'Adult' Brands Get Parents Where The Kids Are

By Constantine von Hoffman
Brandweek, 1/16/07

BOSTON -- If you're a marketer looking for a TV property to help you connect with adults, then you're probably thinking Lost, 24, Heroes or House. But when State Farm unveiled its one-year, multimillion-dollar marketing and promotional alliance with Nickelodeon last week, it became the latest purveyor of products for grown-ups to go after adults via kids' TV.

"Companies see this as a sneak attack, a way to get to parents when they might not expect it," said Rob Beltran, managing director of advertising at Burson-Marsteller, New York. "But you want to make sure the numbers are right. Because at least on the surface it doesn't seem like an efficient way to reach the right audience."

While this pairing of car insurance and preschoolers "might seem odd at first blush," as Mark Gibson, assistant vp-advertising at State Farm, Bloomington, Ill., put it, he said it is actually a prime example of putting your bait where the fish are. "In the current environment it's crucial to reach consumers where they are," he said. "It's a surprisingly good venue for [reaching adults]."

In fact, the Nick Jr. daily block of shows for preschoolers has a co-viewing rate of 33% among adults 18-49 with kids under 6, far outdistancing the competition, per NPower stats from Nielsen Media Research, New York. One reason: Nickelodeon is nearly 30 years old, and many of these grownups watched the network when they were kids, are comfortable with the brand and don't mind joining their young’uns in front of the TV.

Using kid-targeted channels is perhaps more understandable for hotel and auto companies. Indeed, Nickelodeon has partnered with car companies since 2000. Why? Because those are industries where children are key influencers on purchasing decisions. Among such alliances, GM partnered with Nick last year to promote its Uplander SUV; Holiday Inn has done many promotions with SpongeBob SquarePants and in 2005 opened a Nickelodeon-themed Holiday Inn in Orlando, Fla. Dodge did a campaign for its minivans in 2002 featuring the characters from Monsters Inc. and followed that up a year later with a tie-in between the Caravan and a re-release of The Lion King on DVD. Last year State Farm did a tie-in with the hit animated movie Cars.

According to a 2005 survey from J.D. Power and Associates, 78% of parents said they had conversations with their kids about cars while shopping for a vehicle. And 74% said children shared their opinions with them as to what type of car they wanted. Numbers like that led Toyota to craft a series of ads in 2005 showing what kids like about their cars.

Here's yet another reason why it pays to market to youths and on kids’ shows: American children are exposed on average to an estimated 40,000 TV commercials a year, and kids ages 12-17 will ask their parents for products they have seen advertised an average of nine times until the parents finally give in, according to the Center for a New American Dream, Takoma Park, Md., a nonprofit environmental and social organization.

Beltran said kids' TV and big screen ventures also are capturing more interest from adult marketers because they are both simple and smart enough to be enjoyed by everyone in the family. "Some of these programs—like SpongeBob—work on a lot of different levels and have an appeal that goes beyond just kids," said Beltran.

Buying against the expected demographic isn't just limited to products for adults. Hasbro, for example, has started to advertise its board games on such shows as Lost, 24, Heroes, Grey's Anatomy and CSI.

In addition to advertising during the Nick Jr. preschool programming block, State Farm also will have ads in Nick Jr. Family Magazine, on NickJr.com, and will be the presenting sponsor of a nationwide tour that starts next month, officially known as Go, Diego, Go Live! The Great Jaguar Rescue presented by State Farm Insurance.

Moving forward, Jim Perry, Nickelodeon's evp-brand sales, New York, said the network is "looking to partner with a financial services company to promote [college] savings plans and also as part of a campaign to increase financial literacy among kids." And while the State Farm deal is the first national partnership the network has done with an insurance company, Perry also expects to be working with more "adult" companies in this and related areas in the coming year.

"We've also received a lot of advertising from consumer electronic companies and retailers," said Perry. "Kids know the difference between Wal-Mart and Target, and they aren't hesitant to express their preference."