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Nick rethinks partnerships to promote SpongeBob to kids

October 29
, 2007

NICKELODEON has aligned with a varied group of marketers to support the Nov. 12 premiere of SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis, including Atlantis Resort, Burger King, THQ, Dodge and Bandai.

"We're trying to get more diverse in terms of our partners," said Pam Kaufman, CMO at Nickelodeon, New York. "The big thing was getting Atlantis Resort [because] it's such an aspirational place to go."

Nick's strategy in attracting partners for the one-hour TV movie is part of a larger trend in entertainment. Family properties are being weaned off traditional kid-brand bait, such as sugary cereals, candy and fast food, in light of the controversy over advertising to kids. This summer, Shrek the Third got flak for having too many promo partners that sell what was deemed as unhealthy foods to kids. Partners included Kellogg, General Mills and Mars.

"Some opportunities with animated films are limited now due to guidelines about obesity," said Katie Chin, president at Katie Chin Consulting, Encino, Calif. "Studios are looking to unique brands and categories to solve their product challenges, and [nontraditional] brand partners are seeing the opportunity of these deals."

As a result of the outcry, more parent-targeted brands have emerged as partners for family films. Last year, Warner Bros. teamed with Tamiflu (Roche Pharmaceuticals) for its animated film Happy Feet, while Intel's summer marketing focused on its role in the making of Ratatouille. Automotive, electronics and apparel brands have also jumped into the fray.

The Council of Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative was established in 2006 as a voluntary self-regulation program for marketers. Burger King joined the council last month.

BK said it would move to restrict Kids Meal ads that use licensed characters to target children under 12 to menu options that meet specific nutritional guidelines. By December 2008, Burger King's Kids Meal ad support will be limited to meals that contain fewer than 560 calories, less than 10% of calories from added sugars and no added trans fats.

While advertising to kids might be curtailed, linking popular properties to brands won't likely stop anytime soon. "There's no oversight," said Susan Lynn, cofounder and director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. "We have all these companies tweaking different guidelines to fit their needs—not children's—and nobody to enforce them."

For this promotion, Burger King will offer in its Kids Meals 12 SquarePantis premiums that contain hidden messages, which are revealed by wetting a "secret scroll" and visiting Marketing will include TV, print in Nickelodeon magazines and Internet. Burger King also will run a sweeps for a trip to the Atlantis Resort at Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

Atlantis will sponsor a daylong on-air event on Nick—which includes the movie, a SpongeBob viewers choice marathon and a behind the scenes special—with on-air vignettes featuring SpongeBob character Patchy the Pirate interacting with the resort's guests. This is Atlantis Resort's first media buy with the station, although it has aligned with Nick around its Slimetime programming and Kids Choice Awards.

On-premise, Atlantis will host a SpongeBob-themed weekend, Nov. 3-4, with a poolside premiere of Atlantis SquarePantis, a co-branded gift bag, character appearances and a Krusty Krab-style eatery. Dodge and Bandai toys will advertise on the telecast. Nickelodeon also will tie in with the ING New York City Marathon (Nov. 4), where it will distribute 50,000 SpongeBob hats.

Nick is in its fourth year of a "Let's Just Play" initiative and the second season of the Let's Just Play Go Healthy Challenge, a six-month series that is a joint effort between Nickelodeon and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.


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