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Campaigns for Challenging Times Put Children and Mothers First

Stuart Elliot
The New York Times
March 17, 2009

There is a saying among marketers that in tough times, whatever merchandise consumers are still buying is purchased in this order: first, for the children; then for mom; next, for the pets; and finally, for dad.

That may be why advertisers selling products aimed at children and mothers seem to be staying the course or, in some instances, expanding efforts meant to maintain or increase market share. For example, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, sold by the Campbell Soup Company, recently teamed up with the Cartoon Network cable channel, part of Time Warner, for a “National Recess Week” promotion, centered on encouraging school-age children to be more active.

And Mott’s apple juice and apple sauce, sold by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, are returning to television advertising after a 10-year absence in a campaign intended to convince mothers that those products are a good source of the fruit their children ought to eat daily. The campaign, by Laird & Partners in New York, features the actress Marcia Cross, a mother in real life who is also among the mothers of Wisteria Lane on the ABC series “Desperate Housewives.”

Also indicative of the trend are a couple of agreements, to be announced on Tuesday, between the Walt Disney Company and two major marketers, the J. C. Penney Company and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance.

The Penney deal covers a variety of media outlets, in what is known as a cross-platform advertising sales package. The agreement, centered on the popular “Hannah Montana” series on the Disney Channel, also includes Disney Online, Radio Disney and FamilyFun magazine.

A campaign also involves Disney units like the consumer products division; the Walt Disney Studios unit, for “Hannah Montana the Movie,” scheduled to be released on April 10; and Walt Disney Records.

The State Farm deal is focused on the Disney Channel and one of its stars, Selena Gomez, from the series “Wizards of Waverly Place.” The agreement, intended to help encourage safe driving among teenagers, also includes a section of the State Farm Web site (statefarm.com/teendriving) and the Disney Channel Web site (disneychannel.com).

“We feel it’s important in this climate to not have a bunker mentality, to be out there showing new things to our customers,” said Clark McNaught, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for the children’s division at Penney in Plano, Tex.

“A stronger value message” is also a part of the pitch, Mr. McNaught said, reflecting the realities of the recession, as Penney plays up what he called “the great quality and good style” of its girls’ clothing.

At State Farm, said Mark Gibson, assistant vice president for advertising in Bloomington, Ill., the agreement represents the first time the company will advertise on the Disney Channel, which competes for young viewers against cable channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, owned by Viacom.

“The key here is to make sure our brand stays relevant to consumers,” Mr. Gibson said, at a time when they are “looking for value” in a way that extends “beyond price, to looking for a company they know and trust.”

The deal with the Disney Channel is part of a broader effort on safer teenage driving being sponsored by State Farm, which includes TV commercials; a remixed rock version of the song “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from “The Sound of Music,” by a group called Modern Music, which can be downloaded from the teenage-driving section of the State Farm Web site; and the Steer Clear Program, offering discounts on car insurance to young drivers and their parents.

Ms. Gomez — who is 16 and “just got her learner’s permit,” according to Mr. Gibson — appears in two commercials that State Farm will run on the Disney Channel. She is accompanied by her mother, Mandy Teefy, in the spots, which cover subjects like the importance of wearing seat belts, obeying speed limits and avoiding talking or sending text on cellphones while driving.

“What our clients are trying to achieve are two objectives: reaching children directly or reaching children and their moms,” said Tricia Wilber, executive vice president for the Disney media advertising sales and marketing group in New York.

“Certainly, we’re all seeing the challenges,” Ms. Wilber said, referring to the economy, but the Disney Channel is fortunate in that it has few sponsors in hard-hit categories like automobiles and financial services.

Although retailers like Penney are under pressure in this environment, she added, they are continuing their presence on the channel.

Mr. McNaught at Penney described how “in this economy,” the company is being more selective with sponsorship deals, preferring they be “focused with our major partners,” rather than trying to “do a little bit of everything.”

The Penney deal with Disney will promote a Go Hollywood sweepstakes, tied to the release of the Hannah Montana movie. The grand prize includes a trip to California for four and a prop from the film, a dress worn by Hannah (Miley Cyrus).

There will also be a commercial that promotes Penney’s new status as a sponsor of the Disney Channel.

The Disney deal is among several recent initiatives from Penney to try to stimulate sales despite the sour retail climate. The company was a major sponsor of the coverage of the Academy Awards on Feb. 22, running commercials for several new lines of women’s clothing.

 

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