Last month, the grey-suited bosses of UK toy companies, kids’ TV
channels and publishing houses took a trip to Legoland. Amid the rides
and games they discussed the serious business of marketing to children
at a conference on the subject. One issue was taken particularly
gravely: the threat of a pan-European ban on television advertising to
As companies targeting the kids’ market and their lobbying firms are
only too aware, Sweden is hoping to use its 2001 EU presidency to do
Advertisements aimed at children are already banned in Sweden, and
Denmark is close behind, although several channels bypass the
regulations by broadcasting from London, like Nickelodeon’s Nordic
But it’s not just the Scandinavians who disapprove of the practice:
Greece has outlawed ads for toys, and Poland and Ireland are considering
increasing restrictions during kids’ programmes.
Understandably the issue is causing a few furrowed brows in the
boardrooms of toy makers, food companies and broadcasters who rely
heavily on ads to fund their children’s programmes.
One organisation fiercely opposed to a ban is Toy Industries of Europe
(TIE), a Brussels-based lobbying body whose members include the British
Toy and Hobby Association, and individual toy giants Hasbro, Lego and
’For toy companies, TV advertising is still the most efficient marketing
communications tool,’ explains Stephen Luiten, director of the lobbying
firm European Strategy which is fighting in TIE’s corner. ’Toys need to
be demonstrated, and young children can’t read, which cuts out press
advertising or direct mail, so TV is the ideal medium. Distributors also
demand TV advertising support.’
Opinions are divided over Sweden’s chances of success. While he
acknowledges the subject ’is now an issue’ in Brussels, Luiten is
sceptical Sweden will succeed in persuading all EU nations to pass a
Instead, he predicts, the Swedes will settle for preventing overseas
broadcasters from airing adverts in Sweden. ’UK broadcasters might have
to comply with Swedish law but I can’t see how Sweden could pass a
Europe-wide ban,’ he says.
But Joanna McDwyer, associate director of EPPA (European Public Policy
Advisers), who spoke on the subject at Miller Freeman’s Legoland
Marketing to Children conference, disagrees. She says it could happen,
but that Sweden won’t be able to do it alone, or overnight.
But if advertising to children is banned, companies in this market will
have to think more laterally about getting their messages across,
relying more on clever PR, as has been shown in Sweden.
John Ahlmark, senior account director at Jerry Bergstrom PR, which
handles PR for Nickelodeon, says most Swedes are fiercely opposed to
advertising to kids.
Mats Fogelberg, a partner at Stockholm agency Rikta, agrees: ’It’s a
very emotional subject. The Swedish feel strongly that you shouldn’t do
it.’ This sensitivity means that rather than running overt large-scale
publicity drives to compensate for the lack of advertising, PR agencies
have to tread very carefully to ensure they please children and their
Rikta’s kiddie accounts include the Hasbro construction toy brand K’NEX,
Walt Disney and Hasbro Interactive. For Disney, Rikta teamed up with
UNESCO to organise a competition asking children to write about and draw
their imaginary school of the future. The winner won a trip to
Disneyland. For K’NEX the agency sponsors exhibitions at museums, and
held building competitions using K’NEX at Stockholm’s annual Water
Rikta, which also handles Levi’s and Polaroid, does plenty of product
sampling. It ensures Polaroid cameras or Levi’s jeans are distributed to
the ’right people at the right parties’ in the absence of advertising,
in the belief that a young adult icon wearing the product will work
’Kids look up to older kids,’ says Fogelberg.
They also look at their friends. In fact, research has shown peer
pressure to be a far stronger persuader than adverts. Neither of those
recent best-selling toys, the yo-yo or the Furby, was advertised.
’We’ve conducted research on the affect advertising toys has on
children,’ says Adrian Wheeler, chief executive of GCI Group, which
works for UK industry body the British Toy and Hobby Association.
’Advertising has a minimal affect on children’s awareness of what toys
are available. The most important factor is peer pressure or kids seeing
what their chums have. The second is how the product is displayed in
shops. Advertising comes a poor third.’
If this is true then perhaps PR is better suited to marketing children’s
products than advertising. Addie Churchill, managing director of Talk
Loud PR, thinks so. Talk Loud lists Disney Interactive, Hasbro
Interactive and Polygram Universal among its kiddie accounts. Churchill
believes a few words from a child’s TV hero beats advertising hands
’An endorsement by Zoe Ball or Jamie Theakston is far more powerful and
direct than a 20 second ad on The Bigger Breakfast,’ she says. ’Kids are
not advertising literate. They are basically into watching
They don’t care about the ads.’ Churchill also thinks sponsorship and
sales promotion could become more popular in the face of a ban. School,
however, is out - at least in terms of blatant marketing tactics like
branded schoolbooks. ’I think it’s verging on the immoral,’ she
’We have to allow children a certain amount of innocence.’
Others believe parents are the answer. For Chris Ward, father of a three
year-old, and managing director of the youth communications outfit
Beatwax, it makes perfect sense. ’Most parents of five- to
seven-year-olds are in their early- to mid-thirties and are still highly
aware of youth culture.
