FOCUS: YOUTH MARKETING - It’s time to look for a new channel/The death knell is beginning to toll across Europe for TV advertising aimed at kids, and PR people are coming up with more innovative methods of marketing to the under-12s. Lexie Goddard

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 under-12 year-olds.

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

under-12 year-olds.



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

just that.



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

service.



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

Mattel.



’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

pan-European ban.



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

parents.



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

Festival.



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

wonders.



’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

down.



’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

programmes.



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

declares.



’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

characters.



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

advertising sector.



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

time.



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

spreading.



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

conkers.’



Jennifer Whitehead



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

two paperbacks.



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

phenomenon itself.



Jennifer Whitehead.



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