationship, says Lisa Tanzer, SVP of marketing at Cookie Jar.

“When we do [mass media], it is very targeted,” says Tanzer. Many of the company’s marketing activities, she adds, are migrating online in the form of branded Web sites for entertainment properties that often include a fan club. “This way we know that our message is getting to our best customers,” says Tanzer. “In mass media, these same customers might get the message or not.”

The company’s preschool Web sites typically include activities and video clips for the kids, as well as a fan club section with information for both moms and children. Sites for tweens also have a social networking component, such as a blog. These online efforts are supplemented with live shows and other appearances by the characters.

Today’s marketers look for ways to communicate with their audiences in the places where they already are. “Kids are spending a lot of time online,” says Greg Livingston, president of advertising agency WonderGroup. “Online campaigns are a lot less expensive to make and run than TV spots, and they offer marketers an opportunity for actual engagement with their audience.”

One of the big pluses of online marketing, compared to print or mail, is that it offers live video representation, says Livingston. Rich media banner ads embedded with a video of an upcoming movie, for example, gets kids involved with a film even before its launch. Kids can watch the video without leaving the banner ad or click through and register to get more information about the movie. A similar strategy is being employed for the video games that often accompany major movie releases, giving kids a chance to try out the game.

Another important trend is the proliferation of properties that can by enjoyed simultaneously by children and parents — especially moms.

“This is part of today’s new super-consumer, which is a combination of mom and kids, as moms enjoy and experience branded entertainment opportunities with their kids,” adds Livingston.

Music is one example where this is happening. With music-based video games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero big hits with families, record labels are introducing new music through exclusive relationships with video game manufacturers. The band Metallica, for example, will release its own version of Guitar Hero this year, and the developers of Rock Band are working on a Beatles video game. These follow the success of last year’s Aerosmith Guitar Hero game.

While some of these bands might not appear to be music for children, the parents love the bands from when they were younger and now everyone is enjoying them together as a family, Tyree explains.

Psyclops is a new children’s entertainment property launched in beta late last year that is trying to combine both of these trends — the need to execute across multiple platforms and the popularity of music with kids. It combines iPod Nano protective cases with an interactive Web-based music and dance community targeting kids age 8 to 14. By purchasing a protective case, kids get a secret code and access to a virtual community, where they can create their own Psyclops avatars and put them into a music video. Kids can share their video creations by uploading them to their iPods, posting them to a social networking page or e-mailing them to friends.

“Kids are really interested in being a part of Guitar Hero and Garage Band— that’s part of why they are so successful,” says Joy Kovaleski, CEO of Psyclops. “There are the gaming communities and some music sites [for kids 8 to 14], but nobody is out there doing a multiplatform property with a product, Web site and the ability to download to an iPod like we are.”

It’s clear there are “new channels and new media opportunities offering direct interaction with children and parents” for children’s entertainment, says Livingston — the key is having a quality product. “Just because it’s a nice banner ad, they still aren’t going to watch it and want to purchase if the ad is for a movie they hated,” she says.

To support Wall-E The Video Game from THQ, agency WonderGroup created a Web site, at
 www.wallevideogame.com, and rich media banner ads showing the game in action. The media buy coincided with the film’s summer release, and the DVD’s fall release and included Nickelodeon.com and CartoonNetwork.com. “For a property like this, driving interest is about visualizing [the game] and the play structure,” says Greg Livingston, president at WonderGroup.

Kids can watch The Doodlebops, which is produced by Cookie Jar Entertainment, on Playhouse Channel, and then go online to check out the show’s Web site. Here, they can find information about The Doodlebops live tour and other live appearances, buy licensed merchandise and find music and video clips. In the fan club section, visitors can sign up to receive updates on the band and exclusive offers. For Cookie Jar, this is a great way to “control” its communications with consumers, says Lisa Tanzer, SVP of marketing.

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