They would much rather be classified as Nike trainer-wearing ’middle
youth’ than ’past-it’ parents, so kids’ campaigns can easily be extended
to include them. Plus, they are the ones that will have to sit through A
Bug’s Life so why not directly entice them to the cinema?’
Beatwax, which operates an under-16’s division called WaxJunior, did
just that, scouring clubs and events to get young adults into exclusive
screenings of A Bug’s Life. Aside from word of mouth generating tactics
like this, the agency printed adult-sized T-shirts displaying the film
But Ward adds that including parents in the target group means companies
have to deal with a much more marketing-savvy audience. ’There are
better ways of promoting brands than advertising,’ he says. ’Working
with councils and building skate parks, for instance, gives a company a
lot of credibility with parents. Bad products will be the only losers
because they won’t be seen as credible.’
A pan-European ban on advertising to under-12s - even if the Swedes to
manage to win other countries over -is some way off. But PR
practitioners could do worse than give some thought now as to how they
could tackle the kids’ market without support, and competition, from the
ANIMATION EFFECTS THE LAUNCH OF A POCKET PHENOMENON
If you’re wondering what you’ll be desperately queuing to buy this
Christmas Eve, then wonder no more. It’s Pokemon.
Pokemon started life in 1996 as a Game Boy game, the name being an
abbreviation of ’Pocket Monsters’. The object is to become a master
Pokemon trainer by collecting all 150 Pokemon characters, each of which
has special characteristics and powers.
But now it is also a TV cartoon, a movie, soft toys and a set of trading
cards - in fact some 1,000 Pokemon products are available worldwide. To
get some idea of what a phenomenon it already is in the US and Japan,
consider this: the industry is worth pounds 2.3 billion in Japan; there
are more than 11,000 web sites devoted to Pokemon; and Pokemon
merchandise is currently outselling Star Wars by five to one in US toy
store-chain FAO Schwartz.
Pokemon is set to hit the UK in five weeks, with the Game Boy game
launched on 8 October, and other merchandise appearing around the same
Cake, the youth marketing specialist, works for Nintendo and a team
there has the task of managing the inevitable media onslaught, alongside
PROs from Red Square, for Hasbro and others. As early as March this
year, the first UK press enquiries were coming through, fed by stories
of what was going on in the US.
The decision was to avoid stirring up publicity too early, says Jim
Dowling Nintendo account director for Cake, partly because the attention
span of most kids really doesn’t last for months. Therefore initial
coverage was aimed at the adult media, starting with a feature in the
August issue of the Face, which appeared on 1 July.
Subsequent pieces appeared in the Guardian’s Guide, the Daily Telegraph
and the Mirror, not to mention specialist publications such as Official
Nintendo magazine. Kids’ media such as SMTV and Live and Kicking will be
targeted for the launch.
But Dowling knows that winning coverage for Pokemon isn’t going to be
the problem. What may be a problem, he says, is the cynical nature of
the UK media, and the fact that kid’s culture here is somewhat more
’anti-establishment’ than in the US. However, the game is already
causing a stir in playgrounds across the country - those UK children
lucky enough to have scored a copy of Pokemon from the US are just one
part of the enormous Pokemon ’word of mouth’ campaign which is
But don’t think that this product is merely a flash-in-the-pan. ’Pokemon
is not by any stretch of the imagination the next Furby or Tamagotchi,’
says Dowling. ’It’s a cultural revolution - the next decade’s
BOOK STALLING ENSURES AN INSTANT SUCCESS FOR POTTER
Publisher Bloomsbury has managed to create what can only be described as
a phenomenon out of a series of books, which others in the youth
marketing game must dream of replicating.
Harry Potter was already a popular character among children when his
third adventure, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released
in July this year. Previous books in the series by JK Rowling have
received a good deal of media coverage. But this time the author was
unavailable for book tours - she is already working on the next Harry
Potter tome, and she was wary of the press focus on her personal life. A
new strategy was needed.
Bloomsbury already knew a good deal about the audience it was
targeting - PR staff at Bloomsbury receive a staggering 30 to 40 fan
letters a day telling Rowling how much they love her books.
With booksellers anxiously enquiring about the book’s publication date,
the publicity team at Bloomsbury decided to embargo the book until
3.45pm of the launch day - after school was out.
Head of children’s sales and marketing at Bloomsbury Rosamund de la Hey,
says the team was inspired by the knowledge of how upset die-hard Harry
Potter fans would be if they couldn’t get their hands on a copy the
minute it was available. The story was part of the media relations
strategy, with the press reporting that fears of children bunking-off
for the day in order to get the book had led to the embargo. This story
was featured extensively in the coverage the book received.
De la Hey, says that booksellers were extremely supportive.As well as
displaying ’coming soon’ posters and teaser dumpbins which were sent out
empty, individual stores came up with their own publicity plans.
Blackwell’s in Oxford blacked out a whole window, with an eye-hole at
child-height, through which children could read details about the
release and Waterstone’s in Birmingham had a mock-up of the book locked
in a cage and under guard.
On 18 July, the Sunday Times best-selling books showed the top four
children’s hardback titles were all Harry Potter books, as were the top
And now the movie rights have been sold, which in an age of so many
children’s books being ’inspired by the movie’ could be described as a